Our family’s Christmas trees are pretty awesome.
Multicolored incandescent lights illuminate the things our kids made in school and the ornaments gifted over the last 43 years from my aunt and uncle in California.
We hang a chosen few ornaments from my and my husband’s grandparents’ collections, and some retired Chrismons from the church where we were married.
Glass bulbs reflect the room in a surreal fisheye image, and the model Polar Express steams around the three Little People Nativity scenes at the base.
Our family’s Christmas tree tradition — the search for a tree in a pasture south of Smithfield, and then the chaotic family decorating of the chosen eastern red cedar — came about by chance.
Generally speaking, I’m not huge on tradition or on holidays. Both tend to be a lot of work and burdened with a lot of expectations.
Also, time is almost meaningless to me. I have to really focus to be in step with the clock-and-calendar world. Holidays sneak up on me. Heck, supper sneaks up on me almost every day.
That brings us to the real reasons we started with pasture trees: Procrastination and cheapskatery.
We used to go in to town where, by the time we had gotten around to tree shopping in, say, the week before Christmas, the remaining trees were often crisp and even the ones with more unique shapes were still pretty pricy.
Even if it’s been painted a glorious green, a tree losing its needles is neither safe nor Christmas-y.
Plus, it pains me to pay hard-earned money for a dead tree, even though I know a farmer raised it for the purpose and counts on that income.
One year we came home from a town Christmas tree quest tree-less and crabby. I couldn’t convince myself to buy an artificial tree — there’s just something about a real tree that says “Christmas.”
So, a couple days later, I decorated the ficus tree in the living room. It was Christmas Eve.
It wasn’t the ficus’s first go as a Christmas tree, but it was the first time we did it with kids who might remember it. The Christmas experience is definitely different once kids come around.
The next year, we went out to the pasture for a cedar. It, too, was decorated by about midnight Dec. 24. The smell of cedar in the living room was intense, and the upgrade from a shedding, dry tree or the ficus was pretty sweet.
In years since, the kids have gotten big enough that I feel OK letting them decorate the tree. Some of the ornaments are too precious to entrust to young hands, but many, many more are durable.
This tradition may be out of the ordinary, but it’s a huge relief. I don’t have to schedule myself to go purchase a tree early in December or be irritated with the selection when I’m finally mentally ready.
Plus, it’s fun to go on a winter’s day cruise through the summer pasture with a car packed with kids, or just with the ones home from school.
We tire of the tree’s presence after a couple weeks, a good coincidence with Epiphany. That fits with tradition, though not so much with modern American expectation.
Many pastures in this area are overwhelmed with cedar trees. It’s scenic, but not good for grazing. If you discover you need a break from the commercial tree, ask a farmer or rancher for permission to cut one.
I bet you, too, will find it’s pretty awesome.
This narrative first appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of the Kearney Hub’s Reveal magazine.