The sweetest tree

This winter, create your own family holiday tradition, says columnist Kita Szpak

I write this with joy and amusement. I only learned this year that my boys – I should call them men now but being a mom, they’ll always be boys to me – fondly remember a particular holiday tradition in our household that was actually accidentally started. Let me tell you about it.

When my three sons were between the ages of two and seven, that December there was no Christmas tree – whether a combination of lack of time, finances and fatigue had something to do with it, I can’t recall, but I was looking for a way to replace such an obvious absence. My eye settled on the one big enough plant in the living room that might serve as an ersatz tree.

Yes, the hibiscus had sufficient branches and foliage that it could be decorated: albeit carefully and daintily given its less robust constitution than its fellow conifer. Dressing it would have to fall to me as small, wayward hands could do some damage no matter how careful they meant to be.  (Those of you who have boys will know what I mean.)  How to do this without them thinking they would be left out? I thought about it a while and then the “aha” moment presented itself. So simple – such moments usually are…

Big, heavy ornaments were a no-go in this situation.  I opted for small, wrapped candy canes.  After all, they already had their own hooks. Hanging them on the hibiscus after the boys were in bed, would lead to a fun surprise awaiting them the next day.

Come morning, the look on my sons’ faces said it all: “How did those candy canes get there?!” I explained that because it was a magical time of year, the hibiscus was growing them instead of blooming with its usual yellow flowers. They were ecstatic, immediately asking if more candy canes would grow and could they eat them. “Yes, more will grow and yes, you can pick some on Christmas Day,” I responded, delighted that magic and imagination were now happily ensconced here. 

For the following years – even when all three boys had outgrown this gentle fantasy, the hibiscus tree grew its candy canes, to be picked and enjoyed by them every holiday season. I never realized such a simple tradition would hold such a soft spot in their collective memories.

As a parent you never know what remains with your child. Starting a tradition that is unique to your family may be what they carry in their heart forever.  Beginning such a tradition during this special time of year makes it all the more memorable.