Carding, Vermont has a holiday tradition that’s unique—a tree trimming party that takes place over a whole weekend.
This is the tale of how it got started.
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It all started when Edie Wolfe noticed that her friend Andy Cooper wasn’t putting up a Christmas tree in the rambling apartment where he lives over the store that bears his family’s name.
“Ah, it isn’t the same without the kids at home,” he explained to his best friend. “Barry and his wife and their kids have become the center for the Cooper holidays, and I just don’t enjoy trimming a tree by myself.”
That comment made Edie lean back in her chair. “I know what you mean. Even though Diana and Stephen and the kids live right across the green from me, I gave up trying to coordinate a tree trimming at my house because it was too hard to get them all in the same place at the same time.”
“But you always put up a tree,” Andy observed.
Edie’s smile was not merry and bright. “Yes, but I do it by myself. It’s not the same.”
Then she lapsed into a silence tinged by poignant memories. Christmas can do that to a person.
The friends were silent for a few minutes, each reliving the memories of holidays past. But then the cloud on Edie’s face began to lift, and Andy realized that an idea was rolling around in her head. All he had to do was wait patiently for it to materialize.
“More coffee?” he asked.
“Yes, yes.” Edie said, her eyes far away. “You know, there’s a bunch of us in town who no longer have families at home. Our kids have grown, and they’ve got kids.” She sighed. “Even though it was a lot of work, I miss the chaos of Christmas when I was younger.”
Andy smiled. “Growing up, we always opened presents on Christmas morning, and then our cousins would show up around noon. There’d be twenty people at the table, all talking at the same time. Us Coopers have the gift of the gab, if you haven’t noticed.”
Edie laughed. “So why do we have to give that up?” she asked. “There’s enough of us in town with empty nests to make a heckuva good party.”
“You mean skip being with our kids on the holidays?”
“No, no. What I’m thinking is that we get together to trim each other’s trees and decorate each other’s houses,” Edie said as she stirred half-and-half into her refreshed coffee.
“Wouldn’t we need more than one party to do that?”
“Well, yes and no. Remember those progressive suppers that the Episcopal Church used to organize when we were kids?”
“Yeah, appetizers at one house, salad at another, the main meal at a third, and then dessert.” Andy smiled. “I loved your mother’s lemon cookies.”
“What if we did that with tree trimming,” Edie said. “We could start at your house, put your tree up and decorate it then move over to my house, do my tree, and then head over to Ruth’s and so on. Each of us could provide goodies and music, and we’d get to show off the ornaments we’ve collected over the years.”
Edie was starting to glow. “Did you ever stop to think about the stories attached to Christmas ornaments? I’ve got one that my mother embroidered for Daniel and Diana’s first Christmas. It’s of a little boy holding a wreath. I think about her every time I touch it.”
Andy nodded. “I’ve got a ceramic train that’s so heavy, I have to put it on the mantle instead of hanging it on the tree. But it always reminds me of a family story about my grandfather trying to get home by train in time for Christmas.”
“See?” Edie said. “We’ve started already. Who else do you think would like to do this?”
“Well, Ruth, of course, and my brother Charlie and Agnes,” Andy said, pulling out a piece of scrap paper and a pencil to make a list. “Maybe Lydie Talbot.”
“And Reverend Lyle over at the church, and then there’s……”
And so it started, Carding’s Progressive Tree Trimming Party.
There were only a handful of participants that first year but it has grown ever since. Now it takes up the whole weekend before Christmas, usually starting at Andy’s house on Saturday morning and ending up at Edie’s on Sunday night.
Exchanging gifts is not allowed so that no one feels left out or obligated to spend money they don’t have.
But spiced cider and lemon cookies are always welcome, and a few sips of Charlie Cooper’s special eggnog are guaranteed to keep you warm all day.
And there are always stories. The one about Andy Cooper’s grandfather trying to get home for Christmas on a rather sketchy train is a favorite. If you stop by next week, he’ll tell it to you.
In the meantime, I am wishing all of you happy, happy holidays. May all your celebrations—no matter how they happen—be merry and bright.
And one quick note—I turned the comments off on my website but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear from you. You are welcome to email me any time at Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.
In the days and weeks before December 25 arrives, Christmas is all about anticipation for what may be. But such is not the case for the days and weeks after the holidays are over.
