Family Traditions

Why I Took Down My Christmas Tree

My tree has been up for two years – literally. It’s a beautiful 7.5′ pre-lit artificial (duh!) tree, decorated almost solely with my extensive Santa ornament collection. I estimate there are over 75 Santas on that tree. It looks terrific lit, and creates a heat that keeps the entire living room nice and toasty.  It’s stayed up because, frankly, it makes me happy! My rationale has been “Why should I take down this beautiful thing that makes me feel so wonderful?!” I turned the living room into a Christmas room (keeping several of my Santa figurines in a glass case nearby) and called it a day.

The children (well, the teenagers) were initially mortified. They viewed my sentimentality as procrastination, disorganization, or even worse, some sort of mental defect. “Mom, what is wrong with you?” Eventually, my daughter began using the tree as a landmark when providing directions to the house. . . “it’s the fifth house on the left – the one with the Christmas tree in the big front window – yes, that’s right…” Finally, it became a source of some kind of perverse pride. “Nobody else has a Christmas tree up in July… my mom is just a Christmas person… we like it!” Hubby just laughed and checked it off as another one of Ruth’s eccentricities. It has even gotten a mention on Facebook as a viable option for a Christmas tree — “the year ’round Burcaw Approach!”


Still, I was surprised by the family reaction to my announcement that we would be taking down the tree at the end of the 2011-12 holiday season. What was I thinking? “We are the family who leaves their Christmas tree up! What will we tell our friends?” It just seemed like time; I mean, do you have any idea how much dust can accumulate on a Christmas tree over the course of two years?  Dusting a tree is not an easy task.  So, the weekend after epiphany (January 6), the tree came down. As I worked on the dismantling, I reflected about why it had to come down now:

  • Simple Boredom: Over time, I stopped noticing the tree. My trips into the living room to sit and read/knit by the glowing light of the tree became fewer and fewer. I began to take its beauty for granted.
  • The Process is Important : As I removed each ornament one-by-one from its carefully-chosen location nestled among the branches, I realized I receive great satisfaction in touching, admiring, and most of all, remembering the story of each ornament.  A thoughtful employee who moved on long ago gave me the gorgeous Santa and Mrs. Claus kissing fish ornaments.  We picked up the little Mickey Mouse in a Christmas light bulb ornament during our family trip to Disney World in 2006. Another rare wooden Santa I bought in a mall in Phoenix while traveling for work.  Santa riding a fish I gave to my husband, an aspirational fisherman. An old-fashioned Santa cross-stitched by my father-in-law was an early marriage gift. The elegant Radke, the whimsical Silvestri, the Santa on a golf ball from my childhood tree. Each ornament stirs up emotions and memories, most all of them good, associated with people and places throughout my life. Why would I deny myself the small pleasure of the trip down Santa Memory Lane?
  • A Tree Does Not Equal Happiness: Where does authentic happiness come from? Certainly, I am aware that nothing external creates happiness on any core level, but the tree has always represented meaningful aspects of  my life – the joy and anticipation of Christmas, special family memories and trips, light that shines in darkness, and moments of peaceful, quiet contemplation. But do I really need the tree to conjure up those thoughts and images? Can I create happiness without the physical reminder? I suppose it is time to consider the possibility.

Will I ever leave my tree up again? Do I promise to go back to the predictable but somewhat dull Advent through Epiphany approach to the Christmas tree? Will the “Burcaw Approach” have value for another year? Or two? What about decorations for next year? Will I go back to the homemade ornaments I tucked away several years ago as the idea for a Santa tree took hold? So many questions, so much to think about. Stay tuned  . . . hopefully many more holiday seasons to contemplate the questions of the TREE!

Family Traditions, Random Stuff

The Color of the Past

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.” – Winston Churchill

Last summer, I sang in church. I have a couple of buddies who play guitar and we did a lovely rendition of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” We even got a “whoop!” of appreciation afterwards, a real feat for a sedate Moravian church.

As we waited for church to begin, my friends and I discussed possible names for our little acoustic, folksy group. I’ve been doing some genealogical research and mentioned I had a great picture of a couple of my ancestors, the Rev. Cole Brothers. The brothers were Methodist Episcopal circuit preachers up in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina in the early 1800’s. “Hmm,” my friend said, “Do you have any interesting female ancestors?” My great-great-great grandmother’s name was Temperance – Tempy for short. So, we’re now “Sister Tempy and the Rev. Cole Brothers!”

I don’t know much about “Sister Tempy,” but I do know about my great-great grandmother, Carolyn Neumeyer. While working as a hatmaker, she was knocked over by Teddy Roosevelt’s carriage in the streets of D.C. The President was mortified and offered her a ride home (she was unharmed). She refused, on the grounds that it was improper for a single woman such as herself to accept a ride from a gentleman not part of her family, even if he was the PRESIDENT of the United States!! Another ancestor served in the NC legislature, riding horseback from his home near Boone, NC all the way to Raleigh (probably an 8-day ride). Family legend has it that Lorenzo Dow Cole, my great-great grandfather, was spared certain death during the Civil War when the musket ball heading for his heart was stopped by the bedroll he carried on his chest. And of course, I can’t resist throwing in my 7th great uncle, the pioneer Daniel Boone. Now that’s an exciting life!

Ah, the color of our history. Our ancestors seem so much more interesting and brave than we are or think we could ever be. And yet, day after day, week after week, we persevere, even if it is just through the mundane aspects of our own suburban lives. Life is as dull as we make it.

Carolyn, Tempy, Daniel Boone, and the Cole brothers inspire me as I sometimes trudge through my own daily living. I may not be riding horseback through the rugged NC mountains or straightening my bustle after a brush with greatness, but I’m blazing my own trail. What will my descendants say about my life? I hope I can live up to the colorful legacy of my own past!

Family Traditions, Recipes

Grandma’s Pumpkin Cookies

Note: I originally wrote this post in December, but didn’t get the recipe until later, so the moment passed. That being said, pumpkin cookies taste great any time of year.

No Christmas is complete without Grandma’s pumpkin cookies. They must be iced, and they must be individually wrapped, especially if sent to loved ones through the mail. It helps to keep them frozen so icing doesn’t run. The pumpkin cookies symbolize all that is good about Christmas – generosity of spirit, sacrifice, love, and sugary sweetness with a hint of nutmeg. Here’s my sister Kathleen’s adaption of Grandma’s recipe:

2 ½ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
1/8 tsp ginger
½ cup butter softened
1 ½ cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla 

Combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Cream butter, and sugar then add pumpkin, egg and vanilla until light and creamy.  Then add the dry ingredients.  Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes depending on size.

To ice them, you can use store bought icing, but if you have time then use this: 

Mix together:
1 lb powdered sugar
½ cup butter
2-3 tbsp milk – may need more
1 ½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp butter flavoring

Ice the cookies after they have cooled a little. Enjoy!