If you’re feeling a little over the hustle and bustle of holiday commitments—and not entirely embracing the hyper-commercialism of the Christmas season—take a deep breath, get a nice cup of hot tea, and read on for ideas on how to incorporate some simplicity and philanthropy into your holiday traditions (taken from my childhood playbook).
For as long I can remember, my family has always done two unique things during the holiday season. The first is cutting down a cedar tree in the woods for our Christmas tree; the second is caroling for Fannie Battle Day Home for Children.
While most families drove by a lot to pick up their flawless fir tree to decorate or effortlessly assembled the tree that was stored away in the garage, my family piled into our 1977 Plymouth Volare station wagon and headed up to our lake property on a quest to find and chop down the perfect cedar tree. Of course, no cedar tree is perfect. Most people who are used to spruce, fir, or artificial trees will laugh at the lowly cedar—with its wide gaps of space between branches and its imperfect shape at its top. But there’s something about these trees—and the act of seeking them out in the cold winter forest—that is so ingrained in me that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Once we got the tree home, the battle would begin to get the tree in the stand without it falling over. A few pieces of string around the trunk tied to window anchors would (usually) ensure its stability. After that, my parents would struggle for what seemed like hours to get working lights on the tree. Then decorating would commence—mostly with handmade or dollar store ornaments. Finally, we would light the fire, dim the lights, and admire our beautifully imperfect tree. Soon, my husband and I will bundle up our own kids and head out into the woods to cut down this year’s Christmas tree, carrying on the tradition—hopefully, for years to come.
After the tree is decorated and the presents are (mostly) wrapped, it’s time for Christmas caroling! This was another of my family’s unquestioned rituals when I was growing up that I have continued to carry on in my own way. About a week before Christmas, my entire extended family would gather at my grandmother’s house for a caroling party.
We would cram into cars and head out into her Oak Hill neighborhood to knock on strangers’ doors and serenade them with “Silent Night,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and so much more. Sometimes people hid in darkened rooms, refusing to answer the door; others joyfully welcomed us inside and requested another song, then dropped a $20 bill in our cloth sack.
All the money in the sack would go to Fannie Battle—the oldest child care center in Middle Tennessee. They offer over 100 at-risk youth (ages 6 weeks to 12 years) year-round, high-quality early childhood education. Fees are set on a sliding scale according to income, and families are required to be working, in school, or in a job training program.
I was helping raise money for Fannie Battle before I even knew what exactly it was. Today we are neighbors, and I share a back fence with their property. Since my grandmother’s caroling party dissolved several years ago, I took up the mantle and now host a caroling party every year. It’s the perfect way to extend this tradition, and now we’re even helping out a neighbor, spreading the word about the important work that Fannie Battle does with every door that’s opened.
So, there you have it. Getting out in the woods and chopping down a cedar tree and caroling for kids—just a few ideas on how to add an old fashioned flair to your Christmas—a chance get away from it all and give back during the holiday season.