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A Christmas Memory: Danika Stone

I started this Christmas post the day after Thanksgiving. In many places in the world, autumn is sunny and warm, the first hint of fall colours painting the trees in red and gold. Not in Canada. Here in so-called “sunny Southern Alberta”, this was the scene that greeted me when I woke up this morning.

Yes, that’s right. Heavy snow with more falling, and no end in sight. But rather than bemoaning the tragedy of Canadian seasons – Winter-Is-Coming, Winter, Second Winter, and Road Construction – I decided to write about what I love about the snowy time of year:

Christmas!

My favorite memory of Christmastime is from early childhood. Each December our family would head out to the mountains to find a tree, a tradition that lasted until I was in my teens. I recall my father driving up winding backroads to the best “Christmas tree spot”, an open slope on the westward side where pine trees could get enough sunlight to be lush, but were protected enough to be sturdy and straight. The group of us: my mother and father, brother, sister and I, would bundle ourselves up in hats, gloves and boots, then set off to find that year’s perfect tree.

In movies, it seems easy to climb a snow-covered hill, but the truth is, hiking through snow is slow-going, sweaty work. You’re either too cold from the inclement temperature or too hot from exertion. Snow melts on your hat and slush falls down your neck. You can barely move from all the layers. Searching for a tree, my legs would tire and my toes would get cold. My enthusiasm would wane. I’d find every excuse to stop as we hiked what felt like forever. And then finally we’d find “the right tree”.

My father would let us kids chop it down. In my memory, the axe was always too heavy, and in the end, he did most the work, but the effort was what mattered. The scent of sap and pine needles, stuck to woolen mittens, is a smell that takes me back. When we were done our turn at pummeling the bark, Dad would take over, and the tree would be down in seconds. Success! My father would tie a rope to the trunk of the tree, and the kids would start to pull.

If getting up the mountain was hard, going downhill – three unruly children with a tree in tow – was twice the ordeal. The bound tree either went down sideways on its own trajectory or refused to budge at all, caught on a snarl of brush or embedded in a snowbank like an arrow. I remember my mother laughing as we tried to get it going. Sometimes one of us would climb on top and try to “ride” the Christmas tree down the hill back to our vehicle. (That never worked.) But it didn’t stop us from trying.

Eventually one or both of our parents came to our rescue. The tree was hauled back to the road by adult hands and the three of us kids watched as my father and mother tied it to the roof with a complicated web of rope. Then came the long drive home as we slowly defrosted in the backseat, the tree bouncing merrily atop us. The sky was never as dark, the stars never so bright as in my memories of Christmastime, and the sweet sound of carols was a fitting soundtrack.

Reaching the city and our house, we’d head inside, and my mother would set out our sopping clothes to dry before bundling us into pyjamas. The last tradition of that night was always a mug of hot chocolate in front of the fire. I’d want to decorate the tree immediately, but my parents would always insist the Christmas tree had to “defrost” in the porch for the night, or the needles would fall off. (As an adult, I now realize this is just adult-speak for “I’ve been out in the woods with three little kids and I’m too tired to deal with this right now”, but in my childhood, that statement held a magical warning.)

Cup in hand, I’d sneak into the porch to check on the branches. The smell of damp wool, taste of cocoa and mingled scent of pine and home are forever woven into my memory.

The adventure of chopping down a Christmas tree is the pinnacle of many wonderful Christmas events I recall from those long-ago years. In it family, laughter, and fun are bound into one. So tell me: what are your favorite memories of YOUR childhood Christmases? Put your answers in your comments below. I’d love to hear them.

~*~

Kate's Note:

Danika is an author I admire. Her positivity is absolutely catching, even though miles separate us and I've only met her via the web. I'm definitely putting her on my list of people I must meet in person. She may not know this but even during my toughest moments all I have to do is visit her Twitter feed or scroll through her Instagram pics and I feel better. That's the kind of person she is -- shines from within. I'd like to thank her for taking over the blog today. It was a wonderful post indeed. Make sure to visit her website and grab a copy of her books. Them is good reads!




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