Someone recently asked me if my family had any Christmas traditions. I wanted so badly to say yes, but the truth is, we really don't. It's odd, really, given that my family is pretty traditional. Conservative, even. But when it came to celebrations, we just weren't that good at them.
Looking back, I think there were probably several factors that contributed to our lack of celebratory skills. My parents grew up in the Depression, in rural Alabama. Both came from large families who had to struggle to make ends meet, my mother's side even more than my father's side. Celebrations may have seemed like luxuries to them, financially speaking. Also, my parents were both largely homebodies. They didn't get a lot out of parties and socializing, so we just didn't do much of it, even as a family. Birthdays were noted, we generally received presents, but other than a party or two when we were kids, we didn't do much to celebrate, other than buy a cake and have a piece after dinner.
Christmas was probably our biggest celebration of the year, for a lot of reasons. My family is religious, so the spiritual aspect of the day was important to us. And as kids, of course, we loved the presents. But we didn't have a real ritual to the season, like putting up the Christmas tree at the same time every year, or visiting the same relatives every year, or anything that structured. How we celebrated Christmas often depended on what kind of mood we were in that year. So rather than a string of Christmas traditions, I have a string of Christmas memories instead, disjointed, often distant, yet nevertheless experiences that have stuck with me over the span of time.
One of my most lasting Christmas memories happened when I was fifteen. My father was the kind of man who didn't let things like laws get in the way of saving a few bucks. Rather than going to a Christmas tree farm that year, he decided to procure the tree from the roadside somewhere. So in he and my brother came, dragging something that would have made Charlie Brown's Christmas tree look classy in comparison. It was basically a sapling, best I can tell, with short, sharp needles spiking every branch. It was four times as tall as it was wide, so spindly that my mother had to sew the top of the tree to the curtains to keep it standing upright. My mother, my sister and I laughed at that tree so much it probably had a complex.
But the tree got the last laugh. For long after the tree was gone, we were stepping on those short, piercing needles it had shed into the carpet, and no amount of vacuuming could spare us.
I've had prettier Christmas trees. I've had much bigger ones. But that pitiful little Christmas tree is the one I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Come to think of it, we do tell that tree story every year around Christmas time. So maybe we do have a tradition after all.