Christmas Tree Traditions

Eric Lim | Photography Intern

I have a confession to make: the Christmas tree in my house has been up since Nov. 20. Yes, five days before Thanksgiving, my family dragged the 12-foot tall plastic tree and several boxes of ornaments out of the attic and began the decorating process.

I should mention one more thing while I confess: it’s really my fault my family is able to decorate the house so early. The Santoro family at one time recognized and took part in the tradition that entailed picking out and decorating a real evergreen during Christmas week, but I quickly put an end to that after watching a particularly horrifying episode of “Rescue 911” when I was 4 years old.

That was the last year I went to choose an honest-to-goodness Christmas tree from a lot. I like to think that I remember it but to be honest, the memory mostly resembles the scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Linus picks out the group’s dinky little tree.

I do know for sure though that I was watching “Rescue 911,” one of my favorite television shows which showed reenactments of real-life emergency situations. In one episode, a brother and sister, still in their pajamas early on Christmas morning, were excitedly opening their presents, when all of a sudden, a short circuit in the decorative lights caught the evergreen they were sitting beneath on fire.

I was scared by this cautionary tale and immediately internalized host William Shatner’s words of advice: buy a plastic tree. My fear of the unlikely fire was great and my innocent enthusiasm unrelenting. I told my parents that under no uncertain terms would there ever be a live tree in our house again. Of course, no one knew anything about the risk of lead poisoning in the plastic trees manufactured at that time.

But I digress. This year I came home to find everything up and decorated while I was gone. I was kind of miffed when I found out that first of all, they started so early and second, they didn’t even wait for me to be home from school to help. But like I said, decorating is a process. The production each year is so extensive that I have to admit, I’m pretty grateful that my younger siblings did the work for me.

Usually, everybody in the house has his or her own job to do when it comes to decorating the tree. Dad used to begin by stringing the lights, but the fake Christmas tree industry got clever and started manufacturing them strung beforehand. Now his only tree-related job is to stack the metal tubes that serve as the trunk.

We have always had a very elegant tree. My mother, a designer by trade, typically starts the process by draping the flocked tree (which is apparently the official term for a fake tree with fake snow on it) with very large ribbons and bows. Only in recent years has she deemed me worthy to properly outfit the tree myself. This year she really let loose and let the tweens take care of pretty much everything.

This year, I came home to a veritable winter wonderland. Mom let my siblings (in a bout of insanity perhaps?) create a more whimsical theme than her traditional one of elegance.

Yes, the table filled with angel figurines is still there, and the garland and stockings have been placed beautifully in their usual spots on the mantle. But the giant ornaments that we usually hang on the trees on our front lawn appear to be floating from the ceiling in the kitchen. And the 3,000-piece Lego Taj Mahal my brother built last year has red ornaments placed around it and an immense, glittering bow on the dome. And mom actually let my little sister completely tear apart and refashion the 3-foot wreath that hasn’t changed since she first decorated it in the early ’90s.

Still, everything about the tree has remained the same. Neither my sister nor my brother has successfully convinced my mom to use the stylized Radcot brand Pooh Bear tree-topper in place of the angel we usually use.

A number of unsightly ornaments collected over the nearly 30 years of my parents’ marriage are still interspersed among the more sophisticated baubles. There is dad’s saxophone-playing Santa ornament, some funny little mice and paper angels, and not to mention the handmade, glittery creations my siblings and I brought home each year in elementary school.

Re-opening the ornament boxes is a treat full of memories that I missed out on this year. I guess I will just have to look forward to rediscovering them when I help put the decorations away on Jan. 6.