THE FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE
For years, I have received a Christmas card from a friend dating back to my university days.not a close friend in the sense I see him frequently, but someone with whom I have maintained contact over the years.
While a student at university, I received an invitation to my friends family home one Thanksgiving, since my Mother and Father were out of the country on a business trip.
Having no inclinations to endure a round trip trans Atlantic coach flight to join them for two days and a meal, I thought the drive to my friends family would be a better option.
I accepted my friends invitation and was warmly welcomed into their home.
Following their early afternoon traditional dinner, the Mother and Father (a successful dentist), the two sons and one daughter invited me to join them in the decorating of their home for Christmas.
Several large boxes were brought in from their garage, we began unwrapping and placing assorted seasonal decorative items about the home and soon the place took on a festive holiday theme.
A lovely fresh balsam wreath was decorated and a hand tied red ribbon bow was attached and placed on the front door.
As the afternoon wound down and the decorations were all in place, I committed a minor faux pas, by asking about decorating their tree.
We always decorate the tree on Saturday, answered the Father, will you be staying over to join us?
I explained that I would only be staying the night and leaving the following morning to make the six hour drive home and pick up my parents at the airport, who were flying in from Europe on Saturday.
And so, the issue of tree decorating came to a halt.
The Father, a dedicated bonsai hobbyist, gave me a personal tour of his arboretum greenhouse, where he displayed and lovingly care for many of his prized bonsai trees and gave me an abbreviated but informative lecture on the dedication necessary and rewards forthcoming from growing and caring for bonsai trees.
Fast Forward About A Week Or Ten Days
As we approached Christmas and I was making the rounds of numerous parties and seeing old friends during my holiday school break.
I received an envelope postmarked from the town in which I had spent Thanksgiving.
I found inside a photo Christmas card, with the inscription The Family Christmas Tree and personally signed by each member of the family, with whom I had spent Thanksgiving.
Honestly, I was not impressed with their card choice.
It was a photograph of a small tree, with several simply (probably homemade decorative ornaments)..and it appeared the photo of the tree had been taken outside.
Simple and somewhat out of character with the lifestyle I had witnessed during my over night visit to their home.
Fast Forward About A Week Or Ten Days
Upon returning to school, I saw my friend again, we discussed our respective holiday time at our homes and I thanked him again for inviting me to join with his family for Thanksgiving.
I thanked him for the Christmas card but didnt ask any questions.
Fast Forward A Number Of Years
Each year a similar simple photo Christmas card arrives, the tree looks different, somewhat larger, carefully pruned and the number of simple decoration have increased.
Sadly, the signatures of the Mother and Father no longer appear, but they have been replaced by five additional signatures of grandchildren.
The inscription remains the same The Family Christmas Tree.
It was only a few years ago, after I became aware my friends Mother had passed away (the Father had passed a couple of years earlier) and I received the same Christmas card, that I took the call and during the telephone conversation inquired about the significance of the photo of the tree.
My friend told me his late Father had not only been a successful dentist and pillar in their community, but had always demonstrated a commitment to the Earth.
He continued, As young children, we had wanted a Christmas tree in our home to decorate, just like all of our friends had.
That was not to be the case, my Father informed us, he would not permit us to kill nor support anyone who made a living killing trees simply to gain temporary holiday enjoyment.
The family owned several acres and a small cabin just a few hours drive from their primary residence (the home in which I had visited).
The property had been subjected to minimal clearing and modest development, while in their possession for several generations.
It had been passed along to surviving heirs, with stipulations:
No modernization of the two room cabin (still has an outside privy) and only selective undergrowth clearing, but no removal of living trees.
The year following our big commotion over having an inside Christmas tree, my friend continued, my Father took us on a very, very cold early November day to the cabin property.
We spent at least a couple of hours searching the area until we found a sapling we all agree would become the perfect The Family Christmas Tree.
The Friday, following Thanksgiving, all three of us kids were given basic materials, including glitter and paints and directed to make our very own tree ornamentsand the next day, Saturday, we drove back to the property, hiked to our newly crowned Family Christmas Tree and decorated it.
The tradition was formed.first came Thanksgiving dinner, then the decorations were put in place in our house, the following day, we would make our ornaments and then Saturday we would visit the Family Christmas Tree and decorate it for the holidays.
Over the years, each of us kids learned a lot about the care of and respect for bonsai trees from watching our Father.
Needless to say, we jointly applied many of these trimming and care techniques to our Family Christmas Treealthough we were not encouraged to totally stunt or contain the growth of the tree.
As you may have noticed from our annual Christmas card, the care and attention has produced a beautiful shape and since it is an Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus Virginiana, it has a straight trunk and annually produces a huge supply of dark berries for the local bird population.
We do some minor clearing a couple of times each year, but the tree sustains life and actually flourishes in the wild and on the rocky soil without our interventions using irrigation or artificial nourishment.
Now that we have children, we have introduced them to and carry on our traditionhence the additional decorations.
By the way, after our Father and Mother passed, we scattered their ashes around the base of the tree.
Maybe or maybe not, but we think the Family Christmas Tree has grown stronger and looks better now that they have become a part of it.
Fast Forward To This Year
And so.the card arrived in the mail a few days ago.
The Family Christmas Tree looks beautiful.maybe a little taller and a little more robust.certainly better dressed with ornaments this yearprobably because the grand children are more artistic than their parents and disconnected from their iPods long enough to carry on a tradition.
Maybe next year, Ill join my friends family for Thanksgiving, try to make a homemade ornament on Friday and take a walk in the woods with them on Saturday!