Christmas Trees & Chili
I said that I would never do it, but this year I’m breaking a family tradition and buying an artificial Christmas tree. I feel a little sacrilegious ending a life-long tradition and not passing it down to the next generation, but I live in an area of Kansas without access to fresh trees. It just seems more convenient and cheaper to get a fake one.
When I was growing up, getting a Christmas tree was a big deal. We always had a fresh one. There were a few busy years in there when we just picked up a tree from the local grocery or hardware store, but that wasn’t the norm. Usually we’d take a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and head to a tree farm to cut our own. My sister, 2 brothers and I always made a contest out of which one of us would find “the” tree. But no matter whose tree we ultimately picked, each one of us was required to take a turn holding the dull saw the farm provided and smiling for the obligatory and awkward “sawing the tree down” picture.
After I got married, my husband and I continued the fresh tree tradition that we both grew up with. During the first or second week of December we bought a $10 permit from the local park rangers and head to the mountains near Woodland Park, Colorado to cut down our tree. The trees in the mountains were never as pretty as those from the store or the tree farm, but the process was fun. When we had kids we brought along sleds, coffee and hot chocolate and made a day out of the trip.
Since we’ve lived in Kansas we’ve bought trees from the local hardware store. This year marks the end of my immediate family’s real tree tradition, but I’m not the first one in my extended family to go fake. My younger sister and her husband have had a fake tree for a few years now. And no one in the family can forget the year my grandma’s bright metallic silver Christmas tree shocked us all. She’s had a myriad of fake ones since then.
Though my family doesn’t share uniform taste in trees anymore (I won’t be getting a silver one) we are still united by one thing at Christmas – our long-standing Christmas Eve tradition – chili for supper.
Our family chili suppers date back to the 1950s or 60s. My grandma wanted something quick to feed her excited kids on Christmas Eve. She fed them chili that year and the tradition stuck. My dad hasn’t lived a year of his life without chili on Christmas Eve.
Not just any chili works for Christmas Eve supper though, it has to be the family favorite from my parent’s longtime neighbor Jim Burnet. Burnet came up with the recipe and he and his wife Kitty shared it with my dad at one of their cattle brandings over 20 years ago. My mom’s been making it every year since then.
So it’s comforting to know that this year, even though I won’t be vacuuming pine needles and spilling pitchers of water on the floor, it will still feel like Christmas if I make a batch a chili (I’ll share the recipe on Friday!).