Post 314.

Traditions matter.

One day, those will be your go-to memories to provide a sense of certainty about how things should be and what belonging to family or childhood looks like. No doubt, nostalgia for such familiarity will occupy a small, but well-kept shelf in your heart, and some of your adult practices will be best understood as cared-for pieces you’ve taken out to feel and show and share.

Amidst the chaos of working motherhood, it was Christmas Eve when Ziya and I embarked on establishing a new tradition for us. First, we needed a tree.

I have warm, soft-focus memories of a real tree in my childhood recollections of Christmas. They are vividly clear and I can see the red carpet in the living room, the carved furniture and Indian wooden screens so common in the 1970s, and a six or seven foot tall tree in a corner by the stereo.

The tree smelled like pine and shed its darkening green needles all season. It was a big deal to put up, and had to be properly potted, stood in a corner where it wouldn’t tip over, and placed where it held pride of place when the strings of lights were plugged in.

Ziya wanted a plastic tree, and immediately folded her arms at the inconceivable premise of anything else. One of my friends, who herself has her lights and years of collected decorations strung on a towering and bushy ficus, empathized. Eight-year-old kids want what their friends have, she suggested, and don’t want to feel out of place.

I tried with Zi anyway, tugged by those memories, returning to that fuzzy time when a tradition I was now passing on somehow became set in my mind like a loved, framed photo on that well-kept shelf.

As we drove past Aranguez’s greenhouses, I asked her to look for any trees she might like. Mummy I see one, she exclaimed, and I, who don’t believe in almost anything, joyfully thanked a chorus of angels. We turned off the highway and walked in, checking size, shape, and fullness, and caught sight of the perfect one at the same time. This is it, she declared, won over by the swaying branches just at her head-height. My heart sang the way angel voices ring.

Look around so you are sure, I said. She did, finding one that was a hundred dollars less and, like any sensitive child of a mom managing all the bills would, stoically suggested the smaller one would be better. We left, holding hands, in one of those too-quickly passing chances with young children, with the perfect tree for our budgetary circumstances, and our singing hearts in chorus with those angels heralding on repeat on the radio. In some decades, maybe this would be one of those go-to memories forever providing a sense of place and belonging.

It’s unique, I told her, stroking the tree’s soft needles. We should give it a name. Fern Eve Jamela Hosein Livingstone Khan, she announced. A dramatic title encompassing a not so accurate nor scientific identification, an additional name for the day before Christmas when it was born into our home, three separate family lines, plus a shared middle name that has also been handed down three generations.

I raised my eyebrows. There’s another pine tree in our backyard, which arrived a mere foot tall and now stands above the roof. This could be like that. Who knows what traditions await such a small, somewhat thin-foot plant chosen by an equally small girl?

A Christmas Eve tradition of putting up a tree means you wake up on Christmas to see it on its first morning, freshly decorated and sparkling. Even if it’s small, it’s yours. If it’s made by sun and soil and water, it has a little extra spirit. It can live in our garden throughout the year, I suggested, and come inside at Christmas, and maybe it will still be the tree you decorate when you have a daughter.

Why she changed her mind, I can’t answer, but I’ll accept that it was Christmas magic. As we hung the few individual decorations we chose, I could feel my childhood fleetingly recreated in hers. It offered me, and might offer her when she’s my age, a chance to gift well-loved traditions that renew a sense of certainty, childhood and family. For such joys in the world, framed on a well-kept shelf in my heart perhaps as now in hers, first we found a tree.

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