Comfort can be found in tradition this year


Since the theme of 2020 seems to be “stay home,” we’ve started to fully embrace our limited options.

Trying not to focus on the negative, I have encouraged every Christmas tradition that can be done from the comfort of our home. Baking cookies, holiday crafting and watching movies all in Christmas jammies top the list for mood-elevating activities.

Of course, the pinnacle event of preparing for Christmas is decorating the tree. The predictability in Christmas movies is something that has been missing in real life this year. In a crazy and chaotic world, knowing what happens next in a movie is comforting.

I have always watched the TV version of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, blissfully unaware of the unedited version. What makes the movie incredibly funny is that it has exaggerated commonalities woven into the storyline.

The perfect tree

Julie Geiss Christmas tree
The memories created when selecting and decorating the Christmas tree may be the best gift of all. (Julie Geiss photo)

Every family has its own version of a cousin Eddie. The dad, Clark, wants the perfect Christmas, but achieving that goal is out of his control. The most relatable part of the movie for me is the quest to find the perfect Christmas tree.

As a child, my family had a long-held tradition of riding in a horse-drawn wagon out into acres of evergreen trees in hopes of finding the one tree everyone loved. In my memory, there was always at least a foot of snow and an expanse as wide as Alaska to search. I was Audrey from the movie, always too cold.

My husband had a different tradition in his family. His family grew their own trees in a grove next to their house. Before we had kids, we chose our Christmas tree from the same assortment of evergreens. Sometimes we had to turn them just right to hide a bare spot, or trim the lopsided branches off. His older sister even drove home to Michigan with a Christmas tree on her car; it was not the best trip for gas mileage.

Most counties, including Columbiana where we reside, have tree sales managed by its soil and water conservation district. For several years, we ordered native trees including evergreens to be added to our property. The native plants fill crucial roles in our local ecosystem by cleaning the air and filtering the water. The young trees also help keep soil in place and increase pollination activity by bees.

Our saplings have grown to make a beautiful, natural border along our property line. However, I would say it’s our own fault they don’t make the perfect Christmas tree. A little pruning each year would’ve helped aesthetically.

The experience

We usually head to a local tree farm to cut down our own tree. It’s true we are purchasing a tree, but we are paying for the experience. We look forward to a horse drawn wagon ride out into the field and warm hot cocoa afterward. We watch from the side as our almost perfect tree is shook and bound tightly.

Our favorite variety of tree to get is a Fraser fir. Soft, green needles with room for ornaments in between branches make it a great choice.

Unfortunately, we have suffered from Christmas tree syndrome, an increase in allergy symptoms. Surprisingly, it is not tree pollen or weed killer that causes itchy eyes and breathing difficulties. Mold is the culprit and it can even be on artificial trees or ornaments, especially if they are stored in a damp location like a basement.

Experts recommend spraying a live tree with a vinegar and water mixture and then placing it in a bucket to dry outside for several days before bringing it in the house. Another solution is to use a leaf blower to blow any mold spores off the tree. The trees containing the most mold spores are live trees that have been stored and shipped to be sold in parking lots or superstores.

For many years, our Christmas tree looked like it was wearing a belt of ornaments around the middle. The top was too high for my kids to reach, and we couldn’t put ornaments down low near the dog. Now we are able to cover all 10 feet of the tree with lights, ribbons, bulbs and handmade ornaments. We also have a few sentimental ornaments passed down from grandparents.

Our kids might not always remember what they got under the tree, but they will remember our yearly trek to choose a tree. For us, it represents peace in an unstable world and hope for a brighter future.


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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at



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