When 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.”
Then 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.