Every year since our children were babies, we have packed up the kids the day after Thanksgiving and driven up to the Mount Hood National Forest to cut down our Christmas tree.
It’s quite the effort especially a day after we have filled our bellies with turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and pecan and pumpkin pies while sitting in a warm home around a relaxed table.
This tradition of finding our tree takes quite the effort. Packing gloves and mittens and winter jackets and snow pants and snow boots and hats and sleds and the saw to cut it down and the rope to attach the tree to our van. My husband does all of that.
I make lunches. I get the better deal for sure.
It is a tradition that we inherited from my husband’s family.
It’s the best Black Friday deal in town. A Five-dollar Christmas tree. We pick it up at the Estacada Ranger Station. Yep, $5.00, and the price has not gone up during our entire married life, which is 28 years.
But, I cannot put a price tag on the feeling of being in the woods together as a family. Nature and fresh air are healing to me.
Mostly though, it’s the tradition part that I love. It’s one of several family traditions that give our family roots.
It’s been a neat tradition that we’ve shared with my husband’s side of the family since we were married. Over the years, friends and extended family have joined us as well, or gone separately. It’s great to tell people about traditions.
This season feels a bit different as we navigate our way through our post-accident state. The start of this Christmas season already feels really overwhelming. I felt serene waking up the day after Thanksgiving, knowing the season was here. With five kids, two married, there is a lot to do for the Christmas season.
But, somehow, this tradition, getting out into the woods with my family, away from the overwhelming crowds, soothed me. It was so worth it. Always is.
I love traipsing with my kids in the snow, weaving our way through the woods with our boots sloughing through the white stuff as we pass tall timber and look for a clearing and a hill where the trees are smaller. We have liked the noble fir each year as you can actually hang ornaments on them and have them dangle.
As we approach different trees that our family members find, we evaluate them for their various virtues or issues: Too tall, too thin, too bare, too thick, to short, too crooked. We make these various comments and then say that we will keep certain ones in mind as we move on to others.
Once we can agree on a tree, our kids help cut it down, depending upon the age of the child. In the past, my husband has done the honor over the years of cutting then hauling the tree to the car; our older sons have helped as well.
And, especially this year, due to our accident, my husband just cannot everything anymore. Cue: teenage sons. Our twins, 18, cut the tree down and sure enough, dragged it up that hill. We have done this with five kids for 25 years at so many various stages of life. It’s neat to see the older kids begin to get to do more, like the actual sawing of the tree and seeing it fall to the ground.
And, if I’m honest, sometimes when I look at that “real” tree we get each year, the one we have finally agreed upon, it looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. These are not those full, flocked ones you see on Christmas tree farms and lots. Yet, we love our “real” tree. It’s perfect for us, in its imperfection. It’s real. Like life. Not perfectly flocked.
It’s also satisfying to see our grown children make our Christmas tree-search-tradition a priority in their lives. As I continue to navigate life since our accident, I’m treasuring every moment even more than I did before. And, I did before a lot.
We have two married kids. Our daughter Rachel and her husband currently live in Germany so they are unable to join us right now, but our son Ryan and his wife of two years have joined us each year since they’ve been together. My daughter-in-law Larissa said to me this year that they couldn’t wait to get their tree with us this year.
They made it a point to be here with us. She even had several days off from work, which would’ve given her the chance to go home — she’s from Lopez Island, a day’s drive and ferry ride away.
But, she said she wanted to be in the Portland area to go with us to get their tree the day after Thanksgiving.
That meant so much to me, as a mom and as a mother-in-law.
I’ve heard friends of mine say that they get their Christmas trees sans their kids. “Too much of a hassle to take the kids. Too much work.” I’ve worked at the Boy Scout Christmas Tree lots and seen parents there alone getting their tree. “My kids didn’t want to come,” I’ve heard voiced.
But I say, make it into a tradition. Make it fun. Make it part of what your family does part of your values, part of your family culture. Bringing food helps. And using language, affirming to your kids, that this is something we do as a family. Create that togetherness, that sense of family identity, that sense of family belonging.
I know our tradition is a bit wild and crazy as it takes much of an entire day, and people do not always have an entire day or they may not want to take an entire day and an entire day is not necessary. It is not about where you get your tree; it’s about the time with the family. The tradition.
I’ve been seeing Instagram and Facebook photos and reading the posts, talking about particular family Christmas Tree-cutting traditions and I love them.
It’s about the traditions. Ours happens to be getting a real tree in the real woods.
Traditions. They keep us and our kids grounded. They give us a sense of belonging. They are part of our "this is what our family does together."
Traditions are part of our family's values, part of what keeps our family together and part of the reason we return to one another.
Traditions, in short, are part of our family culture that keep us rooted during the holidays -- and beyond.
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