Amidst these plentiful hours of cold dark rain (O, the weather outside is frightful), we classically turn inwards and indoors to seek reflection, society, warmth and light (the fire is so delightful). It’s the season of coziness. We gather around our gas fireplace to share pleasant evenings drinking hot chocolate, telling stories, putting on theater, watching films, and cracking nuts from their shell. With Lake spending his days in Kindergarten these past four months, it’s been a special treat to have him home for the school holidays. We are embracing the “Home for the Holidays” theme this year with zeal, and with no exotic travel plans on any visible horizon, we are savoring our enduring holiday traditions, made all the more poignant by the restrictions and lack we withstood last year.
Since many of our beloved holiday traditions were on hold last year due to the ongoing COVID pandemic and we are cherishing them this year with renewed vigor. For the children, Christmas is still cloaked in the magical allure that makes it Lake’s favorite time of year. So, we don our masks and set out with vaccination cards in hand to reaffirm what we hold dear and to reinvigorate the classics of the season.
Originally a German tradition, the Tannenbaum was introduced to America via Prince Albert, the German born prince. With his marriage to Queen Victoria in 1840 he brought the tradition to England and when an illustration of the Royal Family gathered around their decoration-laden tree was published in the London Herald in 1848, the idea was immediately picked up in the States. (It just goes to show how the royal family have been longstanding trendsetters, and the phenomena of the Kate Effect predates the current Duchess of Cambridge.) The image encapsulated a quintessential tableau of warmth and family joined together in convivial merriment to celebrate the birth of light and hope amidst the dark nights of winter that continues to compel us all. We are drawn year after year to the ritual of choosing the perfect tree, and bringing it home to decorate. And then night after night of the advent the bright lights of the tree fill the house with a fresh alpine aroma and warm feelings that translate to enduring memories.
Our own VanLaanen Family Tannenbaum tradition began five years ago when Nana brought the tree to us in Seattle on Thanksgiving weekend. It was such a gift to have the most gorgeous majestic and tall Noble Fir appear directly from the forest into our home, and be installed year after year in our living room. The children loved it, and especially Mama. Last month instead of hosting family, we were invited out to Nana and Baba’s for Thanksgiving. The opportunity presented itself that Nana would take us with her on her Tree Farm Adventure, so we could choose the tree together, and take it back home on top of our car ourselves.
It was without a sense of urban alacrity that we gathered together our supplies for the Christmas Tree Procurement Adventure. We embraced the provincial ritual by making it the main event of our day. I packed a hamper with thermoses of hot chocolate, still steaming from the stove. Nana packed easy to peel citrus, and we accidentally left behind the English tea sandwiches she had thoughtfully prepared. We gathered up hats, mittens, shoes and an extra pair of boots, donned our wool sweaters and rain pants, and brought with us puffy coats as well as rain coats. We set out to find our destination without GPS assistance, heightening the sense of mythical journey. This local Christmas Tree farm is a bit of a seasonal pop-up, with no internet presence, and is well known by word-of-mouth only. There is no business listing, and the location does not show up on a map. Nonetheless, it is well signed from the highway and we have passed it countless times over the years, so it was a wee amusing that we were anxious about finding the place. Nana drove slowly down the highway, through the dim daylight as Lake and I peered closely at each embankment and road in fear of missing our turnoff. At last, we came upon this familiar scene, the trees having not moved since our last visit.
The air was thick with grey clouds that started as high up as we could see (which wasn’t far) and reached all the way down to the puddles, wet our faces, and clung to our hair. There was a profound quiet on the tree farm, and we could hear none of the splashing cars driving fast along the nearby highway. The earth was a hard muddy brown, and the trees stood out from the mist, sparkling with droplets of water at the tip of each needle. They had such personality, standing in groups gossiping about the trees that had just been cut down and driven away. We found our perfect tree providentially. A tall handsome fir looked right at us, not partaking in the provincial chatter, yearning for the city. Lake was happy celebrated with our hot chocolate–
As with so many of our plans in life, they don’t always go without mishap along the way. That’s what makes the Story! That’s what makes the Story of Birth to Death unique to us and our family. So it was with our beautiful tree. Once we got it home and prepared the tree to place in the tree stand, we discovered that one or two of the bolts/nuts was stripped, giving the tree a strong lean. One day the water got low, and it turned out the necessary ballast was no longer present anchoring the tree. TIM…ber… it tipped over. That’s the story. Madeline and I swept up the glass, righted the tree, and added more water to anchor it. Michael added some fishing line guy wires later. The tree is tied up now and all is good so far. Probably we should get a heavier tree stand to adequately support any of these future tall majestic Christmas Trees from the Aberdeenshire.
We were so excited to be able to return to experience George Balanchine’s Nutcracker performed live by Pacific Northwest Ballet at McCaw Hall again this year. There was no live performance last year, however Lake is a veteran, having been already several years now. To celebrate the return to the stage, we made it a family affair and invited Nana, our best friends from Portland, as well as our delightful and talented family photographer Chamonix to join us for a rollicking good time to be commemorated on film.
I was thrilled to be able to style a large group, and had a lot of fun collecting the royal and royal inspired outfits for everyone to wear. Part of the preparations included trying on the clothes in advance, to make sure they will fit and look great, as well as having the kids try on their shoes. They are all growing so fast! Lake was funny, as I handed him a pair of black leather loafers he asked, “Are these the big ones, or the small ones?” He had kept track and knew that I had purchased them in the beginning of the year in two sizes.
“These are the big ones,” I said.
“Can I see the other ones?” he said.
“Oh, yeah, these are too small!” He seemed to get a thrill out of the fact that shoes he had worn in recent memory now no longer fit.
“Yea, they still fit!” I said, rejoicing after he tried on the larger size.
Lake said, “Can I wear them to school?”
“Yes,” I said after a conflicted hesitation. I wanted to be able to say yes over something like shoes, yet at the same time, I wanted them to look crisp and new for the photos.
He ultimately changed to tennis shoes, after all things considered, including his own perception that they might get scuffed on the playground.
Lake, “Well, actually, I don’t want my friends to think I changed my style.”
The ballet and the costumes also hadn’t changed in style, and we loved it for it’s consistency. The music and the sets and the dancers and the children sprinkled fairy dust onto our holiday season. We were all enchanted from curtain up to the last smattering of applause.
A Christmas Carol
This is a Christmas Carol tradition from Michael’s family that he introduced to us for the first time this year. He surprised Lake and me with tickets to the ACT Theatre production for the three of us to have a family outing and an evening out downtown. The cast was truly so thrilled to be back on the stage after the COVID freeze. Their enthusiasm was contagious, the Charles Dickens story came to life, and a VanLaanen tradition has been sparked for the next generation. Lake was a wonderful audience member, and was hiding in his seat with one eye peeping out during the visit from Marley. He described the visits from the Spirits of Christmas Past, present and Future as a “nightmare” that Scrooge woke up from, happily!
We have had a series of white Christmases since Lake was born. And so it may be for Lady Kitty as well. We are on the snow watch here, so the kids are outside all suited up in snow suits looking precious, but snow continues to allude us. We are wishing you all a very happy Christmas, white, green, or upside down. It’s a perfect day to commemorate family traditions, or start one anew. And may I just say, I’m so grateful to spend it with you, and to share it with you, too, dear reader. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!