Early on, as I was introducing myself to the Daddy Blogger genre, I ran across Mr. Big Dubya and his tales of Lil Dubya and immediately felt like we’d be buds if we lived near each other. Since our kids are about 2 weeks apart in age, I’m sure we’d end up hanging out watching the kids terrorize each other and playing fantasy football in the fall (I’d kick his ass, of course). Then, I started reading his wife’s blog and I was certain the wives would get along great as well. We’d be such good friends, that I could give them crap about getting me their Christmas Family Traditions post on December 24th. So, even though it is the day after Christmas, I give you The Dubya’s and their family traditions.
Mr. Big Dubya
Growing up, Christmas was, as it is for most children, an exciting and wonderful time and certain things could be counted on from year to year. However, we had “traditions” in the broadest sense of the word. Other than one aspect (which I’ll get into later) none of them have really been carried on, at least with Mrs. Big Dubya and I.
Things really got rolling a week or two after Thanksgiving. My father would head out to the garage, set up the ladder and retrieve several boxes stored in the rafters. One contained the artificial Christmas tree and the others were filled with sundry decorations. Even this part was magical as each box retained some pine-scented aroma from Christmases past, even though there wasn’t a live bit of pine anywhere to be found. Artificial=unscented. The boxes were carried to the living room where the furniture had been rearranged to accommodate the tree. Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby could be heard from the stereo console, the spindle of which was filled with six LPs.
First, the tree was unpacked and the inside post of the tree was assembled and placed in the stand. While my father did that, my brothers and I would separate the color-coded branches into piles to find them easier. Everything was done in order—God help you if you went and inserted the dark-green branch into the lowest portion of the tree while everyone else was working on the upper, pink-colored ones. Once everything was together, my father would then string the lights. (Back in the 1970s, the lights we had were multi-colored and resembled floodlights in your backyard.) Did I mention that during all this, my mother was busy elsewhere? Her job was ornaments and decorations…just ornaments and decorations. (I think she had tired of my father telling us about their first Christmas together and the search for a tree stand—it involves my mother standing in their living room, holding up the tree while my father was out. Maybe it’s just me, but it is pretty funny.)
Ornaments are then placed on the tree with an exact precision—Mrs. Big Dubya knows that I come by a lot of my neuroses honestly. Each son also placed his own ornaments on the tree—we each had several with our names on them and some were ones that we had made in school. In fact, we have an ornament on our tree in the Dubya household which was fashioned from an old Christmas card that has written on the back: “Warren 1972.” Once everything is in place, the tree was moved into the corner and the rest of the decorating was finished up: ceramic trees, plastic reindeer and, the piece de resistance, a Hummel creche (a nativity set from my grandmother) were placed in their usual spots.
After all that, things pretty much quieted down until Christmas Eve. My grandparents would usually arrive that afternoon. (They were separated so one might get there before the other.) We would then head off to the evening mass and return home for Chinese food. This is the one tradition that has carried over since Mrs. Big Dubya’s family did the same and we continue to do it now.
The highlight of the evening was an early visit from Santa Claus. For over 40 years now, the neighborhood I grew up in has celebrated the holiday with a Santa that would go from house to house where children are and drop off presents which were dropped off by parents weeks in advance. He arrives on the back of a pick-up truck decorated to look like a sleigh, complete with reindeer and Christmas music. I was lucky enough to be Santa one year—I’ll tell you one thing, it’s a good gig. I made $150 in tips and came home with six bottles of liquor.
Christmas day was like that of many other homes with children. Early wake ups and the quiet broken by shrieks and loads of “What did you get?” As Little Dub grows up, I look forward to Christmas mornings just like that.
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Mrs. Big Dubya
Growing up in our house, the Christmas tree always provided material for a good story.
Let us begin with some background — my parents’ house is old…. built in the 1800s…. Translation: It’s a big house with a lot of rooms…. a lot of teeny, tiny, little rooms – and our living room is no exception. Every year, for as long as I can remember, my Dad would try to convince us that our living room was too small and that we didn’t really need a tree – we could just pile the presents around a poinsettia or one of the holiday plants that the neighbors sent over — and my mother would set out to prove him wrong. A couple of years she opted to go off to the tree lot and attempt to buy the smallest, skinniest tree she could find – small and skinny enough to just tuck in the corner of our teeny tiny living room and be hardly noticed. Sadly, these skinny, scrawny trees tend to have some less than desirable features…. first and foremost they are bald on top….. essentially, they have a stick that sticks out of the top.
My mother tried to downplay this problem by “trimming” the top of the tree…. Actually she chopped off the stick that pokes out of the top of the tree, thinking that this would make it look less stark…. but, if you take the top off the tree…. it’s no longer tree shaped…. it looked more like a giant Christmas shrub. Picture us kids crouched down to take photos in front of the big round shrub in our living room….. the kids can’t be taller than the tree!
Another year, our cousins were heading back to the old sod for the holidays…. and they were leaving on Christmas Eve…. so they took their tree down just before heading out to the airport – My Dad decided that a good tree shouldn’t go to waste, so he brought home their giant tree and stuffed it into our teeny tiny little living room….. thoroughly delighted that he got a tree that already had tinsel and it was free….. it didn’t matter that it took up half the room.
During another Christmas season, our cousins in New York lost some of the pieces to their artificial tree….. my parents proudly put it together and it was the talk of the neighborhood…. So much so that most people stopped by the following year to see if they’d put it up again!
There was the year that we went out to buy our tree on Christmas Eve…. the man on the lot tried to charge my Dad $8 for the tree…. Dad, the shrewd bargainer offered him $5…. The guy said no, $8…. They went back and forth, back and forth…. Finally, Dad noticed Aunt P and I shivering and desperate to get home…. he begrudgingly paid the $8….. while we were loading our tree onto the truck a fellow stopped and said, “Hey buddy, how much did you pay for your tree”…. Dad just held up 5 fingers…. Aunt P and I still laugh about that.
Whether it’s around shrub-tree, a used tree, a fake tree with missing pieces or an $8 tree…… the memories of Christmases with my crazy Irish family are among my fondest!
You can visit Mr. Big Dubya at http://mrbigdubya.blogspot.com
You can visit Mrs. Big Dubya at http://mrsbigdubya.blogspot.com