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The Importance of Tradition

March 15, 2014

By Mary Beth Wighton

By Mary Beth Wighton, Person with Dementia
Date: 2012-12-14

I love tradition. I come from and am part of a family of traditions. Growing up, holidays were always a time of making the same yummy recipes, putting up the same Christmas tree, visiting the same people, telling the same funny stories, and putting up the same homemade Christmas stockings for Santa to fill.


As I grew older, I took with me many of these traditions and eventually introduced them to my own family. One of my favourite tradition is decorating our Christmas tree. Eight years ago, when we celebrated our first family Christmas together, we began the tradition of going to a local tree farm to buy our Christmas tree.

Now remember, global warming had not affected the weather as much, so we had something called “snow.” The tradition began at the house with the pulling on of big coats, boots, hats, mitts and snow pants. You always hoped you didn't have to go to the washroom! Our two dogs, Leo and Riley, also had a special outfit for the event. Both dogs had their sweaters and Christmas bells put on them. We laughed as they began their dance trying to get the bells off of their legs.

We all piled into the van and the Christmas sing-song began. The tree farm was fairly close so in no time we arrived to a very busy scene. People, trees, dogs and snow. What a wonderful, chaotic place! We quickly filed out of the van and rushed to the opening of the farm. This is where I would put Brianna into the sleigh we had brought and began to “mush.” With the dogs prancing beside us, we began to inspect the many trees until finding the perfect one. At a young age, I always encouraged Brianna to be independent. With my assistance, she would lay down on the cold snow and begin to saw the tree trunk. Down it would come with a collective “yeahhhh” from all of us. We always liked to count the rings on the tree to know how old it was. For some reason, this was important.
The tree would then be moved onto the sled to be towed back to the point of entry so we could pay for it. I always loved that walk back. The cold, the snow falling softly, the sounds of the dogs bells, and the excited chatter of my family. I felt at peace.

Once we arrived back, we would proceed into the small building to have hot apple cider. How wonderful it tasted. Brianna would then walk through the isles of Christmas decorations and pick out the one she would like to take home with her. Every year, Brianna still picks out one Christmas ornament to adorn the tree.

The tree would then be strapped to the roof of the van, and we would all pile back into it and head for home. From the roof, it would be moved into the garage for a day so it had time to fall.

Once it is time to decorate the tree, family members take on specific roles. Dawn, is the individual who hands out the tree ornaments to Brianna. She also has the very important job of ensuring the tree is straight and if not, to coordinate the efforts to make it so. For some reason, our tree always seems to have a bit of a tilt. Brianna is the “hanger.” It is her role to take the ornaments from Dawn and then find a special place on the tree for each and everyone. Dawn usually helps out with instructions from the couch.

My role starts at the very beginning and goes to the end of the process. It begins by taking out all of the boxes from storage and moving them into the family room. Then, from the garage, I take the Christmas tree into the house and put it into the tree stand. Next, I put a string of lights around the tree and make sure it looks even. Then my girls join me and the decorating begins.

During the time in my life when I traveled around the world for work, I collected Christmas ornaments. Over the years, I have accumulated some really beautiful and unique ornaments. Our family tradition is for me to is take each of these ornaments, prior to the their positioning on the tree, and to provide the history of the ornament. It comes with the where and when I obtained these special treasures.
Each year, bulbs from South Africa, Mexico, England, The Netherlands, Ireland, Texas and Bethlehem are dusted off and placed in their spot of honour.

The other special bag that is brought out from its box is that containing Brianna's homemade ornaments. We all laugh and smile as we pick up each ornament and Dawn reminisces of the stories behind the little gems.

The final, most important moment is shared with Brianna and myself. It is the adorning of the tree with the Christmas angel. When Brianna was little, I used to lift her up and she would place it on the top of the tree. But, now that she is 18, I just stand beside her as she does her work. And of course, a picture is taken of the yearly event.

Today, the three of us enjoyed this special day of Christmas tree decorating. Unfortunately, for the last three years we no longer venture to the tree farm but rather buy a cut tree from a lot.
Today's event was a bit different as we added a new element to it. For the first time, we video taped it. Without saying it, we sensed the importance of capturing this beautiful moment this year. We are keenly aware that we do not know what FTD will bring over the next year. In fact this year, a few variations had to take place to work around FTD. Brianna took over my role of ensuring that the tree was straight and properly secured. My sense of frustration was high and I found it hard to tighten the tree holder bolts. Also, there were fewer decorations on the tree this year. It is so easy to be over stimulated that less is always better - even on the Christmas tree.

I must say a bit of a sense of relief has come to me. No matter what life brings to me, I know my stories of the Christmas ornaments will be passed down through generations. The important
tradition of the tree decorating will continue - no matter what.

Copyright 2013 Mary Beth Wighton