Twenty years ago was our first time. That year there were just three of us and the youngest of us was about three and a half. We took Benjamin to St Louis and we went to a lovely little florist known for their extravagant Christmas displays and German glass ornaments. We plied Benjamin ahead of time with a big filling lunch at Crown Candy Kitchen and walked into the brightly lighted Christmas wonderland with the one who would be always our wildest child, contented and almost drowsy. We talked about looking with our eyes and touching with one finger. We all three walked in extending one finger in practice and probably looked like a little Christmasy cult family with those single fingers all pointing. Giggling we each chose a new ornament for our tree, avoided breaking anything along the way, and then headed downtown to sit on Santa’s knee and see the bear village at Famous Barr. It was a wonderful Saturday and we followed it up by getting our tree and decorating it the next afternoon to the sounds of Charlie Brown’s Christmas album and the smells of baked butter and sugar coming out of the oven. We named it our Christmas Adventure weekend and a tradition was born.
The next year my husband volunteered to work a long weekend in the hot St Louis July heat at a downtown fair for the Red Cross and won a weekend hotel to be used whenever we chose. For a young family just making our way this was a real treat. And we knew just the time. The following December we, now four of us, trooped across the river, and repeated the whole enterprise this time adding a holiday movie and an overnight at a fancy downtown hotel with our new baby Hannah snuggled in between us with her brother in the king sized bed. We had brunch there the next day on the way to get our tree. Over the years as our finances and kids grew up fancy dinners were added to the brunches and hotels. By the time Eli came along we sometimes had our adventure in Chicago or some other cool town. Some years we saw a stage production instead of the movie , but always there were the five of us, the new ornaments, and the sights and sounds of Christmas.
We usually kicked off Christmas around the first weekend of December, unless it fell on the first or second in which case we would wait until the following weekend. Our tree is overflowing now with ornaments from all those adventures. There are the red glass hightops from when those were the only shoes Benjamin would ever wear. He also tended toward funny snowmen, and soccer playing reindeer. There are lots of kitties from Hannah and dolphins and even a hippie peace cow when her love of animals started to merge with her politics. Eli liked big traditional frothy glass concoctions. His were the most fanciful and the most delicate which always seemed adorable from this scruffy Tom Sawyer kid. I am partial to all the Santas, Black Santa, German St Nicholas, Father Christmas, and every other flavor. John will find the silly frog holding up the earth, or the baker twirling pies in the air. His first ever is a sax playing Santa from our St Louis life called St Louie Nick.
Our whole family history lives on that tree. Amid all the glass and glitter there are handmade treasures that are more valuable than any of the ones that cost money. I can see my kids at every age on the branches and they remember their childhoods and now their young adult years as we unwrap each one hearing its story for the 18th or 12th time. The last few years we have headed into NYC for our adventure. And now with kids in college it will fall in the middle of the season instead of the beginning. The tree will already be up because now finals happen and so we celebrate the end of them with Christmas Adventure. This year Benjamin is finishing college, no make that FINISHING COLLEGE, in December, so there will be even more to celebrate. Graduation won’t happen until May, but the classes will be over and there will surely be a diploma ornament in the mix. He’ll get to pick the restaurant this year and I predict it will be his old favorite in Soho. I can already imagine the piles of oyster shells between he and his dad and the chocolate mousse Eli will order next to Hannah’s creme brulee. Someday there will be husbands and wives and grand babies on these adventures. But for this one more year at least it will be just the five of us again…the people that I love most in the world. We will toast each other and Christmas, giggle in front of the windows at Macy’s, have hot chocolate at the bald guys chocolate place and I will be eternally grateful for these people and this sweet life we have made together…..