On our about us page is the story of why my husband started selling Christmas trees and how, years later, I became involved but what, you may wonder (and sometimes so do we) is why do we continue to do it? Some years it’s has been out of necessity to cover a tight year, but over time our motivations have evolved. In the beginning it was an economical reason rising from both the need to fit within our own budget and an opportunity to make some extra money over the holidays. Growing a bit at a time; from 50 trees in the back of a pick up truck, then 100, 200, and increasing each year.
As children came into the family and grew, it became an environment to teach them to work, earn money and serve others. Granted some of them went through begrudgingly complaining about the work and making pronouncements about “when I get a ‘real’ job”, while our friends, neighbors and family members asked for job opportunities for their own growing teens.
Our little tree lots grew from year to year and so did our footprint. It went from a small lot on the front lawn of our home to a car lot. Other things were added besides just trees; wreaths, decorations. In addition to that, tents, a couple little sales “sheds” our well-loved 1950s Double-Decker bus, attempts at Reindeer pens and even the old classic Airstream trailer we camp out in on the lot. Merrill Family Holidays was becoming an interesting and traditional place to come for families all around the valley. Frequent comments of “We come here every year.”, “ We’ve been bringing our family here since you sold trees from your house.” and “I’m so glad you’re still here. We wait for you every year.” made us realize the small impact we were making.
As we became a solid Christmas tradition in our community we’ve thought more about traditions. The practice of putting up a fresh cut Christmas tree is a universal traditional activity and we began to embrace the idea of the traditional. The holidays are all about traditions. Common traditions such as decorated trees, hanging stockings, sending greeting cards, became common and an ingrained part of Christmas through the commercialization of holidays (starting as far back as late 1800s). Their origins are varied, obscure and sometimes speculative but no matter the roots of these practices, they are firmly rooted in our American culture and many others around the world.
I realize though that what you can find in the stores is a very small part of the traditions we build in our homes and families. Even these very personal traditions change and evolve as families grow, marry into other families and cultures and blend together. Each family has it’s own set of traditions for the holidays.
Traditions hold us together as families and friends. We create them constantly. Our little business of selling fresh cut trees has become a huge part of so many family traditions and we realize it’s not just about buying a tree. It’s about the experience of being together as a family, extended family, roommates, and friends to get that tree.
We’ve come to take traditions into consideration. What makes something special during the holidays? Everything you ever remember is based on the experience you have with it. To explore some of the ingredients that go into that magic recipe of Christmas and holidays in general, I’ll share some of my own experiences and traditions. I can not speak for my husband in his own because ours were different growing up and we try to blend them together in our own home and for our own children.
I am the oldest of five kids in my family and second oldest cousin on my Mom’s side. When I was young (about ten) we moved back to where my Mom grew up to be close to my Mom’s parents, Grammie Jeane and Grampa Lloyd. We had Aunts and Uncles and cousins in the area or just a couple hours North. My sister and I had three other girl cousins around our age that we did everything with. We did a lot with extended family in the time that we all lived close together.
Grammie was a creative and talented seamstress and would make all us girls matching gifts. Silky night gowns one year, a barbie tent and sleeping bags another. She also decorated her tree with her hand made Victorian ornaments hung among the common shiny balls and baubles. She would thoughtfully decorate each gift with ribbons, picks and other trinkets that, when laid out carefully around the tree, were so absolutely amazing and fascinating to look at.
Our family and which ever Aunts and Uncles were in the area would gather together at Grammie’s on Christmas eve. We children would get to open a Christmas eve present (usually new PJs), we’d have opportunities to show off our budding talents; playing a Christmas piano piece or singing or showing off a play we wrote. I remember all of us gathering around the piano and singing carols and then reading through the story of Christ or acting out the nativity- if we had enough kids.
Christmas morning we were up early (of course) lined up youngest to oldest for the big reveal of what Santa brought. We were allowed to see what Santa left us and open the gifts he’d stuffed in our stockings but the rest had to wait until we could all sit together. Mom would leave us playing with our new toys while she made a pot of hot cocoa -yes, cocoa made on the stove top, not from a packet- and waited for the Christmas bread to finish baking. She made a cinnamon pull apart bread shaped as a Christmas tree. My personal favorite. We would have to have breakfast before we could all sit and exchange the rest of our gifts.
One of the big family traditions that was started around this same time was the annual “Biddinger Family Christmas party”, often early in December, with all the Aunts, Uncles and cousins. We’d get together for a potluck dinner and catching up, and take the opportunity to do our sibling gift exchange (between my Mom and her siblings) and our cousin exchange. We’d draw new names for the next year and then all sit down for the highlight of the party -and not just for us kids- the White Elephant game. We had 20 -30 people of all ages in the circle.
Now, in hindsight, I realize our game was a little different than most other white elephants I’ve played. The biggest difference was in the gifts. Each family was responsible for bringing several wrapped gifts for the game. White elephant gifts were meant to be low to no cost and “just for fun” -stuff you had on hand. I’ve gotten all sorts of silly, ridiculous and fun things. A pocket note planner, little stuffed animals, back scratcher, candies, an old license plate, a piece of pipe, dollar store games, gag gifts, and anything else. One year I thought it was clever to crochet a white elephant for the white elephant game. (I was pretty proud of myself). It wasn’t about the gifts (although what kid doesn’t like opening more gifts), it was more about the experience of playing the game.
The other difference was in the rules. We all sat in a large circle with the pile of wrapped gifts in the middle. Three or four baskets with pairs of dice would be passed around as fast as possible for a set amount of time (clockwise, in case your were wondering). “Ready, Set, GO!” For every double six combination you got to run into the middle and grab a gift. Once the gifts were gone from the middle, and if the timer was still going, you could steal from each other until the timer ran out (if someone stole your last package you could steal another but not the same one stolen from you). Yes, it could get very competitive and yes, we had some shed tears from the youngest ones who didn’t quite understand or those that were a bit sensitive about their gifts but it was a great laugh overall and the highlight for most.
As we all grew older, grew up, moved away and started our own families, those traditions became impractical and some times impossible to continue. Those traditions of our growing up years faded away, were adopted in our new families or merged with new traditions.
One thing I never really thought of as a tradition was the Christmas stockings we had when we were little. My Grandma Celia had a friend knit matching stockings with each of our names sewn into them for our family.
This last year though I notice for the first time in years that Mom had hung them all from her mantle and even stuff some goodies inside even though her kids were grown and we all came to visit at different times ranging from before Christmas to after the New Year. She may have been doing this very year but this year, I noticed it and it was more significant for some reason.
As soon as I saw them, I instantly felt at home, in spite of the fact that her home is new and not the one I grew up in. Now that my husband an I are down to our last child at home, we realize that our blended family never had that together and in fact we don’t have any sentimental or personal Christmas socks at all. Perhaps in the hope of bringing our scattered family closer, it inspired my husband and I to commission a friend of mine to knit us some matching stocking with names stitched in. No, they didn’t grow up with them but when they come home, they can see they are not forgotten at the mantle.
So why do we continue to do what we do? Believe me, it’s hard work and sometime we wonder ourselves but underlying all that I believe now it’s because in some small way we are encouraging, adding to and helping create those traditions in other homes. Just as in my own stories I can count so many traditions from how a tree is decorated to, annual parties, to favorite foods. It’s true in every family, every where. We look for other products and experiences that add to that feel of nostalgia and tradition. To us, it brings the spirit of the holidays out.
No, we are not just a tree lot, nor do we want to be. We want to be a source of nostalgia, a reminder of Holidays in the past. We want to inspire a return to old traditions or spark ideas for new ones.