Well, Thanksgiving came and went in a flash which means that it’s time to wrap up our year… but not before we do our one and only Christmas tradition: doing the Christmas tree. Decorating a Christmas tree as a family has become one of our absolute favorite activities out of everything we do over the course of a year. Both Chris and I grew up doing it (as do bazillions of people around the world) and we’re thankful to get to do it with our kids.
Christmas trees get a strangely huge amount of attention and social discussion, both good and bad. And with the current political climate and a lot of people feeling newly empowered to be vocal about their views and beliefs, this season may drum up even more discussion around the Christmas tree. For now though, here’s the approach we take with Christmas trees in our family and what we hope our kids will want to continue as they grow up.
What you'll find...
Whether you actively take part in the holidays or not, at some point in life you’ve no doubt heard about the commercialization of Christmas and the meaning being lost. Without getting deeply into it, this sort of talk was always a debate in the community I grew up in and even our house where we LOVED decorating for Christmas. Always, uncertainty of what was the right thing to do regarding celebrating the holidays.
Some people take the approach of “Live and let live; happy holidays!” Others staunchly proclaim the irresponsibility of cutting down a Christmas tree, and still others like to share the the academic perspective: “if you’re going to celebrate Christmas in any form, at least do it at the appropriate time of year,” which is thought to be March… or June… or maybe September (depending on the scientist or archaeologist you talk to).
Over the years, we’ve most commonly just gotten comments about whether or not we’re celebrating Christmas for the right reasons.
True story: on November 13th I was doing some shopping and happened to purchase some Christmas ornaments. I was chatting with a store employee when another employee openly criticized me for purchasing a Christmas item and called me a pagan. He then proceeded to tell me that America’s values are coming back. I walked away and told the manger on duty, cuz yeah, that ended my shopping experience.
This sort of debate/discussion/interaction around something so happy as Christmas decorations made me sad. Why would somebody feel so empowered as to criticize and name call over something designed and intended to bring joy?
For more thoughts on how to positively impact uplifting communities, check out our article on voting with your dollars.)
How are we raising our kids when it comes to Christmas?
We’re not raising our kids with religion. That’s it. We share stories from all different cultures and love to talk about what different people believe and share history, but we’re not requiring them to participate in any sort of religion.
True story: last year we went to Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta, Georgia during the holiday. The old west show that normally plays along the steam train route in the park had a Christmas show instead. The show was very specifically about the birth of Jesus and included a strong religious message. Oliver, our oldest, asked what the lady telling the story was talking about and asked about angels. We phrased all of our answers to his questions with “Some people believe that…” As the kids grow, they can do their own research and soul searching regarding religion, but in the meantime, we’re going to share the fun cultural aspects, such as celebrating Christmas, and allow them to develop into their own people.
Sometimes people use Christmas and other holidays as an avenue to influence us on how we’re going to raise our kids, but we can’t let it get to us. We’re not going to teach the kids to blindly follow or hold certain morals because others want them to. Decorating for Christmas and talking about joy and kindness and leading by example is the best way we can teach them about universal values that are good year round, but perhaps are more visible during the holidays.
Our Christmas ornaments and their stories
Once upon a time, before Chris and I even lived together, we got him his first Christmas tree and decorations. He’d grown up with Christmas traditions like decorating a Christmas tree and such, but he had nothing of his own as an adult. We went and got a Christmas tree for his apartment and then went shopping to find ornaments and decorations that were perfect for him and what he thought Christmas should look like.
I already had my own stockpile of Christmas from the years of collecting and making ornaments, so when we eventually combined households we were set! Our mix was everything from vintage glass bulbs to cheesy ornaments that we’d gotten on our travels. Pairing the ornaments up with vintage garland, Christmas in the soon-to-be Taylor household had a look all its own.
Tip: for so many, Christmas ornaments are family heirlooms and each has a story. Being thoughtful about purchasing or making new ornaments is a way to mark down your memories through the years. Take care of your ornaments and pack them up wisely each year to ensure the memories keep going.
Tip 2: we area always looking for ornaments while we’re traveling. They make for really cool keepsakes and are a great, thoughtful souvenir!
And then we moved to Disneyland. Or we moved to Orange County and I worked for Disney which brought new fun Christmas decorations into our collection. These same ornaments are the ones our kids think are so cool and that they like to decorate with. We had no clue at the time that we were building a tradition that our own kids would love. Amazing how life changes!
Our Christmas tree traditions
Going back to the debate and criticism that a lot of people get into around cutting down Christmas trees, we do indeed do this. You know that we’re about smart travel, avoiding wastefulness, and teaching the kids about stewardship of the land, well, cutting down a Christmas tree is part of this.
In Washington State, we have Christmas tree farms EVERYWHERE; I even worked at one when I was in high school (Cedar Crest Tree Farm, woot! woot!). Christmas tree farms are actually a sustainable farming practice that support a fair amount of local workers/business operators. Christmas tree farms are year round businesses employing workers to plant trees, sheer trees for shape, maintain farm facilities, and then come the holidays, they’re active in the community doing public events and feeding back into the economy.
Our practice of picking out and buying a Christmas tree from a local farm is actually a way to show the kids how to shop local. This once a year purchase has a huge impact on our local community. Also, it’s not negatively impacting the environment as we do this through a tree farm and not out in the National Forests or something. These trees are grown for this purpose… like lettuce is grown to be harvested.
Tip: if you’re going to a tree farm to get a Christmas tree, Nordman and Norway spruce are the two best options for selecting a tree that will last the longest and create the smallest mess.
Confession: we also own a fake Christmas tree. When we lived in Orange County, California, it wasn’t sustainable or affordable to go to a tree lot to purchase a Christmas tree. We didn’t live close enough to any tree farms, so buying a tree at a lot was going to be expensive and we would be getting a not-so-fresh tree, so we bought a fake tree. And if you’re going to have a fake tree, you might as well have a blatantly fake one: a sparkly white one. We actually love our fake tree and use it randomly.
Tip: if you’re going to be traveling around the holidays and you’ve got a fake tree, use it! This is a great way to be able to decorate for Christmas without worrying about your tree getting crispy and dangerous (potentially a fire hazard).
Some years, even if we go cut down a beautiful local tree from a farm, we still will put up our super fake white tree. It’s fun, it’s festive and the kids LOVE it.
Warning: very few fake Christmas trees can withstand a cat jumping into it… FYI. Um, and if you have a really tall tree be sure to have a VERY WIDE tree stand. Thinking back to Christmas 2013… (see bottom gallery).
Christmas over the years
Look how our Christmas tradition of decorating a tree has morphed over the years. Now, with kids it is so much more fun and has to be managed a bit closer.
The holiday season is such a great time of year in general. We use it to build traditions, to teach the kids about giving and being good people, and for getting a bit more time together as a family. As the kids grow, we’ll keep the same approach of decorating our Christmas tree and answering questions about how and why others celebrate holidays differently. So far it’s working out great and the kids love our holiday fun. We’ll see what questions this season brings up; we’re ready to answer though and in every answer we’ll find the best way to teach about the love the Christmas or holiday season is all about, cuz that’s how we share the merry Christmas season!
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”