Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Traditions

This time of year, I think back to Christmases past, when my Dad would take an axe and a toboggan and the children to go look for a tree.  There must have been trees to buy in town, but we would never have done that.  It made no sense to spend good money on a boughten tree when all we had to do was go out and get our own.  Usually this meant walking through a neighbour's woods (with permission) as we didn't have many conifers on our farm.  Later on, thanks to Dad's love of planting trees, we would have pines and spruce growing in every corner that wasn't suitable for tilling or grazing.

Dad would let us choose the tree, so long as it met his conditions.  It couldn't be too big (topping a larger tree would be wasteful) and it should have another tree close by that needed the room to grow.  After much walking and debate, the choice would be made and we would come home to show Mom our trophy.

As we grew up, we children came to realize that, more Christmases than not, our tree would be what would now be called "a Charlie Brown tree."  Rarely would our tree not have major gaps in the foliage and the challenge would be to set the tree up with its best side out.  Often we realized there was no best side.  Since Dad was the adult on these excursions, he would ultimately bear the responsibility and the response would usually by "you'll never notice it once the decorations are on".

In 1973 Lois and I married and moved to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.  While we did usually buy our Christmas tree, occassionally we would venture out to cut our own.  The poor spindly specimens we brought back would have made some of the trees from my childhood look almost good.

Our first Christmas in Yellowknife, we asked our families back home to send us something homemade for our tree.  The resultant decorations were a wonderful gift that made us feel much closer than the thousands of miles that separated us.

In 1985, when we returned to Ontario, I tried to carry on the family tradition of cutting our own tree.  My children would also say I was continuing the tradition of the Charlie Brown tree.  They would say it every Christmas and say it often.  Like my father, I always took it in the loving way it was intended.

Now, on our property, we have spruce trees planted over the years and, each December, I try to find one that fits the criteria set by my father so many years ago.  This year, I found two spruce growing in the open but too close together for both to prosper, so one is now in our parlour waiting for the family to critque it.  This one is actually pretty good (but it won't be Christmas if they don't find something wrong with it!).

As with all families, digging out the decorations trigger a flood of memories.  When I was a child a few faded balls were specifically kept from my grasp as they were the last of my Gramma's decorations.  Now, I realize that we are the "Poppa and Nanny" and some of these items will eventually find a new home with a new generation.

A variety of decorations adorn our tree, many you will never find in a store.  Treasured are eggs splattered with candle drippings, homemade birdhouses and for me, the crude baler twine angel my Dad sent to Yellowknife for our first Christmas. He said he couldn't think of anything fancy but it will always be my favourite.

Merry Christmas from Shagbark Farm.

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