Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Evolution Of The Family Christmas Tree

Every year my Aunt Kim has a beautiful fresh-cut Christmas tree. Without fail, her tree always looks like something straight out of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. She comes up with a different theme and a color scheme. Everything coordinates; the lights (usually in elegant white), the ornaments, the tree topper. The ornaments are all perfectly distributed and evenly spaced. It's classy and chic. Perfectly planned. Perfectly executed. A thing of beauty.

I've always wanted a tree like Aunt Kim's.

When I was young and newly engaged and imagining what my home and family life would look like, I thought to myself, "I'm going to have an elegant tree like that." I could picture peaceful Christmas Eves around our beautiful themed Christmas tree sipping hot cocoa, everyone in matching pajamas. It would be picture perfect.

I've never had a tree like Aunt Kim's.

The first years of married life, the ones before kids came along, we were just poor struggling college students. We couldn't afford a tree. Besides home still seemed like somewhere other than our tiny apartment. We visited parents for Christmas and appreciated the fact that we didn't have to pay for the electricity to run Christmas lights.

Our very first Christmas tree made it's way into our house for our son's first Christmas. He was only ten months old and I was a freakishly cautious new mother. That first tree was a sad little artificial table topper (I wouldn't hazard my precious son eating pine needles), kept well out of reach of tiny groping hands. It was barely two feet tall and was decorated with non-toxic wooden ornaments... just in case.

A few years later, we graduated to a real tree, eight feet tall. The ornaments were mostly non-breakable plastic and wood, positioned on the highest branches well out of the reach of toddler hands. After that tree was knocked over THREE different times by the toddler onto his baby sister, I started to suspect he was actively engaged in a black ops mission to take out the baby (especially the third time the tree mysteriously made it's way across the living room to land on his sister who should have been well out of the way), That year the tree was tied to the wall with 550 paracord (not particularly fashionable) for everyone's safety. By Christmas Eve most of the branches were broken, hanging at odd and unnatural angles and the ornaments were mostly broken or missing. (Toddlers love to play catch with Christmas ornaments.) Plus there was no peacefully sipped hot chocolate. We all collapsed fully clothed into 4 AM comas after the baby wailed herself to sleep.

The lights have always been multi-colored and completely over done (How many strings of lights can you fit on one Christmas tree? We might hold the world record), because that's what caught the children's eyes. I loved to see those bright colors reflected in their eyes, as they stared open-mouthed the first time the lights were plugged in.

The years the kids were short, all of the ornaments were placed about knee high, on only the right side of the tree. Everything crammed onto the same three branches. The selection of ornaments was not particularly chic. Instead we had paper chains and popsicle stick reindeer, plaster hand prints and glitter glue creations. There were always a few cartoon character ornaments adorned with the children's names. And one teddy bear "Baby's First Christmas" ornament that had a place of honor front and center. Nothing frail or fragile has made it through the years.

Those trees were beautiful.

Last night, I pulled the Christmas decorations out of the attic. Our tree is sitting in the dining room, without securing paracord, waiting to be decorated. My almost grown children surveyed the ornaments as they were unpacked. The box of handmade keepsakes was pushed aside. Someone held up a box of coordinating ornaments that I bought at an after-Christmas clearance sale a few years ago. It's full of gold snowflakes and fashionable light-catching gold balls. It could potentially be the beginnings of a theme and a color scheme.

"I think we need more gold ornaments, Mom."

Perhaps we do. I should be hilariously happy. My long-held dream of that magazine-worthy Christmas tree finally within my grasp.

But I think we need more paper chains.

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