Growing up, holidays were a big deal in the Hunnicutt household. No matter how small the occasion, my parents went out of their way to turn them into a celebration, each with its own traditions designed to make us feel special and loved. As in many families, it was my mother who was mistress of ceremonies, designing and orchestrating every detail.
If all of these occasions were works of art for my mother, Christmas was her masterpiece. It was the most treasured holiday of all, filled with more traditions than I can count. Each year my brother and I would don our choir robes with big red bows for the Christmas Pageant; we would make batches and batches of fudge and deliver them to all the neighbors, and my father would read us the Christmas story from our children’s bible (the spine cracked at the page) just before bed on Christmas Eve.
But of all the traditions, none was more precious than our Christmas tree. It was a family affair. The process began with the entire family setting out, usually in the freezing cold, in quest of the perfect tree. My brother and I would stand by shivering as my father patiently held up tree after tree until my mother finally found the perfect specimen. Then came the lights. My pensive and quiet father obliged, again with unwavering patience, as my mom directed him on how to hang each strand. (And it wasn’t easy back in the day — remember when one bulb went out, the whole string would?? I never heard my dad swear, but surely he had to be damning those lights under his breath.)
With the lights properly strung, the real joy began: decorating the tree. My mother cherished every ornament. Every single one had a story: from those from my parents’ childhoods, to ones that my brother and I had made, to those accumulated from special places or gifted from special people, to the angel ornaments she collected for me each year.
While in theory, the whole family participated in decorating the tree, it wasn’t until I was older that I learned my mother would secretly trail behind us, rearranging nearly every ornament; either because there was a heavy concentration around the bottom of the tree (my brother and I could only reach but so high), or because certain ornaments had “special” VIP places, or because others were not facing in the right direction (those with faces HAD to be facing forward!).
The year my dad died (I was in college, my brother in high school), the process changed – it had to. Who was going to help select the perfect tree and spend endless hours getting the lights just right? We urged my mom to opt for the easy way out – get an artificial tree with pre-strung lights. She would have nothing of it! So, with admittedly limited help from my brother and me, she took over the entire process, not missing a beat.
From a young age, I knew something about our tree was special. I loved it and the whole process, but I didn’t fully understand its true importance until I realized the “gene” had passed to me. Sometime in my mid 20’s, out of college and newly married, I found that I had become became the same, lovingly motivated “Christmas tree drill sergeant” in my own household. My husband didn’t understand the near-obsession at first but quickly fell in line (much, as I suspect, my own father had). Just like with my family growing up, the Christmas tree quickly became a treasured tradition in the young Wilson household.
My mother passed away six years ago. The Christmas tree torch was passed to me. Our tree now includes all her treasured ornaments which serve as a web of memories of holidays and special family times of years past.
And then this year, it happened. The Christmas tree gene surfaced in my daughter. For the first time ever, she insisted that I wait until she got into town before decorating the tree. When she finally arrived and we began decorating, I could sense her shared enthusiasm and I watched with pride as she purposefully placed the VIP ornaments in their “reserved” spots and made sure all faces were happily facing the right direction.
From my mother, to me, to my daughter… the tradition endures.