Every family that celebrates Christmas has its own traditions. So far, Chris and I haven’t had much of a chance to create our own – he’s had to work during Christmas Day the last several years. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be the year to set our own either.
One of the most beloved traditions of Chris’s family – or at least his dad – is “executing the tree” at a tree farm that shares his name. My father-in-law adores tromping out to the middle of nowhere (otherwise known as “west of Saratoga Springs, New York”), picking out, and cutting down his very own Christmas tree. Invariably, it is always brutally cold. And yet, they still have the annual pilgrimage. Of course, this year, Granddad wanted to bring his beloved grandson along over Thanksgiving break. What’s a family tradition if it doesn’t include the newest member of the family? Because I wanted to spend as much time as possible with both sides of the family, I also invited my parents along.
So we all piled on layer over layer of clothing and drove out to the boonies. We dressed Sprout in his brand-new snowsuit, which makes him look like a cross between the Michelin Man and the little brother in A Christmas Story. He gazed at us in puzzlement, wondering what this bizarre swaddle was. Between the suit, the fact that we stuffed him in the baby carrier (not his favorite), and the fact that it was the coldest weather he’s ever experienced, he was utterly befuddled. He wasn’t the only one – much of the time, my mom was wondering why she was there too. She enjoys spending time with my in-laws, but there’s a reason my parents stopped cutting down their own tree a decade ago. Fortunately, we caught the tractor-drawn wagon on the way back to the parking lot after cutting down the tree. After inching along to avoid falling on ice with my baby strapped to me, my back was quite relieved.
The best thing about the cold is getting out of it. Fortunately, the tree farm has a little lodge, where we drunk hot chocolate, ate grilled cheese, and listened to a guitarist sing James Taylor. It almost made stomping back and forth across the frozen earth worth it. Seeing the farm’s adorable snow-white reindeer was also a little magical.
If “executing the tree” is all about North Country-style stubbornness against the weather, my family’s big tradition was all about child-focused coziness. It was actually a whole bunch of traditions combined into one big one – the advent calendar. My mom – who is absurdly crafty – sewed me a frilly, red-and-green fabric advent calendar when I was a little girl. Starting on December 1, I would run downstairs every morning and pull a little piece of paper out of that day’s pocket. Each card had a little clue on it, teasing a different surprise each day, either an activity like seeing the Christmas lights in the park or a little present like a Christmas pencil. Pulling out that card was the highlight of my December days. On Christmas morning, I shuttled back and forth between the calendar and the kitchen, waiting for my dad to finish making coffee so I could pull out the final card and open my presents. When Chris and I started talking about Christmas traditions a few years ago, I was very insistent on doing an advent calendar for our child.
Now, I’m rethinking my principled stand. I have no idea how on earth my mom managed to come up with 25 different clues and surprises. Thinking about it, I have trouble coming up for seven things for one week! I may resort to a modified version of the calendar, where we have clues with activities for the weekends and something simpler for the weekdays. At least I’m reassured knowing that even my mom improvised a little. Since then, she’s confessed that she regularly switched the cards around when she didn’t have something ready for the next day.
Considering all of the effort our families put in for Christmas, I feel rather ashamed of our accomplishments this year – not many at all. I’ve finished most of my shopping and we have a wreath on our front door, which we bought from one of my favorite charities, H.O.M.E. But inside? Nothing. When we realized that we would only be home for two weekends in all of December, we even decide to not get a tree. Dragging Sprout out in the cold, pulling out all of the ornaments, and putting them all away just seemed like way too much time spent for not enough enjoyment. Even when I had a snow day off from work, we spent it playing with Sprout and building a snowman.
Fortunately, Sprout doesn’t care about our lack of decorations except perhaps that he won’t have all of these lovely, delicate things to stick in his mouth. We’ll definitely need to raise our standards in the future, but for now, the most important thing is not to stress out about more than we need to. With a new baby, we have plenty of other things to worry about.