2013-12-01 – The wedding was still just over a month away when Kit and I spent our first Christmas together, she a shiksa and me a Jew. I had never purchased, much less decorated a tree. Hanukkah wasn’t a big thing for me, living away from my family, but I did light candles and make a batch of potato latkes every year. Never was there a tree.
We weren’t yet living together at the time, but her place, which is where I eventually moved, was under renovation. The dry wall was up but the floors were still uncovered plywood and most of the fixtures were yet to come. I knew it was up to me to get something for my place. So I bought Kit a small, artificial, pre-decorated tree, which I put on an end table. We still have it.
Our longstanding Christmas tree tradition didn’t start until the next year. By that time we were married and Kit was seven plus months pregnant with our first son Nat. I had learned about a place called Pioneer Tree Farm near McHenry, IL, about 50 miles northwest of where we lived in Chicago. It’s a rustic setting with an eco-conscious warming house where they serve cocoa and sell baked goods and small hand-made gifts. A fire burns outside and kids can play with 19th century toys made of wood. Chickens cluck nearby and tractors tow flatbed trailers that you can ride out to find and cut your tree.
We cut a white pine. People called it a Charlie Brown tree because it was open and wispy with long, soft needles. At home we would decorate the tree, with Kit taking the lead and me trying to stay out of the way by sight reading Christmas songs on the piano.
This is how we got our tree for the next 20 years or so. Since I was the one without a Christmas tree tradition, I was happy that I was able to create one with my idea of taking a trip to the country to get one.
Every year, regardless of weather. Our second year was a challenge. The temperature was below zero and we had our 10-month-old Nat with us. We rode alone on the flatbed out to the trees, the baby wrapped in his gray London Fog snowsuit (without feet), me with my teeth chattering but gripping the bow saw, and Kit on the lookout for a well-proportioned white pine. We spied one at the side of the road, asked the tractor driver to wait for us, cut the tree down in under a minute and were on our way.
Other years were warm, in the 60s. One year we arrived to find the place closed due to mud. In later years we found the white pines depleted due to weather in the planting years and took other trees home. Last year the depletion was so bad that the farm was open only two weekends for the year and we missed it. We found another tree farm, but it was very commercial. Not what we had come to look forward to each year for so many years.
But for the 20 years when conditions were right, the trip was a great family event. In all that time, I never became a fan of Christmas because of all the commercialism. Only three days in the season came to mean anything to me. I love that the commercialism comes to a crashing halt on Christmas day. I like the quiet and I like making a meal and being with my family. I like Kit’s family get together. And I like going for the tree. Many years we stopped at an odd chocolate store a couple miles outside of McHenry to get a selection of treats. On the way home, with the tree tied to our car roof, we would stop for a nice meal on the way home.
Our boys are grown now. Although the farm is open three weekends this year, our boys aren’t around to go with us. Nat works every weekend at the restaurant and Cal won’t be home from college in time. We plan to wait for Cal to get our tree, but that will be the week before Christmas. I think that phase in our lives is over.