Christmas traditions carry through the years

It seems to me that holidays bring out the idiosyncrasies in people.

Take my mother, for instance. She’s allergic to smoke and pine, so we’ve always had an artificial Christmas tree. Every Christmas it was my father’s responsibility to set up the tree, my mother’s to light the tree, and the children to decorate.

Now, I know families that do all three things in one evening. Not ours.

Dad would set up the tree in roughly 40 minutes. And we children could decorate in less than two hours. But putting lights on the tree would take two, three, sometimes even four days.

I know: Torture for little kids who just want to put shiny gold balls on those inviting branches.

My mother takes so long partially because she is busy homeschooling us, keeping house, and cooking dinner. But she also takes forever because she’s a perfectionist. She calls it “detailed.”

My mom starts at the top of the tree, standing on a folding chair, and carefully wraps white lights (white is her favorite, and the person doing the lights gets to pick, she told us) around individual branches of the tree. She sometimes fits an entire strand on the top section of the tree. She also wears rubber dishwashing gloves to protect her hands from the scratchy needles. Then, slowly, she works her way back to the trunk of the tree, wrapping around that as best she can, and down the boughs. And then on a select few of the branches.
Then back up the bough to the trunk, and onto the next bough. She repeats.

I grew up thinking this was normal.

Every Christmas, when my father’s parents came to visit, my grandfather would say, “Well, Nancy, how many lights this year?”

“Just 1,800,”she would sometimes say. For those of you that are not familiar with lights, that’s 18 strands. “So few?” he would joke.

One year she told him “I lost count at 2,000.”

There are other idiosyncrasies in my family, such as the aforementioned grandfather always requesting Le Sueur sweet peas on holidays.

I was never a patient child, so I would sometimes secretly wrap a bough or two, hoping to speed the process up. She always could tell.

Finally, when I was about 16, my mom got tired of us pestering her to finish the tree in two days or less, so I took over the job.

Even though I resisted, I’m much like my mother. So the year that I put 19 strands of lights on the tree, after Christmas, I made sure we put a big trash bag over the tree, lights and all, and stored it in the garage.

Now neither of us have to light the tree, and our shared idiosyncrasy can be enjoyed immediately, as soon as we take the trash bags off. It’s a win-win situation.