Holiday traditions are special unless assembly is required

Even though I’m capable of having cranky moods, like Mr. Potter’s, I have a soft spot for tradition. Not the wrong kind, like supporting Lions for 50 years, but the right kind, the vacation kind.

On Thanksgiving, I need side meats, like kielbasa, and my mom’s stuffing that includes bacon, crushed giblets, and crushed saltines, not croutons. And it’s stuffed into the bird. On Christmas Eve we have to have Wigilia, which is a Polish tradition where we have 12 different dishes on the table, like pickled herring, but no meat (being served bone ketchup like a child is a bad tradition). Before dinner, each person breaks bread (a host) with everyone else in the room and wishes them a Merry Christmas.

And, despite all the hassle of needles on the ground and crooked trunks, I insist on a real Christmas tree. This tradition is particularly important because every year for 35 years, without fail, my family has come to Matthes à Ida to cut down our tree and visit Santa Claus. One of my favorite memories is of our oldest son – now in his mid-30s – sitting in Santa’s lap like a baby, crying like someone had slipped his Binky.

But having a real tree comes with challenges. Over the years, we have searched the lots in freezing weather, hot, humid and rainy or snowy t-shirts. One year we went despite the freezing rain. The branches were all covered with ice and brittle. The guys didn’t shake or tie up the tree because it was breaking the branches. We tied it to the top of the car with a thin string and drove home at around 20mph as the boys watched to alert me if the tree took off and ended up in the middle of the road.

And, of course, we would always end up with a shaft that was far too big for our front piece with a support far too small to support such a load. To make it stand up straight it took patience, luck, a little ingenuity, string and children’s building blocks.

Every year the trunk was too big, so I had to spend an hour shaving it. When it was finally screwed into place and we let go, it was so crooked it started to tip over. This is where the building blocks came into service. We would stack enough under the legs of the stand to straighten it. Then we decorated it very gently to make sure it stays straight. One year I hammered a nail into the wall and tied a string from the top of the tree to the nail to make sure it wouldn’t tip over.

I admit that these challenges have often made me wonder why we don’t get a fake tree and call it a day. But I fight that urge just like I fight to stay awake on Christmas Eve when my wife and I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” another tradition.

Of course when the boys were little we couldn’t really watch the movie because we would stay awake all night wrapping gifts and assembling bikes, a tradition almost as welcome as silver Christmas trees, sweaters. ugly, fruit cakes and dirty Santas that have fake beards and smell of bourbon.

Ray Kisonas is the regional editor of The Monroe News and The Daily Telegram. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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