Christmas is hands-down my favorite holiday. It makes my heart swell in an at-once triumphant, joyous, melancholy, and full-of-life kind of way. Christmas is an equalizer. It puts everything in perspective and reminds us to love, breathe, give, and be thankful.
I learned my enthusiasm for the holiday from my dad. When we first moved to Idaho, his first move was to deck out our new home with a 6 ft. (no exaggeration) wreath, poinsettias on the stairway, and probably 100 ft. of garland. He reveled in Christmas traditions and truly took on a (slightly inappropriate and hysterical version of) santa-like persona, especially when all of his sisters, and (mostly) nieces joined our family at our new home in Idaho for an epic Detwiler Christmas in 2000.
Our gathering point was our “Idaho” Christmas tree, which was the antithesis of a the super full squat trees from the lot in California. It was 15-feet tall, spindly, and skinny…and it was perfect, especially with the giant and intricate glass balls that helped fill the copious gaps in the branches. It’s just not Christmas without that larger-than-life tree.
When Chase, Cody, Tommy and I lived in our first “house” after college, I insisted we have a Christmas tree. Chase complained that it was too much work, which confused me as all we needed to do was go see Jake at the local tree lot and pay for one. Chase was horrified and said “the only Christmas tree we will have in this house is one we cut down ourselves.”
And so, our own Christmas tradition was born. The past four years, we have tromped into the Idaho forest, often on or around my dad’s birthday or anniversary of his death, and I can’t think of a more appropriate way to honor my father’s zest for life — and Christmas.
Here’s a look at our latest Christmas tree hunt on what would have been my dad’s 65th birthday.
After a very spirited evening the night prior, Chase and I loaded up the dogs and set out for Eagle Creek, which I found especially appropriate. The first winter after my dad passed — it was a magical white Christmas — my dad’s sisters, nieces and my family were gathered around our iconic Christmas Tree. My aunt remarked on how much she wished my dad was there, and at that moment, a bald eagle flew up the river and perched in a tree across from our house, as though he was looking over us. There wasn’t a dry eye in that living room, and we’ve found solace in a glimpse of a bald eagle ever since.
Chase came prepared with a permit (a whopping $10 for a tree up to 20 feet), borrowed a saw from close friends…we should really just buy our own after four years… and drove as far out Eagle Creek as we could and then set off on foot. The weather the night prior had crystallized the brush poking out of the snow, and Eagle Creek was lazily bubbling. The pups frolicked — Parley went crazy and Zoe battled snow balls in between her toes.
The struggle was real when we finally accepted the fact that we’d have to walk uphill to find our tree. The other contenders were either too short, too sparse, or too close to Eagle Creek to haul out to our home.
We tromped up a narrow canyon — thank goodness we didn’t wait another week, or the snow would have been above our knees — and weaved through stumps, branches, and snowy boughs in search of the perfect tree. Zoe and I scouted the situation up the (very) steep wall on the right. The winner came into view about one hour into our hunt. It stood alone, and at about 15 feet (!), and actually split into two about 2/3 of the way up, but that only added to its charm. It was a tree with character, and it was love at first sight.
We “timbered” our tree, and Chase and I carefully (or clumsily) finagled all 15 feet of our new friend down the hill, a treacherous task. When we got back to Chase’s truck, we realized just how tall our tree was when we had to strap it to the roof of the truck rather than put it in the bed of truck, as about 8 ft. would be hanging out the back.
The worst part of this process? Waiting until the tree has dried out so the decorating can begin. I even sacrificed my car’s spot in the garage for a night to speed up this process.
The next night, exactly fourteen years after my dad passed away, the trimming of the tree began with wrapping some warm white lights around each branch (a very important step) to the sweet sounds of The Santa Clause on ABC Family…and some red wine consumption. As our tree was a little taller than past years, the completion was postponed until the following night after a trip to the drug store for a strand of 100 more lights.
On Monday, December 7, our tree was complete after some questionable “ladder” tactics and balancing acts. While we’ve only shared our own tree for four years, it’s amazing how nostalgic and meaningful even our thrift store ornaments are. We have some red glass balls from The GoldMine, a par par and a zozo, some c’s and k’s, an american flag, hearts, antlers, and my favorite, a mini pink pair of ballet slippers from when we saw the Nutcracker together in Seattle, a Christmas surprise from Chase in our first “official” year.
While many finish off their tree with a star on top (or in our case, a bow) we tied up our tree with a new gift this year, a tree skirt that says “Millemanns” on it, from my soon-to-be sister-in-law. S**t got real in that moment, but in the best way possible.
Christmas trees aren’t just silly symbols, they’re stories…Everyone’s is different and speaks to tradition, family, inside jokes, memories, and exciting futures. Ours is no exception, and all I know is that my heart feels fuller than usual every time I plug it in at the end of the day. That twelve feet of twinkling lights, glitter, glass, and mementos is a reminder to pause, breathe, honor loved ones, and count our blessings.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a holiday season full of love.