Christmas Eve Tree Decorating

“Big Christmas. You went to bed, and when you got up in the morning, Santa Claus had been there. The tree was decorated, and all the presents were out. And little boys had trouble sleeping at night.”


“Well, didn’t, didn’t Mom say that you guys would decorate the tree the night before?”


“Yeah Christmas Eve.”


“So did you do that when you were a kid too?”




“Until we all got big enough to help. We did that for Pam [his younger sister]. I remember one year after Dad had run away from home, Mom was really upset about the whole thing. Pam had been sick. She had rheumatic fever when she was a little kid, and so Mom announced that we were not having a damn Christmas tree. We gotta have a Christmas tree Mom. Well if you want one you can get it, I can’t afford it. So I took a wagon and went to the market where my dad had been the manager and talked to Herb, the produce manager, and they sold Christmas trees, and he said ‘we’re closin’ up in a few minutes, take any one you want. We’re just going to throw them away in the morning.’ I went outside and there’s this beautiful tree, had to be 20 feet tall. Load it on the wagon, tie it down, start down the sidewalk and I discover I can’t walk under any of the trees or anything with that damn giant Christmas tree tied on top of the wagon. So I went right down the middle of the block and they used to have those, only in the middle of the street, hanging old-fashioned type streetlights, right over the intersection. And I’d even brush against those haha. Gosh when we got home, we took about eight feet out of the middle of it. Looked like a big sagebrush, almost round. But when Aunt Pam woke up in the morning, she had a Christmas tree, beautiful thing.”


“So where did that tradition start? Is that German?”


“That came with the folks. Came with the folks. Always when we were little kids, you woke up in the morning and the Christmas tree was up. Old Germanic thing I guess. And the christmas tree is up and presents around it, and Santa Claus had been there. Terrible shock to me when I found out there was no Santa Claus. ‘Mommy! …. There’s no Santa Claus!”


“How old were you?”


“Third grade, I think, something like that. But Mom did that even after we were big, uh, until she just got tired. And then we did that for Pam, my brother and I. One year she was really, really sick. And she kept wakin’ up. And she was like ‘Has Santa been here yet?’ ‘No, Pam. Santa’s not been here yet. Go back to sleep.’ So we’d reassure her and John and I were in bed, dressed, haha, and so she’d doze off. Back out again to put up the tree, out up some more ornaments. And the sun was coming up, and finally finished the tree. And Pam could not understand why we were so unenthusiastic about Santa had been there. Been in bed a few minutes haha and she woke up as soon as it was light. Got to go up and sit by the tree. and then you had to wait for Mom and Dad.”




Although this was a holiday tradition for my Grandpa as a child, and was then continued during my mom’s childhood, my immediate family seems to have put an end to it. For now, at least. Perhaps I’ll reignite it at some point, though I’ve always enjoyed having the Christmas tree up a few weeks before the big day, which isn’t really conducive to this tradition. It’s very interesting to notice how “Old World” traditions transform when they reach America. Our society is a melting pot of cultures and people, which can be both good and bad. A lot of ideas are remembered, but often in a skewed or inaccurate way, becoming “Americanized.” So, we are left with an interesting disconnected connection to our ancestral roots. And as seen with the ambiguity of where our traditions come from and why we do them, it’s very probable that at some point in the near future later generations will forget completely anything about their family history. It will take a very select group of determined people to maintain the future’s connection to past, and to not let it be forgotten entirely.

Some of the traditional practices of celebrating Christmas in Germany did, in fact, include decorating the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve “behind closed doors, then a bell [was] rung to admit the children” (731). Lebkuchen cookies were baked, which a neighbor of mine who was born in Germany has shared with my family during the holiday before. In the U.S., it’s safe to assume that most families decorate their trees with various ornaments, often made from glass or plastic, and ranging in degrees of artistry and craftsmanship. In German tradition, the tree could include “woven straw ornaments, painted wooden figures, glass baubles, toy birds, pinecones, and candles” (731), all decorations with distinctly less modern, commercial appeal. So, again, it would seem that although America still holds to cultural traditions, especially for such a popular holiday as Christmas, very few probably still celebrate with all of the original traditions, let alone are even aware of what they are.
Source: Griffin, Robert H. and Ann H. Shurgin. Editors. The Folklore of World Holidays. Second edition. Detroit: Gale, 1999.