One of my favorite things about the holiday season is decorating the Christmas tree. I always envision an evening spent in family harmony, eating cookies and drinking cocoa with carols playing the background while we all exchange smiles. That hasn’t happened yet – it’s more like a cross between a melee at a renaissance fair and a what I imagine life-size Jenga would be like, but it’s fun, and it’s memorable.
Our first tree together was in a BOQ (Bachelor’s Officer’s Quarters) in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. We’d been married about eight weeks when DiploDad (then 2LTNonDad) shipped out to the middle of the country and I landed back with my parents. They were not sure about this – I mean, they really were sure they’d gotten rid of me. Anyway, I flew out for Christmas, because all leave but Christmas Day was cancelled due to Desert Shield. In a last-minute scramble, DiploDad had rushed off to Kmart to scrape the bottom of the holiday decorations bin, and then rushed home with his bounty to decorate his room. He was proud of himself, and then I walked in, looked around and said, “Where’s the tree?”
DiploDad and I are pretty strict on our trees. Whenever we can, we go cut our tree down as a family, or if we can’t cut it we buy a live one. There’s nothing quite like running downstairs on Christmas morning and impaling your foot on a dried out pine needle and drawing blood. I wouldn’t want the DBs to miss that experience. Sometimes, however, we are in other places where there are no trees to be had. When that happens, we’ve made do with bushes, or if I have the foresight, an artificial tree.
I bought our first artificial tree for half price the day after Christmas at Sears with money I’d been given for Christmas. It was a great deal. DiploDad, however, wasn’t very supportive. We were only visiting the U.S. for the holidays, and when he realized that I was serious about taking it back to our post in Hong Kong, he about blew a gasket. We arrived at Dulles International Airport five days later, me with boxed-up tree in tow, him with an “I-told-you-so” ready in his back pocket. We waited. They weighed. They measured. And then they slapped a sticker on the box and it made a muffled thud as it tipped over the edge of the intake chute and moved slowly down the conveyor belt. Ha. I’d looked up the size and weight restrictions before I went shopping. Oh, ye of little faith.
When the time came to actually use that tree, we were in Ghana and Certain Persons in Shipping (who, according to Trailing Houses are continuing to screw over new arrivals) neglected to ask for the release of our household goods until we’d been in country for almost three months, in spite of insisting to us that it had been released and was on its way at least 3,679 times. It was not arriving for Christmas, we told DB1. DB1 was upset – he was only 4. Trees weren’t anywhere to be found, but the good people in our Foreign Service Family always are. R & G dropped off a few boxes the day before they left for R&R for the holidays. Inside was a tree, lights, stockings, a few holiday plates and other holiday items. I was overwhelmed and DB1 was thrilled. It made Christmas, and made what was shaping up to be a very difficult holiday season full of hope and love. The following year, we were travelling and another family was in the same situation, so the day after our holiday open house, I packed up the tree and sent it across town for them to enjoy. The next year, they did the same thing. I like to think that it’s still a tradition at Mission Accra.
A couple of years we were in Ghana, we took an R&R to Germany, land of Christmas. Even there, in our rental apartment, we managed trees.
The three years that we were in the U.S. we cut our own Virginia Pine at Ticonderoga Farms. http://www.ticonderoga.com/winter_christmas_festival/
The first year, our helper Gifty was with us and she was completely overwhelmed by the experience.
The second year, I made the DBs wear Santa suits and took photos while we tromped around the farm looking for the perfect tree.
The third year, the boys begged me to not make them cut down another Virginia Pine. Virginia Pines are “ninja trees” – you can’t not get stuck while decorating them. Still, my lumberjack husband grit his teeth and did the sawing and the boys wore gloves to decorate so we could keep the tradition.
Last year, we bought a tree at Crawford Market. It’s a nice tree, but it’s wobbly. We hang the ornaments in a circle, wandering around the tree and putting them on one side and then the other, making sure to step back every now and then to make sure the tree isn’t leaning over too far to any one side.
Our tree serves homage to the countries we’ve lived in, the friends we’ve known, and the cultures we’ve experienced. I’ve got an eclectic tree. I’ve got ornaments I either bought or the DBs made hanging next to family hand-me-downs and heirlooms. I’ve an ornament to represent almost every milestone in our family. I love taking them out of the box and remembering all the Christmases we’ve celebrated, the family members and friends we love and have loved, and countries we’ve experienced.
Here’s a selection of my favorite ornaments:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of our ornaments. I feel privileged to have been able to share it with you.
I’d like to leave you with one final photo: the tree that DiploDad ran out and bought me that first Christmas at Ft. Sill. The DBs keep it in their bedroom and sleep with the lights on it throughout December. It holds a place in my heart that is special, because it represents not only our first Christmas as a new family, but reminds me that any man who runs out to try and find a tree, any tree, on Christmas Eve for you when there is nary a decoration left in the shops, is a man worth keeping.