Yuletide by the fireside,
And joyful memories there.
—"Christmas Time is Here," Vince Guaraldi Trio
Thanksgiving in my family growing up was a bit different from how it generally seems to work. We didn't always have relatives over, and often didn't make a big meal and eat it together. The only consistent Thanksgiving tradition my family had was putting up the Christmas tree.
Let me explain: my parents are ministers. Thanksgiving is the start of the busiest season of the year for many people, none more so than those in non-profit work. Thanksgiving Day was, for my parents, usually a time to feed people who couldn't get a big meal on their own. That left us kids at home by ourselves most Thanksgivings.
Just about every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas growing up was full of activity for my parents, and often equally full for us kids: counting donation money at the police station and sorting toys at the donation center were frequent and, in my view, unwelcome additions to our schedule during this period each year. So Thanksgiving was the last day available for putting up the tree.
We had a seriously gigantic metal-and-plastic tree. It took about a day for us to set up and decorate properly. We would break it out of its box (increasingly worn out over the years, and often inhabited over the course of the day by the cat, who loved the feel of the scratchy branches), first assembling the huge center pole and placing it in the stand, then sorting the branches out into their various lengths with a color-coded chart, always having to remember which layers were missing one branch (who can say how they were lost?). We'd put the branches on row by row, and, once finished, open our ludicrous treasure chest of ornaments.
Our Christmas tree was an eccentric place. We had little time for color-coordinated bulbs and tinsel; what we had was much better: a combination of odds-and-ends ornaments picked up over the years as gifts, donations to the church, and what-have-you, and an array of homemade ornaments, many of them created in classrooms or of our own accord when we were small. The latter category included a series of polaroids of each child framed in construction paper in 1996, a wreath I made from pretzels and green paper (which since has lost at least one pretzel), some hideously child-painted figurines, various reindeer in classic arts-and-crafts syle (composed primarily of googly eyes and brown pipe cleaner), and some geometric paper figures I constructed on my free time sometime in the 90s. Truly, it was a prodigious and excellent collection, and it made for a great tree.
Unfortunately, the old tree is gone. I miss it. My family will not be together for Thanksgiving this year. And this tree-putting-up is a tradition that I have yet to replace with anything else, so I feel a little twinge of sadness every year at Thanksgiving. The pain diminishes a little each year, though, and I hope one day to start my own little rituals around the holidays with a new family.