One must be cautious when messing with tradition because things have a way of going askew.
For nearly her whole life, our 18-year-old daughter has been the diligent and fussy keeper of family traditions, deeply offended if a certain food dish is omitted from the Christmas Eve buffet, or if a particular ornamental decoration fails to make its way from the bottom of the box in the attic.
But she’s all grown up now and exposed to new worlds, including the traditions of other families.
Some of which she has decided are better than our own.
Some of which she has decided need to become our own.
This is how it came to be that we have a massive, misshapen, warped and twisted fir tree leaning pitifully against the railing on my back deck.
It took a lot of time and a lot of energy to get it there.
See, the real blame for this Christmas tree debacle lies with our friends the Redmans, who each year put on their Norman Rockwell hats and scarves and head deep into the snow-covered woods to cut down the most glorious tree in the land.
They sing Christmas carols the whole way, sip homemade cocoa from warm thermoses, and neither their feet nor their hands get cold.
Nary a cross word passes between them.
They easily pull the beauty through the snow on their decorated sled, ease the 11-foot wonder into the living room, stand it upright with ease and invite all the neighbors over for figgy pudding while they adorn it with lights and family heirloom decorations.
It’s true Christmas magic.
That’s how my daughter imagines it when she arrives at their house a week or so later to gaze upon the beautiful green monster, which truly does put anyone else’s tree to shame.
This year we were going to be the Redmans. We were going to cut down our own tree and it would be tall and unwieldy and outshine all of those perfectly shaped trees at mall parking lots everywhere.
Alas, I had to work that day.
So the husband, the son and the determined daughter with hatchet in hand headed out to a Christmas tree farm.
I think they forgot their scarves and their hats and their Christmas carol hymnals. But they finally found the tree, all agreeing it was the perfect one.
They cut it down, dragged it across the bare frozen ground to the cash register and were stunned when the owner took one look at it and said, “That’ll be $10.”
My husband was stunned and even argued with them that they could not possibly charge so little for this large and perfect specimen.
But they insisted $10 was fine.
On top of the car it went. It was lugged inside and plopped into the Christmas tree stand.
And then, as daughter and father gazed up on it, something seemed askew.
Teenage son decided he had somewhere to be.
“OK, you hold it at the top there and I’ll screw the stand in and we’ll get it straight,” said my husband.
Our daughter patiently stood holding the tree trunk for two hours as my husband screwed in and screwed out the tree stand. Each time the tree was more crooked than before.
I came home from work well after dark to find a perfectly shaped 6-foot-tall tree — similar to the ones we have every year — in the family room.
“Gee. That’s not that big. I thought you were going to get a big one,” I said.
“We did,” they said in unison. “It’s out on the deck. We bought this one from Sprague’s late this afternoon.”
I saw Mrs. Redman a few days later and she laughed when I told her of the adventure they had trying to incorporate the Redmans’ wonderful tradition into our own home.
She laughed till she could barely speak.
“We just about get divorced over that freakin’ tree every single year, Renee,” she chuckled. “It’s an awful, awful thing, but we do it every year. There have been some years we’ve had to drill holes in the trunk of the tree because by the time we wrestle it inside every branch has broken off, so we drill holes in it and stick ’em back in.
“Honest to God, I’m bettin’ my kids would give anything if we’d just head over to Dan Sprague’s lot and buy a tree.
“It’s funny how these kids always think that what’s happening in someone else’s house is so much better and cooler than what is happening in their own,” she continued.
That’s probably true of all of us on some level.
Merry Christmas to you this year, and may you enjoy your traditions whether new or old or borrowed.
And don’t fret. If something goes a bit askew, just toss it out on the back deck, hang some peanut butter and bird-seed-covered pine cones on it, and enjoy the birds.