Christmas awakening comes as a surprise as old traditions fade

Kansas City Star
BY STACEY HATTON
Columnist

DECEMBER 20, 2017

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday as long as I remember. I’m sure I’m not the only child to choose the day when gifts magically appear over playing find-the-hard-boiled-egg in the yard.

However, if you overlook the eggs, which smell of a hint of vinegar, chocolates are a close second. It doesn’t take much to get a young person on board when chocolate is the prize.

From my earliest memories, Christmas would start with a deliberate bang, like a race start pistol. Something would always wake you up and get things moving. As a young child, it never felt like Christmas until my family’s annual tree fight, I mean adventure.

Traveling to the tree farm outside of town and chopping down the perfect one is such a treasured memory. The problem was not one of us strong-minded tree enthusiasts could agree on what perfection was, perhaps because perfection is unattainable.

The adventure always started with a lot of fun and laughs, but my brother and I knew that would end any minute. The amusement would morph into polite, yet stilted, repartee as soon as it was narrowed down to two trees. Poor, poor frightened trees.

Despite the hopes for a pleasant end, it didn’t take long before the name-calling would start. Don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson never called each other names, but smack talk could be heard across the crisp, cold farm air.

The other spouse’s tree would be called “short, squatty” or “spindly and emaciated.” If the trees could have heard them, they would have had body-image issues.

“Really? That’s the one you want? It’s a poor replica of Charlie Brown’s tree during a drought… now this one is perfect!”

To everyone’s surprise, when I hit middle school, my parents gave up on the farm trip and bought a fake tree. I have no idea how my parents agreed to pick a permanent tree, but thankfully they didn’t include my brother and I for that one.

They agreed they didn’t love the extra stress of picking a tree every year, so they chalked it up to trees of Christmas past. Apparently, it’s arduous to argue arbor alternatives within a big-box store, so there wasn’t much debate.

During high school, sometimes I would invite a friend over to decorate the tree. I thought bringing in an audience would ensure everyone would be on their best behavior. Norman Rockwell would have wanted to join our new family tradition of praising the tree. There had to have been divine intervention.

After having my own kids, the timing of the Christmas start-up shot changed.

The Elf on the Shelf brought the Christmas cheer to my children. It wasn’t our tree that started off the season of joy. They could have cared less about the iconic tree. Christmas was now about a spindly, large-faced elf, playing pranks almost every night.

Change is not always for the better.

Toward the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I agreed with one swipe of a credit card that we’d omit the farm experience of chopping down our tree. Who needed to kill another tree? The obscene amounts of Christmas catalogs we received in the mail were already doing that.

This year, the kids are growing up, the magic level has changed and because of this, the Elf has been forced into early retirement. Poor, poor scrappy elf.

So, what was going to start off the season for us? Not the Elf, not the fake tree, not the hordes of Santas covering every open table space in our home, nor the Clark Griswald amount of lights my darling electrical engineer of a hubby displayed.

This year, my Christmas awakening was surprising.

Last Sunday morning, my family attended a friend’s church service. They featured a formal musical cantata in which the singers wore their fancy black gowns and suits. The music was lovely and so was my friend for inviting us.

The best Christmas gift was there that morning. Why shouldn’t I have expected to find the beginning of my season to be where the reason of the season starts? With all the frustrating things going on in the world, the stress melted away during that service as I sat with my family, listening to old friends spread the joy of Christmas through music.

I know hindsight plays a role in this, but I wish I had cherished those few weeks after Thanksgiving. The silly old Elf, covered in powdered sugar while making snow angels on the kitchen counter, may have been what I needed to kick off the season after all — the season of faith, family and friends.

What’s your beginning to Christmas look like?

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