Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
My mom rocked Christmas. For her, the celebration encompassed more than one day and stretched to span an entire season. Our house became a red and green tinted winter wonderland within minutes after blowing out the candles on our jack-o-lanterns.
The holiday started -and ended - with The Tree. Artificial. This may seem counter-intuitive for a person who rocked Christmas, but from my mom's perspective, a real tree came burdened with too many unpredictable variables. My mom's tree was, to her, perfect. It was proportionate. It was full. It was symmetric. Best of all it didn't shed needles all over the living room carpet.
When I was a kid, The Tree came out of its box early fall and the ornaments soon followed. How many ornaments can you fit on one tree? My mom challenged this question every year. The tree was filled from top to bottom with store-bought glass balls, molded figurines, candy canes, paper snowflakes and handmade trinkets brought home from school. When you thought for sure the tree was full, she'd find a spot to squeeze in another ornament - or maybe even two.
At the end, came the angel. After every ornament found a branchy home, my dad lifted either my sister or me onto his shoulders (we'd take turns from year to year) to place the angel atop The Tree. My mom would plug in the lights and we'd ooh and aah accordingly.
As the years went on, putting up The Tree must have become more of an effort. Even though she remained queen of Christmas, my mom wasn't as able to do the work required to get The Tree into its pristine, ornament-laden form. By this time, my sister and I had grown and gone, so my parents had sole responsibility for tending to The Tree.
Instead of giving up the task, my mom took an offensive approach. (She was a stubborn and pragmatic Scandinavian.) She began decorating The Tree earlier in the fall so she could do the work in small chunks and still be done well before the Thanksgiving turkey came out of the oven.
This continued for a few years. My sister and I joked about the possibility of tree decorating in July, but I know we both appreciated The Tree come Christmas Eve.
Time marched on and the tradition of The Tree became daunting for my mom. Because of her advancing age and Alzheimer's disease, everything about The Tree grew more difficult - from decorating to taking the ornaments off and carefully storing them away after the holidays ended. Some might think that others could step in and take over the responsibilities for The Tree. Those people never met my mom. She might allow others to help with the angel or an occasional glass ball, but the big decisions - like how to position the garlands or where to place special ornaments - were hers alone.
For many people, the tradition would end here, but stubborn (and resourceful) Scandinavians do not give up easily. One Christmas a few years back, my mom decorated the tree for the last time.
Then she got herself an enormous plastic bag. After the holidays, she covered the tree with the bag and had someone move the whole shebang down to the basement where it sat, in storage, until the next year. We moved The Tree (decorations and all) up and down the stairs every year after that. My sister and I joked about the perennially decorated pine, but our tradition of The Tree never wavered.
I'm not sure how long my mom had Alzheimer's. She was probably aware of the disease well before any of us knew, so I'm guessing it was 10 years at least. The Christmas of 2009 was her last with The Tree -; and with us.
This Christmas will be different - without her.
Still, our tradition continues. This year, my dad brought The Tree over to my sister's house, where they did their best to complete the decorating process in the grand style of my mom. We will celebrate around The Tree on the eve of Dec. 24. We will remember my mom and we will miss her. And we will do our best to rock Christmas, exactly like she'd want us to.
Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication." She's collecting fans on Facebook. Please check it out. E-mail her at
; or visit her website at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/.