Changing Traditions

Holly Hills ChristmasWhen I was a child, I was taught that there was only one correct way to decorate a Christmas tree.  We always got a real tree, and it had to be a fir and it could not be put up before December 10th.  We used the big, old-fashioned colored lights and we always put a white light at the top of the tree, and the ornaments were hung according to size, starting with the littlest at the very top of the tree and ending with the largest at the very bottom.  We used mostly glass ornaments, but a few homemade ones were also acceptable.  Finally, we covered the tree with tinsel (the old fashioned aluminum kind which I’m pretty sure contained lead), and that was hung with exactly one strand per branch, starting with the top of the tree and working down.  Of course I saw trees that were decorated differently at my friends’ houses, but secretly, I always thought those trees weren’t quite “right.”

DSC00087Then I married a man who had grown up with pine Christmas trees, often flocked (sprayed with fake snow, for those who aren’t old enough to remember).  He also hated tinsel and thought that mini lights looked best, even though they had pink bulbs along with the traditional red, blue, green and white ones.  I thought it was borderline sacrilegious to put pink bulbs on a Christmas tree, and as far as I was concerned, pine trees didn’t smell like Christmas.  Compromise was slow, but inevitable, and eventually I stopped hanging ornaments by size, bought an artificial tree so it could go up shortly after Thanksgiving, and gave up on the need for tinsel.  I still cling to my old-fashioned lights and glass ornaments, and no tree of mine has ever been “flocked.”  We now have trees (two: a real tree in the basement and an artificial tree in the living room) that we both like.

I remember being a bit annoyed with my husband when he first questioned the Christmas tree decorating rules I had been raised with, and for many years I insisted on adding plastic tinsel to our trees, even knowing how much he disliked it.  (The living room windows in our first apartment were so drafty that the tinsel on our tree was usually swaying in the breeze, which I thought just added to the charm.)  For me, Christmas was all about tradition, and I wanted to stick with the traditions I knew best, even when they didn’t really work anymore.  It took a long time before I realized that traditions are important, but they aren’t nearly as  important as making the people you love happy and doing what works best in the here and now.

Over the years, husband and I have learned to compromise on nearly all of our holiday traditions.  When we were married but childless, we drove over 500 miles each Christmas to make sure we spent  Christmas Eve and Christmas day with our parents and extended families.  When the kids came along, that didn’t work anymore, and we began to stay home for Christmas morning. Now our kids are adults, one married and one engaged, and our Christmas celebrations continue to change as we figure out what works best for everybody each year.  And that’s as it should be.

I will always be a fan of holiday traditions, but I no longer make the mistake of thinking that keeping those traditions are the most important thing.  My Christmas trees may not look exactly like the ones in my childhood, but I still think they are beautiful.  And my family may celebrate Christmas a bit differently each year, but we still have a wonderful time together.  The best traditions, I think, are the ones that are flexible enough to include everybody.

That being said, I’m still not ever going to have pink lights on my Christmas tree.  There’s such a thing as too much compromise.


32 thoughts on “Changing Traditions

  1. I’ll back you up on the pink light ban. It just ain’t right!!

    One of the great traditions in my family was stringing popcorn and cranberries around the tree. After Christmas, we would strip off the tinsel and ornaments and put the tree outside for the birds.

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  2. We had the exact same Christmas tree. Each strand of tinsel had to hang straight. I remember one time, my dad left the room and we threw the tinsel on. We were not allowed to play with the manger either. My family manger is a kids’ plastic one and all the figures made their way to Bethlehem one day at a time.

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  3. Traditions are definitely about the people who make them so it’s great you’re able to be flexible because over time circumstances change. This year my mom will no longer be in her beloved hime as she’s been sick but we will take Christmas to her. The important thing is that we’re together.

