As I begin my writing each day I like to focus in on my topic.  If I do not have one I will check emails and facebook and the internet to see that strikes my fancy that day.  This morning, as with many actually, I awoke with an idea.  The idea started before I fell asleep.  It is Christmas Traditions.

Once I have an idea I will simply print that word or words into google and see what comes up.  Today I discovered that there is a swanky speakeasy style restaurant of this name in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.  There is a boutique with this name in Beverly Hills, CA.  Lastly, certainly not least, there is a song with this name quite famous from ‘Fiddler On The Roof’.

If you have any familiarity with the play or the music I am sure the words repeated the three times are running in your head – ‘Tradition, Tradition – TRADITION!!!’  Poor old Tevye wanted so for his 5 daughters to keep the traditions of the family of birth even after they married and left home.  The whole song is on litany about how life had been lived and should continue to be lived the same way even though the girls married into other families with their own traditions.

I think it is safe to say that no matter who married the first two Thurston girls that the family traditions would carry on as they had been and would continue to do no matter what family traditions the husband might bring.  Little harsh perhaps yet not untrue for this oldest girl!  I was going to add the psychology I believed was behind this and then thought better of it.  I brought with me our traditions and together we have made our own.

THEN: Our traditions of Christmas started with the trek for the family Christmas tree.  We would go over to Grumpa’s and leave our car at his house and walk out back on his land in McKinley looking for the perfect tree, not unlike the Griswold’s in ‘Christmas Vacation’.

My mother was quite particular.  We looked and looked and looked.  The fun for my sister and I was skating in our boots on the small ponds that we came across, eating the spruce gum that Dad would cut off trees and being outdoors together.  Finally – and believe me it could have been hours – the perfect evergreen would be selected and cut and dragged back to Grumpa’s where we might also find hot cocoa and ‘Joe Frogger’ molasses cookies with sugar on them.   Then home to decorate.

NOW:  When we lived in Memphis, TN in the late 90’s we were faced with the situation of paying $100+ for a nice fresh tree from a tree lot.  We purchased a very pretty $99 non real tree.  The non real tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving every year.  I use the term non real as to not diminish the tree by using the term artificial.   The downside is no fresh tree smell. The upside is we can have the tree up safely from Thanksgiving to Little Christmas – Epiphany – Jan 6th with no fear of drying out.  There are also no sprills to clean up.

THEN:  The tree would come into the house and be placed in the very ornate tree stand.  As I remember it was white with red and I think it was a red poinsettia with leaves.  It really was quite gaudy.  In the tree would go and be tied off to the top of the nearest window casings with fish line so not to see.

Next was the lights and that was Daddy’s job.  Mummy would sit back and tell him how to do it.  Those were the light strings when if one was out they all went out.  The whole Christmas season we would be chasing light bulbs to keep them all on.

After the lights were all around the tree the gold garland would go on.  We had three strands of it as I remember one of them was well worn and not as fluffy so it went on last.  It was looped around the tree in a perfect way only my mother could do.

The ornaments came next.  My sister and I would argue over this one plastic Rudolph ornament and who put it on last year.  We had the neatest hanging candles – slim pieces of red glass that hung off many of the branches – fewer and fewer as the years went by.  The ornaments were really pretty and all glass then.  Different shapes and sizes.

Once the ornaments were done it was time for the tinsel.  Now this was a chore.  In our house it had to be put on one strand at a time.  It had to be neatly placed on every branch so there were no empty limbs.  It was boring and time consuming.  Who knew these were pieces of lead?  One year sadly we lost a cat to this stuff.

We had gotten Perri and Porro in the fall from Grumpa as his cat Snookums had yet another litter.  They were both yellow and they were named after two squirrels from the Walt Disney show.  Porro was fluffy and Perri had a stump tail that was an actual J if you pet it to the end.   Porro ate the tinsel.  Mumma was frantic to get Dr. Chamberlain to help this cat.  That man, Bless him,  opened his vet clinic at a late hour to let her in.  Sadly the kitten did not make it.  Perri had a long life with us alone!

NOW:  The non real tree is left up all year in the basement with the lights on it.  My husband simply uncovers it and brings it up to its perch in the corner between the windows.  The top star is placed in position and we begin the decorating.  The garland has given way to pearls or cranberry ropes depending on the year.  There is no tinsel on our tree.

Our trauma this year was the star.  The tree was brought up from the basement and awaited the star.  My husband then turned to me and started with, “I did not want to tell you last year……….”.  It seems that the star we had on our tree for 44 years fell apart as he was putting the tree away last year.  He had tried to repair it to no avail this time.  I was sad and what to do.  The tree was ready and waiting.  He said if I wanted a similar star he would go out and look for one while I put out some of the other decorations.  That was what he did though I think I watched a movie with our god-daughter who was here for Thanksgiving!

It took a long time and he came back with the closest thing he could find which is quite nice.  I am certain in my heart that was a long hard loving search as he knows how much Christmas traditions mean to me.

One of our family Christmas tree stories that we tell year after year is about the tree that my husband got on his own one year.  We had gone to our neighbors on Killock Hill – the ‘Killock Kin’ – on our cross-country skies, all four of us from the 4yr old and 8 yr old kids to the two adults.   ‘Grampa Smith’ told my husband there were great trees out back of his house and to go out and look.  The kids and I went across the street to visit ‘Grampa’s’ younger daughter and kids.  Before the tree expedition came about I believe there was talk of homemade dandelion wine to be tasted in the basement.   I went across the street at that point.

The next thing I know there is my husband standing ever so proudly with a live ‘Charlie Brown tree’.   It was sparse as could be.  I looked at it and the words ‘My God it’s a pine tree’ fell out of my mouth as the others fell to laughing.  The tree became swags around the house and we went the next day to find a real Christmas tree.

Our loved non real tree is up and decorated.  The manger is under it with the cradle empty awaiting the birth of the baby.





  1. I love this story!!! I, too, remember tromping in the woods for a tree but my memory is somewhere near the dump. I think we all decorate our trees now the same way. I especially liked the lights that all went out when one did because I like puzzles and I really liked looking for the dead bulb. I remember the shock at my first married Christmas and I found out that we had to go and BUY a tree. I think we made a vow to never pay more than $10 ever again. Boy, that vow got quickly broken.
    This year I considered for a second getting a “non real” tree but not this time. Although, I think the time is coming. Almost everyone we know has one. But we keep saying never.
    We are all decorated, too and I love having all of the lights on in the windows and on the tree.
    Maybe we can all figure out how to keep the Christmas spirit going and going and going.
    Love you, Aunt Becky
    Bet you get lots of great responses with personal stories about Christmas because of this journal entry.

  2. We’ve had an artificial tree also for five or so years. But when our son and fiancee moved in, they insisted on a real tree, so they did the honors last year. And this year since we’re in France, I’m sure they’re doing it again. We’ll miss the whole thing this year. We’ll make up for it next year.


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