The first holiday tradition my husband and I shared was cutting down our own Christmas tree. We lived in Seattle in those early days, and on the first weekend after Thanksgiving we would drive his red 1964 Ford pickup to a tree farm in the hills east of Lake Sammamish. It was always cold, and it was always raining. It was Seattle in the fall.
We’ve continued this tradition for over 25 years; for the past dozen we’ve driven over the hill from our northern California town to Santa’s Tree Farm.
This morning we set the alarm for 7am, woke up the girls (even the weekend cartoon-watchers were still sleeping), heated up some spiced cider for the drive, and headed west. The roads were quiet and the air felt balmy – it was really quite magical – and as we drove away from town we were struck by the beauty of soft fingers of fog creeping over the hill.
It feels like a different world from our noisy suburban neighborhood, but in fact Santa’s Tree Farm is only ten miles from our home, tucked into a beautiful ravine just on the other side of the hill that separates us.
Although there are fields of Norfolk and Monterrey Pine and Grand Fir, we always choose the Douglas Fir, native to the Pacific Northwest where my husband grew up. That’s the type of tree his family had every year of his childhood and the type of tree his father’s family always had too. Tradition runs deep.
We find our grove of trees – not too young, the girls ask for a very tall tree – and park in the middle of the muddy road. The van doors slide open and all three girls spill out and immediately begin chasing each other through the field of want-to-be Christmas trees.
They’re running far, screaming with laughter. Because they’re all playing together and running in the fresh coastal air, and because, having arrived at the tree farm the minute it opened, we’re the only family there, we let them be noisy.
My husband looks back at me and says “we have a good life.” And because it’s never a good idea to argue with a man carrying a plastic garbage bag and a tree saw, I agree.
We take a few moments to enjoy the beauty and the stillness, then we set off to find our tree.
Usually the search for the perfect tree takes us at least half an hour, with each member of the family picking out, and making the case for, their favorite. There’s lots of good-natured disagreement, “this one has a hole in it here”, “that one is too short”, “too skinny”, “the branches are too close together”, “the branches are too far apart.”
But this year is different. Someone, perhaps my husband, points out a tree. All agree. A quick snapshot of the three girls in front of the tree for our holiday scrapbook, and in the blink of an eye it is down.
The girls decide that this year they will carry it to the car. Everyone has to get in on the action.
But dad still has to do the heavy lifting!
We head to Santa’s workshop for twine to secure the tree to the roof of the car.
While there, the little girls encounter Santa Claus. When they ask him the whereabouts of his reindeer, he steps out onto the porch to point out the Eucalyptus grove on the hillside across from us, and he explains to them that reindeer love to eat Eucalyptus leaves.
They feel this is a most satisfactory answer. Plus, he’s armed them with candy canes to munch on for the drive home.
Every year my husband and I discuss buying an artificial tree. Many of our friends have done this and their prelit artificial trees are beautiful and natural looking. “Our allergies wouldn’t bother us so much,” I say. “I wouldn’t have to spend an hour lying on the driveway wrapping on hundreds of tiny lights,” he says. “We’d save so much money,” we say.
Ah, but the memories that come with this tradition. We will treasure this morning forever.