My fondest childhood memories are of the annual trips to the Christmas tree farm where we spent hours searching for the perfect 14 foot Douglas fir tree. My father would take a chainsaw to the trunk until the very last minute when he would switch to a handsaw (I assume for the more manly photo op).
That evening, my parents would wrestle the tree into a stand as the rest of us sipped cocoa (Grandma always snuck some Bailey’s into hers) and carefully unwrapped decades worth of ornaments. My family loves Christmas, so when my husband and I decided to forgo the trip to the Pacific Northwest and buy our Christmas tree from a parking lot down the street, we had some explaining to do. But for me, Christmas is home. And home is New Orleans. As we build our own traditions for our baby’s first Christmas, we balance our love of New Orleans while also paying homage to where we came from.
While we don’t have acres of Christmas tree farms, New Orleans does have a whole lot of Christmas cheer. We packed our calendar with something for every day of the week: tree lighting ceremonies, Luna Fête, Celebration in the Oaks, Krewe of Jingle, reveillon dinners, concerts at St. Louis Cathedral, Santa at the Riverwalk, Santa at Fulton Street, Santa at brunch in the Quarter…. I pictured Edith in twenty years ready to come home from college for Christmas, joyfully bragging to her friends about all of the events she’s attended since her very first Christmas. It was a lovely thought. Then, life got in the way: My husband had to work late. Edith had a fever. We had no food and desperately needed to go to the grocery store. Oh, and as it turns out, four courses at a reveillon dinner is one too many for an 8 month old. (Shocking, I know.) I sprinted to Father Christmas with open arms. He clotheslined me and told me to slow down.
Christmas is home, not a packed calendar of events. The holiday slideshow in my minds eye isn’t composed of shopping malls or Griswold style lights shows, but rather the intimate moments at home with my family. Edith will remember the Christmas cookies that we’ll make together: Mom’s anise Italian pretzel cookies, Dad’s “Grandma Gilbert’s” loaded oatmeal cookies, and sugar cookies cut in the shapes of fleur di lis & streetcars. She’ll help me make sure that the roux doesn’t burn for the gumbo on Christmas eve, watch in awe as Dad makes the perfect omelets on Christmas morning, and eat the leftover manicotti shells as I make Christmas dinner. (I didn’t find out until my freshman year at Tulane that manicotti is not a staple of all holiday tables. Tragic.) And of course, she’ll remember carefully unwrapping each ornament and sipping cocoa as we decorate the tree… even if we did purchase it in a parking lot.