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Don't Open Till Christmas



   While it was important to me to teach my children the joy found in tradition, I may have inadvertently taught them that change is not a good thing.  As my kids are now in their teens, they have certain expectations of how things are done and will not deviate from the accepted practices of their youth.  Christmas traditions are now set in stone at my house and are under full management of my children.

   Each year, my kids and I put up our family Christmas tree.  My daughter will have already erected a hot pink or glitter covered tree in her room complete with the traditional tree topper tiara because nothing says Christmas like a crown of jewels.  Her tree is decorated with tiny ornaments shaped like shoes and ornaments with pictures of loved family pets.  After her room is all aglow with Christmas lights and glitter we will focus our efforts on the family tree in our living room.  

   There is a very specific method in which we follow to put up this tree.  I will start by climbing into the attic screaming at those below to please catch the giant box or their mother, either of which will be falling from the ceiling at any moment.  I drag the age old box full of branches, which is not only larger than I, but heavier, as well, to the edge of the folding staircase and hope that someone is below to play catch.  The three of us begin sorting branches by length, matching coordinating letters of the alphabet with slots "C"  through "M" in the center pole.  I should have known I was setting myself up for future failure when, years ago, I threw out all of the bottom branches labeled "M".  They were too close to the ground and left no room for gifts or a mother and two children to crawl under the tree and stare up through the branches at all the lights and ornaments, each with their own story.  It is usually about the time we have finished most of the tree that we realize we put all the branches in the wrong slots because we weren't suppose to fill the bottom row.  My children will quickly disappear, leaving me to rework the entire tree, raising each limb one level.  

   After the tree is complete, we tackle lighting.  My son is in charge of untangling all the lights and stretching them out to ensure they work.  While I meticulously place each light so that wires don't show, the kids start crafting their own lighting plans that usually involve decorating my daughter with miniature lights.  Before too long, I have to unwind not only the lights, but the kids, the dog and anyone else who moved too slowly across my living room. 

   After the limbs are in the right place and we have achieved the perfect degree of twinkling, it is time to place the ornaments on the tree.  This is an age old tradition that my children will not share with anyone.  The three of us sit on the living room floor and "oohh" and "aahhhh" as we unpack Hallmark ornaments collected through the years.  The kids remember where each of their ornaments were placed the year before and seek out coveted places on the tree.  The first ornaments to be sought out are two turtles with hinged shells holding signs that say "Don't Open Until Christmas."  Inside is a sleeping turtle waiting for Christmas day. The original turtle belonged to my son.  My daughter had terrible turtle envy as she watched her brother open and close the turtle's shell through the years, regardless of a sign that clearly prohibited such.  Being a good mom, I found an identical ornament on EBay and now we have two turtles, one with a letter A permanently inscribed on the belly for my daughter.  

  


   Somewhere in our box or ornaments, is a "Hunchback of Notre Dame" ornament.  It has always frightened my daughter, so my son makes sure to hang it as close as possible to her favorite ornament. She will look up with pride to see if her turtle's shell is properly closed and will gasp in horror when she sees the hunched over man suspended from the branch next to her turtle.  It's not long until we have a missing turtle, the scary man is hidden in the back of the tree, someone is in tears and I'm decorating by myself.  


   



I will stop to remind the kids how much we love decorating the tree and soon we are hanging tiny angels, hand made ornaments and miniature record players that play Christmas Carols.  My son has more ornaments than my daughter because he is older and it doesn't take long before she is on the edge of tears as she believes that he has more special ornaments than she. This is usually another opportune moment for the Hunchback to reappear, this time sitting on a turtle. Tears ensue and I'm hanging ornaments alone again. 

   
I'll begin a serious hunt to unpack all of my daughter's "special" ornaments so that she will clearly see that she has an equal amount of love hanging from the tree.  After the last of the Hot Wheels ornaments and tiny mice on sleds are hung, we begin hanging all of the ornaments the kids have made through the years.  We have strands of Cheerios and Fruit loops preserved in lacquer and love and paper angels made out of coffee filters.  My daughter has painted a series of wonderful ornaments and my son has many that look like he may have contracted out a team of artists to create. I believe his teachers may have helped him with his ornament making, but the love is still there.    
   




Before long, we have a tree full of memories that has been born out of years of love and tradition. I suppose my children are right that some things simply cannot be changed. 





Allie's Tree







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