Thursday, December 13, 2012

Broken Traditions

Every family has their holiday traditions...most families have a few...and one of ours is how we, as a family, decorate.  Every year we get a real tree.  Even when we lived in Canada where artificial trees are the norm, I insisted that ours be a fragrant, real tree.  Of course, there are no Christmas tree farms in Edmonton, so we had to buy our tree out of the grocery store parking lot.  Now that we are living in Oregon, we make the trek to one of the many local tree farms in our area and select ours right out of the field, which is cut, shaken and baled that very moment and brought home sticky with sap that fills the car and house with its heady, evergreen fragrance.  The guys carry the tree into the house and help get the tree into the stand, and then they're done with holiday prep for the rest of the season!  The girls and I then take over.  My youngest daughter Kate pulls out all the boxes from storage and lines them up for me, ready to be unpacked of all their treasures.  Then she gets out the Dicken's Village.  Then she takes the little mauve mini tree and pink mini lights and goes upstairs to her room to decorate her pink room for Christmas, and she's done for the season.  Then I turn on the Christmas music and begin the solo job of putting the lights on.  People think this is the worst part of decorating a tree, but I want to do it because I'm very particular about spreading the lights just so over the branches so the tree is lit from within and without.  A great way to do this is to use icicle lights.  I've decorated a lot of trees over the own tree and our church trees every Christmas for the past 25 years...and in a different theme each year! (That's between 50 and 75 trees, because some years I've done 3 or even 4!)  I've decorated artificial and real, and I know the quirks and benefits of each.  I've also learned a few tricks...and one of the best tricks is icicle lights.  I remember when they first came out and how pretty they looked hanging from the eaves of almost every house on the block.  I bought some with the intent we'd hang them too, but my husband, who HATES hanging lights, never got around to it.  The next year when I pulled out the lights to decorate the tree, I picked up the string of unused icicle lights and I had a "lightbulb" moment...why not use them on the tree?  All those little strings that dangle off the main string could be tucked into the inner branches while the main string could circle around the tree, thus giving me the dimensional lighting I was looking for in half the time and tangle!  My mom was doubtful.  She envisioned icicle lights hanging straight down the outside of my tree and thought it would look odd.  When I was finished (in half the time!), I had her take a look and she was awed.  Years later, she called me one night and said, "Guess what?  I'm watching the home channel and they're doing a demo of hanging icicle lights on the tree!  You were ahead of your time!"  Yes, I guess I was!  I think I've had three ideas like that in my whole life...ideas where if I had capitalized on them I could have either made some money or had a small moment of fame.  But I guess I'm only smart enough to think up the idea, not market it, so that's not really very smart, is it? (Hooray for Pinterest, which gives us a steady stream of creativity when we're lacking it!  There is no longer any excuse for an ugly Christmas tree...or wedding!)  After the lights are on, my other daughter joins me and we decorate together, standing back with a critical eye to adjust until we are satisfied with the finished result.  Then we turn on the fire and turn off the room lights, and sit by the glow of Christmas light and firelight, sipping hot chocolate or coffee and eggnog, listening to music, and enjoying the true start of the season.

But this year things are a little different.

My daughter Kate is in Bosnia. (That's in Europe, used to be Yugoslavia, for those of you who need a geography and history refresher.)  This is the first time in our family's history that one member is missing for the holidays.

So, the tradition of Kate pulling the boxes out of storage was broken.  I pulled them out myself.  The tradition of Kate taking out the Dickens Village was broken.  I didn't even bother setting it up.  The tradition of a mauve mini tree with pink lights in a pink room was broken.  The mauve tree sat forlornly in the storage room, leaning to the left against the wall, and the pink room is now a boyish blue, black and brown.

I wasn't really just felt odd.  I missed her, but not mournfully so.  I thought about how she was going to celebrate Christmas so far from home, and I was excited thinking about how we would Skype while she opened the presents I had bought way back in August and stuffed into her stocking.  It was important to me to send her gifts inside her stocking, as stockings are one of our family's most treasured traditions.  I wrapped the filled stocking in brown paper, marked it "Christmas," and packed it in her suitcase.  We would have Christmas together, it would just be different.

I went back into the storage room and lifted out the little pink tree.  I set it right in the family room and decorated it in mauve, ivory and gold.  Now I see Kate's Christmas Tree every day and think of her in her cozy bedroom in Bosnia, tucked in bed under the slanted eaves of her European home while the snow falls on the mountain she lives on overlooking the beautiful city of Sarajevo.  This is just the beginning of broken traditions, I suppose.  The kids are growing up and are at various stages of nesting.  I don't know what next year will be like...or the year after that.  But one thing I do know, and that is this:  Traditions aren't about doing the same thing over and over again.  Traditions are consistent actions that convey a sense of family love and loyalty.  Although the actions themselves may change over the years, the love and loyalty remain.  I believe traditions aren't really broken, they're just reinvented.  And those traditions I intend to keep!

Kate's Christmas Tree

Kate in her snowy backyard in Sarajevo


  1. That was very nice, Karyn. We are in the stage of wanting to start some new ones...just for our little family since our kids are getting old enough to be excited. One will be a slumber party Christmas Eve night in the living room, christmas lights on and wood fire going. That's the ONLY time my kids can sleep with me! :)...or if they are deathly ill.

  2. I swear, you are purposefully trying to make me come home before I need to.