Cutting the tree and other sweet Christmas traditions define who we are
Time passes and season, too, but memories last forever
Earlier this month, our 24-year-old son Marc came home from Maryland to cut down the family Christmas tree, something I started doing when we lived in Connecticut and Marc was a toddler cradled in his aunt’s arms. During my time as a holiday woodcutter, a daunting question hung over the proceedings: Would I pass out before I was able to fell the tree?
But since turning over the tree-cutting duties to my son in 2010, he’s become increasingly efficient. This year, it took him just 24 seconds, about half the time it used to take me just to get down on the ground and start sawing.
After cutting down the tree, we went to the Holiday Tree Farm office to pay for it. Emily, 14 years old, her eyes sparkling, her countenance a parfait of peaches and cream, sweetly took our money in exchange for a cheerful “Merry Christmas.”
Mr. Lawrence, Emily’s grandfather, sat to the teenager’s right and behind a table. He wore a red-and-white cap that advertised his tree farm and a smile. He’d planted his first trees in 1981 or 1982. He began selling his trees in 1989. When we moved to New Jersey in 2007, we began buying trees from the Augusta, New Jersey, farm.
As is the case with other families from around the world, my family’s holiday traditions are rooted in practices that reflect who we are and what we need from the holidays, traditions that change as we do. As a longtime journalist, I like to end our excursions to tree-cutting territory with conversations with Mr. Lawrence.
Back outside, Mr. Lawrence moved with the loping strides of an old cowhand. But he’s a New Jersey boy, a 1957 graduate of Hackensack High School, my son’s alma mater. Mr. Lawrence told one of his workers he’d figured out a new way to tie trees to the customers’ cars. The new tactics were used to tie our tree to our car. Laughter from other families and Christmas music from a tinny sound system danced in the air. Snow fell.
We said goodbye to Mr. Lawrence, an unspoken promise to say hello again next year. We got in our car and pulled away. Christmas music played on the radio, but we didn’t sing.
Back at home, I watched as my wife, son and his great friend Maya, a second daughter, decorated the tree. John Coltrane played “My Favorite Things” from a set of tunes my son had downloaded years ago on our computer. The tunes are cataloged under the tag “tree-cutting music.”
I grew drowsy on the sofa. The Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol played silently on the TV. And I communed with Christmases past, present and future, just as Sim does as Ebenezer Scrooge in the movie.
This Christmas, our daughter Lauren will play host to the family Christmas celebration. In recent months, she has gotten a new job and a new apartment. A new man has entered her life too.
Just yesterday, or so it seems, my father-in-law and I were the men in my daughter’s life. She used to invite me to delicious meals filled with toy food that was marinated with her imagination. Though a vegetarian, Lauren plans to serve a real turkey on Christmas Day. She could serve collard greens and green beans too. And with the expert consultation of her mother, aunt and grandmother, perhaps she will.
Lately, I’ve been imagining my 29-year-old daughter as an old woman, reflecting on the first Christmas where the family celebrated at her place. The reverie makes me smile.
Time passes. The seasons turn. Now becomes yesterday and, if we’re lucky, yesterday becomes precious memories.