"Wake up punkin', it's time, get your coat." His silhouette was dark against the golden glow of the doorway.
I was instantly alert. My feet found the cold boards of floor before my hands starting grappling with my jeans. I shook my sister's shoulder.
"Wake up, wake up, it's Christmas, it snowed!" It was our little joke. Kath would wake me up like that in the middle of July. In the sweltering, non-air conditioned heat, when we would stick our pillows in the freezer before bed, just to induce these frosty, sugar plum-covered dreams.
Wake up, wake up, it's Christmas, it snowed! It always worked.
Because it was said with bright eyes and enthusiasm. It was imbued with magic. Katherine, maker of fairy things, believer in magic, was capable of real magic. And even though you knew the silver ring, with the tiny blue stone was not really left for you by fairies. And that Kath had sewed the velvet pillow it rested on and had laquered the tiny box herself and bought everything with hard-earned babysitting money. You let her deny it and you Believed.
Only now, it wasn't far from the truth. It wasn't Christmas, but it was the next best thing. It was Christmas Tree Day! It was a wonder we had managed to sleep at all.
Katherine was awake, and struggling into her own clothes, over sleepy shared grins. Jeans. Thermals. Down North Face jackets. Christmas trees in our family were an adventure that started before dawn. A six hour round trip in the truck, then up the side of a mountain, in deep snow that swallowed truck tires and tiny bodies in drifts upon drifts of impossible whiteness. Searching for that perfect tree was a trek through thigh-deep drifts that made your heart beat soundly in your chest. And when you stopped to catch your breath, the powdery snow blown from the tops of trees made a glittering cascade of brightness that was otherworldly in the sunshine.
My father viewed trees off a Christmas tree lot with contempt. He would shake his head sadly at the perfectly symmetrical trees propped up outside the hardware store. He viewed fake trees with such derision, that it was best not to speak of them in his presence. A Christmas tree, the only true Christmas tree was a blue spruce high up in the forest. A spruce that had housed birds. That squirrels had feasted on the tender buds of needles. That had sheltered deer from the wind on the lee side.
The Out Loud justification was ostensibly saving money. But the Real Reason, was the forest and the adventure itself. Because after gas money and a full day tromping through snow, we were well into it. But in the city, in the house, my father was a caged animal. Pacing back and forth. In the forest, on the side of the mountain, he was alive, alive. He was free and that freedom was contagious.
Already, he had the truck started and was pacing in the driveway. My mom was awake in the kitchen to make sure our shoes were on the right foot. They were. And that in our excitement we hadn't forgotten the lunch she had packed the night before. We hadn't.
We had hot chocolate in a thermos and bear claws sticky with cinnamon and egg salad sandwiches already squishy in plastic wrap. We had grapefruit juice in tin cans with pull top lids. We had bright green Forest Service tree permits. And we bundled everything into the cab of the truck, heater on full blast. I sat over the gear shift, because my legs were the shortest. And the doors slammed for the long drive. But it didn't feel long. Our hearts could power hot air balloons. We could have been going to the moon and back, it wouldn't have mattered.
What's your favorite family Holiday tradition, or best Christmas memory? Do share...