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  4. I’m with you on the pink lights, Ann and no white Christmas trees for me either. As a kid we used to decorate the tree the same way you did. Those single strands of tinsel made me crazy but my father never seemed to mind. He had the patience of a saint.
    Traditions are nice but the most important tradition for me is having the family together on Christmas Eve. If I have that, everything else seems to fall into place. But I’d draw the line with pink and white..:)

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    • Yes, I’d rather have no tree than a flocked tree with pink lights on it! Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year, and so far we have all managed to be together for at least part of that day. I know it might not always happen, but I’ll be honest and say that I hope it does. Have a great Christmas!


  5. How about a pink tree? Your post invoked a lot of similar memories of the traditions my family had when I was young, how I carried them onto adult hood, and like you and your husband my wife and I have compromised and adapted over the years with a blend of traditions that is now ours and our kids. But back to the pink tree… When I was a pre-teen my family always got a flocked tree. They got more and more out of hand each year until the year that we got a pink flocked tree. I’m not sure if it was my mom’s influence or what. Surely it wasn’t my dad who was a WWII vet and very macho. More than likely it was the times. So for a few years we had a pink flocked tree with red ornaments and a bright spot light on the floor shining up on it.

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    • It’s funny, because a good friend of mine just told me that her daughter also has a pink Christmas tree! I will have to say that is not my taste, but to each his own! My husband was never a fan of the flocked trees his family had, but his mom just loved them. They put blue lights on theirs.
      Compromise is just so necessary as our families grow, and I think the willingness to compromise helps make the holidays so much nicer.
      Personally, I think it’s sweet that your dad let your mom have a pink tree. That’s true love!

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  6. Oh Ann – what a lovely, thoughtful, insightful post. I am so there with you. One married, one – (practically) engaged 🙂 – and traditions changing – but family time remaining important and cherished. Blending traditions can be a challenge, but it is good to be at the point in life where we know what is really important! Happy Christmas!

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  7. Our tree growing up was like that too. My mother was very particular about the tinsel.
    I normally always have a real tree in the living room that’s tinsel-free but full of lights and random ornaments – we collect them from our travels and at different times in our life, so the ornaments tell a story.
    But I have several other trees – including a purple tree and a pink tree. This year we redid our main room (open concept living, kitchen, dining) so I’ve got two feather trees, one white, with gold ormanents, and one black, with red ornaments. Working on Christmas is the only tradition I seem to adhere to.

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    • I like having more than one tree…it allows us to experiment a little bit in the decorating, and is a good compromise when people can’t agree on how the tree should be decorated. In addition to our real and artificial tree, I also have a small ornament tree in our dining room. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks there is no such thing as too many trees! Thanks for the comment!


  8. When I was a child, one of the tree-decorating rules in my family was that the silver “icicles; needed to be carefully draped on the tree branches one by one, rather than “thrown” at the tree in groups of two or three.

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    • Exactly! When we were very young, we sometimes threw them on the tree, but after we went to bed, Mom would carefully take the clumps down and then rehang them one strand at a time. And as soon as we were old enough to understand, that is the way we hung them too!


  9. I’m pretty relaxed about having the odd pink light here and there in with a whole lot of green, blue, red and yellow ones. Having lights all of the same color wouldn’t be so good, though, irrespective of what that color was.

    As for Christmas traditions, well the ones that never seems to change are my wife traditionally cooks the meal with me attempting to help out and not burn down the kitchen, and then I traditionally wash up with my wife drying the plates and trying not to drop any.

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  10. Great post! My dad always put the tinsel on strand by strand. Nowadays my folks skip it (as do I) because cats. 🙂 This will be my first year combining trees with my new hubby. We’re talked about blending, or doing “his and hers” trees. We have room to do more than one, so that might be the solution!

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    • Thank you! And I think two trees would be the perfect solution. We started out with a second, smaller tree just so the kids would have one they could decorate and handle without us worrying about the glass ornaments we have on the main one. Well, the “kids” are all grown up and on their own now, and guess what? We still do that second tree!

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