A Change in Tradition
Some Christmas trees are topped with glittering stars or elaborate angels shimmering with gold and lace. But my family’s annual Christmas tree is adorned with a handmade tin foil and cardboard star my husband and son made nineteen years ago.
The first few years Rob and I were married, preparing for Christmas was almost an afterthought. The holidays were squeezed in between Rob’s medical school exams and traveling to visit family. But after Josh was born, I wanted to develop special memories of Christmas for our family.
“We really need a star for the top of the tree,” I told Rob as we wrapped multicolored lights around the tree trunk and unpacked our haphazard assortment of ornaments.
“Josh and I can do that,” he volunteered.
But instead of setting off to search store aisles, Rob and Josh retreated to the kitchen. With much whispering and laughter—and ample amounts of glue and tin foil and glitter—they constructed a star.
After all the decorations were hung on the tree branches, Rob lifted our tow-headed son up high on his shoulders. Josh leaned forward and set the slightly lopsided, silvery star in place.
And so began our family tradition.
Each December our holiday decorating culminated with Rob helping Josh place the star on our tree. As our family expanded to include two daughters, the tree overflowed with their handmade ornaments. Their hands eagerly fashioned red and green beaded ornaments and painted glass balls. Their chubby-cheeked toddler faces smiled out from photographs glued to construction paper.
And when the last ornaments were hung, Rob always helped Josh place the star on top of the branches. Even during Josh’s teen years, my husband pretended to hoist our growing son up high so he could put the star where it belonged. Josh’s smile of childish glee and pride changed to laughter.
But the tradition remained.
Then, my unexpected pregnancy altered our family. Christa was born on Christmas Eve, creating new traditions for our family. Christmas became a time to celebrate two birthdays—the baby Jesus’ and our daughter’s.
The year Christa turned four, Rob once again brought the plastic boxes of decorations in from the garage. I sorted them out, separating the kids’ decorations so that they could find them easily when it came time to decorate the tree. Josh was living in Denver, so I put his box of ornaments to the side, the silver star on top.
“You know, Mom, I think Christa should put the star on top of the tree now,” my daughter Amy said.
Change a nineteen year tradition? No.
But throughout the rest of the day, I mulled over Amy’s suggestion. And I realized she was right.
Josh had graduated from college a few months later. Except for summer vacations, he had not lived at home in almost four years. In the future, Josh would likely start his own family and his own traditions. He might not even make it home for some holidays. Katie Beth and Amy would leave home too.
Would the Christmas star tradition just fade away as Christa’s older siblings transitioned into their own lives?
On Christa’s fourth birthday, we gathered in our living room. The tree twinkled with multi-colored lights and our beloved eclectic assortment of ornaments.
I gave the tattered tin foil star to Josh. Josh passed it to Katie Beth who handed it to Amy. Amy then presented the star to Christa. And as tradition dictated, Rob bent down and lifted Christa onto his shoulders so she could lean in to the tree and placed the star on the top branch.
My eyes shimmered with tears as I watched the ending of one tradition.
And the beginning of a new one.