I come from a very large family. When I say very large, I mean like a litter of puppies large…a BIG litter of puppies. I have two natural born brothers and twenty-three foster and adopted brothers. There were never less than ten of us in the house at one time. Add in the friends we dragged home and you had a regular Humane Society collection of kids.
Christmas was always the biggest holiday of the year. All my brothers came home for Christmas bringing with them their wives and kids if they had any. For that reason, the Christmas tree had to be perfect in Mom’s eyes.
There was a tradition, almost a ritual, about the installation and decoration of the tree. It had a predictable flow to it which established the start and the end of the season.
The tree was always put up the week before Christmas and taken down on New Year’s Day. It went something like this…
Mom and Dad would load us all in the station wagon to make the trek to the Christmas tree lot. The lot was always a different place, because we were a nomadic military family, but Dad usually picked one run by the Boy Scouts. Once there, we would all pile out to go on a search for the ‘perfect’ tree. Of course, the Boy Scouts were helpful too, so Mom and Dad had lots to choose from.
Mother was the deciding vote. She would have us turn our choices around – finding the flaws of a gap in the branches, or a twisted trunk. Some were too tall, some too short, some too skinny and some too fat, for the place she had in mind. Nobles were not on the radar. Mother liked bushy fir trees and in her later years Grand Firs were her favorites.
Once the tree was selected, purchased and tied to the top of the station wagon, we were off.
Arriving at home the tree had its trunk trimmed, was set in the stand and brought into the house. This was all done by Dad and the boys while Mother and I prepared a tray of homemade cookies and hot chocolate for consumption while doing the laborious job of decorating the tree.
Once the tree was inside the house Mother was in charge again. She would have Dad under the tree adjusting the screws and the boys up top in order to get the tree straight, and its best side showing out into the room. Once that was accomplished, which was sometimes a lengthy process requiring many cookie breaks and much debate, then the ornaments were brought in from the garage.
At this point the tree was still in the hands of Dad and the boys, but with Mom as overseer. They had to install the lights. This was in the days of those big bulbs. Mother would point out two bulbs the same color, which were too close to one another. They would have to be changed out. Burnt lights were replaced and eight colored foil shades were put randomly behind bulbs of contrasting colors.
Now it was time for the ornaments. They were each handed out by Mother, one-by-one into our hands. Jazzed on sugar from the cookies and hot chocolate, and impatient from having to wait for so long while Mom and Dad dinked to get the tree just right, we stood in line waiting for our ornaments to hang.
Each ornament had a story Mother recited when she handed it to you because each ornament represented a person or an event. The tree was a hodgepodge of Snyder family memories.
There were three blue balls left from the original dozen purchased by Dad from the Five-and-Dime store on their first Christmas together. They had thought they would skip having a tree. They were young and short of cash with a new baby. But, Mother was away from home and Dad found her crying over my older brother, so he rushed out, found a Charlie Brown Christmas tree and bought the last box of bulbs at the Five-and-Dime. Mother always said it was the best Christmas ever.
Each of us kids had our own angel, picked out for us on our first Christmas and lovely wrapped and preserved year after year. Mine and Wade’s were so old that they were not actually ornaments, but hand painted little ceramic figurines with ornament hooks affixed around their necks. I always though it rather odd looking.
The angel tradition expanded with the foster and adopted and on into the grandkids over the years, until toward Mother’s later years, we had a separate tree for the angels.
The reason there were only three blue ball ornaments left from the original dozen was because Mother established the tradition of exchanging an ornament with friends. Each year, she would buy a few extra ornaments and when company showed up, she would gift them with the mutual agreement that they would bring one from their tree or we would pick one up when we visited. Hence, the many stories Mother told as she handed each ornament out. This is a tradition I have continued with my tree over the year.
The tree had been through the growth of many toddlers and animal family members, so there were ornaments made from plastic for the lower branches. There were the traditional handmade ornaments. Whether made from foil covered toilet paper rolls, cotton balls, Styrofoam with pins and beads, or macaroni, they were all cherished by Mother.
In their later years, Mom and Dad picked up ornaments from places they visited and I gave Mom a fancy ornament each year in her stocking. These all had their history too.
Somewhere about the time the tinsel went on Mother would tell the story of the year the tree fell over twice. The second time it actually fell on Dad, who was sleeping on the couch because he had a cold and didn’t want to give it to Mom. That year we kids had the brilliant idea of filling clear glass bulbs with food-coloring water. Dad not only had the tree fall on him, but it also exploded in a mess of wet and glass. We kids woke to find the tree on the front porch. We had two trees that year. One for the house and the one on the porch which we decorated with popcorn strings for the birds.
Last, but not least, there was the top ornament. Its point has been shattered, but we still used it. The story that went with that one was about a tree that was too tall. Dad bent the top down to attach the ornament, when he released, it flipped up and hit the topper on the ceiling, breaking it off. It’s still a pretty topper, so it still adorns the tree with its own story to tell.
Once the tree was decorated and the skirt placed around it, it was time for all of us to scramble and put our packages under the tree. Each one wrapped in everything from foil and the Sunday comics to brown paper bags decorated with potato stamped designs.
With the packages all in place, there was nothing left to do except sit back, eat more cookies and watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” one more time.
I Wish You All a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season
If you are looking for something special to place under the tree, think about my newest offerings from my fantasy collection, Farloft’s Storybook for your hatchlings age 2-1/2 to 6, or the Farloft Chronicles – Collections 1 and 2 for age 9 to adult.
If your tastes do not run to fantasy please check out my website for sample chapters and purchasing links to my Scifi, Paranormal and Memoir books.
“Scifi reminiscent of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein” “Paranormal like a breath of fresh air in a genre that has become formatted” “Fantasy beautifully written with complex characters that children to adults can appreciate” “Memoirs that are heartwarming, funny and soothing to the spirit”