A well-intentioned change in family tradition did NOT go over well.
Trying to change a family tradition can backfire when you are a parent.
Case in point: choosing a Christmas tree.
Over the past several years, we have bundled up our two kids in no fewer than seven layers of warm clothing, rode a wagon in wind chill weather all over the acreage of Frank Farms in Athens and tried to reach consensus on the “perfect Christmas tree.”
Fun? Mostly. Mind numbingly cold? Oh, yes. Tradition? Absolutely.
As my husband likes to remind me, I’m the one who brought this cutting-down-the-tree event to our marriage. My dad once whacked down a pine tree from the front yard and wrestled it into the family room where it promptly glued itself to the ceiling because he had to cut off the top … and the bottom. But oh, how the smell of evergreen lingers within my memory.
My husband’s parents, meanwhile, brought their tree up from the basement in a box each Thanksgiving and attached branches to a trunk. A lovely tree, but fake, fake, fake.
“We can buy pine spray,” my husband said. “And no tree needles all over the carpet until summer.”
“I’ll vacuum,” I said in one of our first marital negotiations. “I promise.” Thus began the Kaiser trek through the timber each year.
Once Frank Farms closed its Christmas tree operation, we visited Hubbell Farm just west of Rochester. It offers hay rides, hot cider and chilly weather, especially when you wait until the last minute to choose your perfect tree. You know the kind: nice shape, straight trunk, no gaping holes, limbs capable of holding hundreds of ornaments without collapsing.
The problem was that most of the perfect trees were already tagged, which lengthened our search by quite a cold while.
That’s why I set aside the pre-selection mailer from Hubbell’s in early October. It didn’t take long to convince my husband during this year’s balmy Halloween weekend that we wanted to pre-select our 2010 Christmas tree on Oct. 31.
Oh, I hesitated about mixing the two holidays — Halloween and Christmas on the same day and leapfrogging Thanksgiving altogether? But the sun was shining, the temperatures warm, and besides, I just knew the perfect tree awaited our tag.
“What are we going to do?” our 9-year-old said, mid-bite, as he peered at us with narrowed eyes over his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Upon hearing of our plans, he unloaded.
“We can’t do that,” he said. “It’s not tradition. It has to be really, really cold and snowing. You know! We ride the tractor and look all over for the tree. We haven’t even trick-or-treated yet, Mom. I’m not going. I won’t go. I just won’t. This is not how we pick out our Christmas tree … Come on, you guys, in October?!” He practically spit out the last two words.
Taken aback that a fourth-grader could be so passionate about a family tradition that had existed in his world all of nine years, I acquiesced.
“All right, all right,” I told him before he hyperventilated. “It’s OK. We’re not going to make you pick out a Christmas tree today.”
My husband and I exchanged “who knew?” glances. Pre-selecting made so much sense.
But logic doesn’t often prevail in the face of tradition, which is why the holidays can become so maddening for so many.
Cave under the outcry or forge ahead, family harmony be damned.
After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year, people.
Julie Kaiser is a freelance writer and columnist living in Chatham, Ill.