Odd Thoughts: Christmas makes the tree happen

Donna and I put up our Christmas tree about two weeks ago.

That’s not particularly early for us… but it still seems to be very early to me.

I do love how Donna and the kids love having the Christmas tree up for a long time (when the now grown-up “kids” are around these days, that is).

There’s a happiness that just seems to breathe out of the needles and branches and twinkling lights and baubles – especially from the baubles that have become enveloped in special meaning, for whatever nostalgic, poignant, or even downright silly reason.

But I also sometimes pine for the days of my youth when the Christmas tree delivered a special magic enhanced by a family tradition that was once shared by many families – perhaps out of necessity, and an awareness that real trees cut from a forest tend to dry out and become a fire hazard.

Ever since we came here from Holland (I was born in Canada, only months after “our” arrival), we always had a little woodland at hand – a bit of forest in a back corner of the farm, from which we would select a tree, usually a few weeks before Christmas.

We would all – those of us old enough to walk – be involved in that initial selection.

Then, the weekend before Christmas, Dad or one of my oldest brothers would go out with an axe and return with the best one.

It would be set to stand in a shed near the house.

As we lived in the Alberni Valley, the tree would need a day or two to drip-dry before it could be brought into the living room, which usually happened earlyish in the day on Dec. 24.

But at this point, it was not yet a “Christmas tree.” It remained just “the tree” until we little ones were off to bed in anticipation of those sugar plums dancing in our heads.

That’s when the real magic of Christmas happened.

When Santa paid us his Christmas Eve visit, he didn’t just bring us our few but precious presents (we were much, much farther from rich in those days than we are today), he also decorated the tree.

I’ve come to realize that it was a stroke of genius on my parents’ part to let Santa do the decorating – and oh! how masterful a job he always did!

It’s much easier to convince kids of the reality of Santa with glitter and lights than with gifts bought at Woodward’s or ordered from the Eaton’s catalogue.

We went to bed with a lovely green tree in the corner of the living room reminding us that tomorrow would be Christmas.

But when we awoke, it had become a Christmas tree that shone and sparkled throughout the house.

And it was CHRISTMAS!

As I grew older, the job of Santa often fell to me.

I would come home from university and find the tree waiting for me to dress it up. My first Christmas Eve with Donna, she helped me decorate the tree at the farm, under my mom’s approving eye.

My technique has always been the same: pick a special, artistic theme and stick with it – this year, for instance, we decided on all red and glass balls, icicles, and acid-etched glass ornaments.

Then, when those are all up, a few of the most special ornaments are sprinkled in – gifts from the kids and the grand kids, memories of our parents, special pieces from friends lost or away, reminders of our experiences together.

And finally, when all of those things have pretty much filled the tree with as much as the branches can bear… everything else we have goes on!

And I can still see my mom, rocking across from us, smiling and nodding.

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