Your Christmas tree says a lot about your family; between the decorations and height, shape, and light color, these holiday symbols are the stuff of family tradition and urban legend.
In our house, the height of the tree said it all this year when our 10-year-old begged to be the one to choose it and our 18-year-old joked, “Sure. If you can lift it up over your head you can pick it.”
So this year we have a rather petite Christmas tree, only slightly taller than our youngest son, Quin, who hefted it over his head at Walmart and also carried it to the minivan, in which it fit neatly inside.
“BOOM BABY,” Quin crowed beneath the full moon as he put down the $18 tree outside Walmart. “Owned! Served! Yeah!”
While I shot photos of the moment and of him placing an angel atop the tree (without a step ladder) no camera was really necessary to preserve that memory.
This prompted me to realize that if you shoot a picture of your Christmas tree and send it to a total stranger they can probably tell your parenting style, if you are image conscious, and even how old your kids are by the color, size, and decoration of the that tannenbaum.
Our kids may not remember what was under the tree in years past as clearly as they recall Christmas tree-related incidents in the history of our family.
One of our incidents was the year we were in New Jersey and after buying the last tree in the lot and strapping it to the roof (the night before Christmas) the car battery died because one of the kids hadn’t properly closed the door and the inside light stayed on. The owner of the tree lot took us inside the hot house (just like in Frosty the Snowman!) for hot cider while he and my husband jump started the car. We sang about 20 choruses of Frosty the Snowman before the car started.
There is also the real or artificial tree issue. I’m not going to be a tree snob, but I will note for the record that you miss a whole lot of memories by not having the annual tree-buying experience.
At our house if it doesn’t rain needles, smell good when you saw too much off the bottom while trying to keep it from keeling over, and require a kid to be the “waterer,” it’s not symbolic of Christmas cheer.
When it comes to tree adornment, there are always telltale decorating styles that identify its owners, no matter what the tree itself is made of. A few tree styles come to mind:
All unblinking white lights with one uniform ornament color screams either “childless” or “control freaks who wish they lived in a Macy’s window.”
Breakable ornaments begin above toddler height? Either you have a toddler or a cat. Looking more closely at the decorations and determining if they say “Baby’s 1st Christmas” or are all mice and various cats can sort this out.
The ornaments themselves – Harry Potter on a Nimbus 2000, Dr. Who Tardis or Nascar – reveal what the family watches together and perhaps favorite books.
Having multicolored lights, blinking bulbs, and homemade ornaments is the dead giveaway that it’s a kid-oriented home. By “kid-oriented” I mean you not only have kids, but also let the kids have that little bit of control over family life by allowing them to have fun decorating the family tree.
If you have bulbs shaped like chili peppers you either have teens, a favorite band of that name, or both.
Parents and grandparents look at the tree and see a timeline of their children growing up woven through the branches via ornaments kids made in school, many of which have a photo on them.
The ongoing hilarity of a bad school picture when it becomes the head of a snowman ornament gives everyone decades of laughter and recollections to share.
In our house each person has his or her own “special” favorite ornament that nobody else is allowed to apply to the tree.
At our house it’s the four long glass icicles, one for each boy in his favorite color.
Zoltan, 20, came home from college last night and his first statement about the tree was not about it’s Lilipution size but, “Hey! Who put my blue icicle on the tree?”
I actually took the thing off and handed it to him to replace. It’s likely I will be doing that with one son or another when I am old and gray.
For most of us Christmas has become a time of tangible item acquisition. This year I suggest something harder to wrap, like taking time to sit with the kids and tell them about your childhood tree moments, maybe call the relatives or Skype them for a multi-generational chat about the family trees.
I want to read about your "treeditions" and see those photos from Christmas past and present. You can Tweet photos and incidents to @ModParenthood with the hashtag #familytree or leave your story in the comments.