The end of Thanksgiving officially marks the start of the holiday season. Christmas music takes over the radio, lights go up in neighborhoods around the country and shopping becomes a competitive sport. But before my family decorates the house or mails letters to Santa Claus, we have a very important holiday tradition that I can’t stand to miss.
Since I was very young, chopping down the Christmas tree has been my favorite part of the pre-holiday set-up. Our family would bundle up and head to a local tree farm. My mother had a specific type of fir she wanted, but it was the kids’ job to pick out the perfect tree for our living room. The branches had to be thick, but have enough room to hang plenty of ornaments. The tree needed a perfect point at the top, strong enough to hold a big, golden star. The lowest level of branches must be even and full. Obviously, it was a complex process, filled with lively debates between myself and my two siblings.
Once we found our ideal tree, my father would get out the ax and chop the thing down. Then we all got to carry our tree back to the barn, see it shaken and wrapped, and grab a cup of wassail. My mom and I would pick out a fresh wreath. My sister would head in to the little store and beg for a new Christmas ornament.
The whole thing may seem pretty simple, but it has always meant so much to me. It was the beginning of the holiday season, the way to signal that we were ready for the most wonderful time of the year. Even after my siblings and I had moved out of the house, I would come home from college the weekend that my dad was going to cut our Christmas tree. I couldn’t miss it.
When I first met my husband, he had an artificial Christmas tree, which was a little like blasphemy to me. It made it through our first Christmas as a couple, but it was never seen again. I’m not sure if I converted him to the magic of a fresh-cut tree or if he’s just going along with something I feel passionate about. Either way, our home smells like Christmas, fresh fir and all. And every year, we trek out (hopefully in the snow) bundled up with hats and gloves, to find the perfect fir tree. Now, my daughter gets to be the final decider, using her own criteria to pick the right tree to grace our living room. She gets to hold the very tip of the tree as we carry it back to the barn. And then she and I drink a cup of wassail and pick out a fresh wreath.
Some may complain about pine needles on the ground, or having to buy a new one every year, but chopping down our own tree is a part of Christmas in this family. It’s the start of the season. Forget the super-sales and long lines, our post-Thanksgiving holiday tradition involves finding the perfect piece of the great outdoors and bringing it into our home.
Every family has their own way to kick off the holiday cheer. What’s yours?