The first time I broke away from my grandmother’s Christmas traditions was the year I got rid of the silver icicles on our Christmas tree.
My grandmother believed that traditions help make holidays special. This was most apparent when it came to her Christmas traditions.
She had to have a Christmas fruitcake that had to be made before the first of December so it could age properly.
Even though the same items could be found in local stores, she had to order at least one thing from the Sears Christmas catalog.
And she had to have a Christmas tree covered in silver icicles.
As long as these three traditions weren’t broken, we had a merry Christmas.
When I was old enough to stand in a chair, I watched her make her fruitcake, wrap it and place it in a holiday-themed cake tin, then open the tin every few days and sprinkle the cake with brandy.
By the time I was ten, she had taught me how to fill out catalog forms and call customer service numbers to place her Christmas orders.
And as far back as I can remember, I decorated our Christmas tree as she sat in a chair directing.
When my grandmother moved into a new house in 1988, she started a new tradition. Instead of directing me how to put up the Christmas tree, she told me the task was all mine. I was excited for about fifteen seconds.
“You can decorate the tree by yourself this year,” she informed me.
“Really?” I asked, trying not to let my excitement show.
“It’s all yours,” she replied. “But, you’re going to have to get a new tree, new lights, bulbs, a star, and icicles.”
I knew what that meant. The task was all mine, but she still wanted her tree done her way.
I was moseying through a store gathering the items for my grandmother’s Christmas tree when I suddenly felt the urge to rebel, to break with tradition. I asked myself what she would do if I changed things up a little. Throw the tree out on the trash pile? And me with it?
“She might,” my good sense answered.
But I didn’t listen.
That evening, my grandmother sat in her chair and watched as I put up the tree. She nodded pleasingly as I draped the lights around the tree. She said how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. When I took the red bows out of the bag, she asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
“Hang them on the tree,” I answered.
“I don’t think those will look good with icicles,” she said.
“I didn’t think so either,” I responded. “That’s why I didn’t get any icicles.”
My grandmother tried to hide her frown, but it was hard to hide a frown that covered her entire body.
When I was done placing the bows over the tree and placing the star on top, my grandmother’s frown turned upside into a smile.
And we all had a merry Christmas.
Last year, I broke the Christmas tree tradition again.
Out went yesteryears glistening ornaments and colorful ribbons and bows. In came fall foliage and white doves.
As I put up the tree, I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder to see if my grandmother was sitting in the chair watching.
If she had been, I’m sure she looked over the rims of her glasses and wondered when they started making pre-lit tree. I thought I heard her say how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. And when I reached in the box and took out the brown, yellow, orange, red, silver, and gold leaves and then the white doves, I know she frowned and asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
When I was done placing the foliage and doves over the tree and placing the star on top, her frown couldn’t help turning upside into a smile.
And it turned out to be a merry Christmas.