Hope you enjoy this Carding Chronicle, the first of 2017. Please share it far and wide and be on the lookout for the upcoming collection of Stories and Tales of Carding, Vermont.
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Somehow, the number of boxes designated as holders of Edie Wolfe’s treasured collection of Christmas ornaments had increased since she’d set up her tree on the day after Thanksgiving. She was sure of it. Otherwise, why did she have to make so many trips up and down the stairs?
Her tree was one of the smaller ones grown at the Tennyson Tree Farm, a mere four feet so that it would fit on the shelf in her bay window in the front of the house. She sighed again as she looked at the fully decorated tree one last time, touching individual ornaments with the tips of her fingers. They swung gently to her touch until the whole tree seemed alive with silver, gold, and glitter.
In some ways, ornaments were better than scrapbooks for jogging her memory of people and times past. At least the ornaments came out once a year. Scrapbooks…hmmm…nearly never.
Well, there was another New Year’s resolution for her growing list, Edie thought. Take the scrapbooks off the shelf at least once a year and leaf through them. Otherwise, why bother keeping them?
“Well, it’s the longest job that’s never started. Right, Nearly?” Edie’s cocker spaniel cocked his head at her. The noises that his human just made didn’t include anything immediately recognizable such as “walk” or “bonie” so he was reserving judgement until he had further clues as to her meaning.
“This calls for a cup of tea, at least.” Edie crept off to the kitchen, glad to procrastinate just a little bit longer.
In spite of the fact that Edie had no known religious bend in any direction, she considered herself a longtime Christmas lover. All of the lights on the houses helped brighten the darkness of early winter, and it just seemed so gloomy after they were put away.
And she loved the piney smell of the tree and the wreath on the front door, and the spiciness of cookies made just for this time of year. And she loved singing “Silent Night” in the Episcopal church, the oldest still-standing structure in Carding, on Christmas Eve when it was lit only by candles. For some reason, that song made her cry every time. It must be something about the cadence of the tune, she thought, because “Taps,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Greensleeves” had the same impact on her.
Simple tunes with great emotion.
She hummed while removing the garland, a red-green-and-white crocheted strip that she’d made for her twins’ first Christmas in Carding. Then she carefully lifted the strands of lights from the branches, trying but not succeeding in sending a cascade of dead needles to the floor. No matter how thoroughly she vacuumed, she knew she’d find a few of them hidden in the cracks between her floorboards in August.
Now it was time for the big finale, removing the ornaments collected by generations of the Wolfe family. Edie had long ago realized she just couldn’t take the time to linger over the memories attached to each one when the tree went up because there were always other people around, people who wanted to visit with one another, enjoy the season’s first eggnog, and make plans for the days to come.
But now alone in the house where she’d grown up, Edie could and did indulge herself in a warm bath of pure sentiment.
She grinned over a tiny pair of gold spectacles fashioned by her father and reputed to be the very same ones that Santa Claus wore to read his naughty-and-nice list. There was a set of miniature sleighs, each painted in red that could use a little touch up. Those had been on her Aunt Elsa’s tree when she was a little girl.
There was a red felt heart with a tiny spruce cone attached by green thread wielded by someone who obviously couldn’t sew. That had been her granddaughter Faye’s first contribution to the tree, a gift she’d made when she was only four.
Faye’s sewing made Edie look up to find the ornament that she lingered over the longest, the one she called “Small Boy.” It had been embroidered by her grandmother from a kit. It was a little boy with a blue hat pulled over his eyes, holding a wreath in one hand while waving with the other. Her Grandma Wolfe had taught Edie how to sew, a skill she exercised almost every day. Looking at that ornament instantly propelled her back in time to the room that held Grandma’s treasured treadle machine, and the doll clothes and quilts they’d made together.
Edie cradled the small ornament in her hand, gazing at the tiny stitches that outlined the boy’s mittened hands.
“I still think of you, Grandma,” she whispered, “every time I pick up a needle. Thanks, by the way.”
With another, deeper sigh, Edie carefully place “Small Boy” on the top of the box, shutting it away in the darkness until she could visit her memories once again.
Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning. And new for 2017, there will be weekly 60-second reads from my upcoming book on writing and publishing called What Would William Shakespeare Do?
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):