Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios

There is really not much that I don’t love about Christmas. I love the whole hustle and bustle of the season. I love the ritual of gift gifting and creating pretty packages. I love sending and receiving Christmas cards. I love the mixing and mingling of friends and family, good food and even better champagne. I love being able to extend some help and happiness where it’s needed. I love the nostalgia that it stirs and the memories that bubble up in me as soon as we drag the Christmas tree through the front door, the house filling with the fragrance of the forest. Our family Christmas tree or should I say Christmas Trees are more than just the historical icons where we place our gifts. Every thing that I love about the holiday winks back at me. The trip to the attic to retrieve the boxes of ornaments that have been silenced since the last season are greeted with the anticipation that comes with opening a time capsule. The ornaments for the “memory” tree are the most treasured. Baby’s First Christmas, an ornament from our honeymoon, Crayola scribbled angels and pipe cleaner reindeer. There are MacKinnon and Murray tartan Scottie dogs and stockings and dozens of carefully crocheted snowflakes that have yellowed over the years. There are miniature picture frame ornaments. One from when each of our four children were babies, one of my husband and me dancing at our wedding, another of my daughters first communion and of Dad and his boys in their tuxes from a New Year’s Eve Cruise a dozen years ago. This year I will be adding a few more snapshots of time to our tree to honour the special people in our family who now celebrate with us in spirit. A few years ago we added a collection of brilliant starfish to the tree to pay homage to our love of the beach. I love the way the white pops on the deep evergreen. There was one big starfish that was to make its way to the top of the tree but the course of its destiny was altered when our Irish Setter decided it was a festive treat. I am still looking for a replacement that I love as much.

A mischievous elf (inset) watches over the collection of Nova Scotian Crystal ornaments in the library.

We all know putting up Christmas trees is not always picture perfect. There is the annual matrimonial squabble that happens trying to “get it straight” and deciding on “the perfect side.” The last few years as the kids have gotten older, it’s finding a night that we all can be together to decorate and the twinge of heartache when a mother hears from one of her boys, “that’s okay Mum you can do it without me.” There have also been the moments when disaster strikes and the second tree in the “good” living room adorned with dozens of pastel glass balls crashes to the floor in the middle of the night. The thick white shag carpet cushioned many from their death, but those that didn’t make it, their glistening shards were lost in the fibres forever. All of the trees have additional anchorage now.
The memory tree is definitely the family favourite but there is also “Mum’s Tree” with my collection of gorgeous glass globes and in recent years the “Crystal Tree” a double entendre I guess because it is specifically for our cache of NS Crystal ornaments that my husband started to pick up every year. The design etched in the crystal changes every Christmas and each one is stamped with the year. We have been gifting an ornament to a close group of friends for over 10 years. They each have a pretty good collection by now too!
When the four kids were small they each had their own tree in their bedrooms but in the last couple of years my youngest only retains the desire. They used to always be “real” trees but now she has an obvious artificial tree with gold tinsel branches where she displays her collection of ballerina ornaments.

Georgia adds a ribbon to a gift she will pop under the tree for one of her siblings.

Since our kids had their first Christmas they have been gifted their own ornaments. Some day they will have
them for their own trees. They are usually themed to their personal passions; fishing and hockey for Ben, soccer for Mac, figure skates for Georgia and ballerinas
for Tess.
There is sometimes a fourth tree in our basement rec room. This is the snowman tree with a toy train whirling around the tracks. A gift to my husband years ago and a nod to the Nana Muskori song Old Toy Trains that was the holiday soundtrack of his childhood.
Happy little snowmen pop up in a variety of places in my seasonal décor. I like to keep them up for the winter. I don’t believe they have to go away at the first of January. What does have a shorter life span is the greenery I use in most of my decorating. I love to be decorated by the first weekend of December so it’s a little tricky to keep it all fresh. There is lots of spritzing and often some replacing before the big day. One year I experimented with a fresh boxwood garland for my staircase but the delay in hanging it for it to be fresh was too much for me. I since resorted back to my artificial garland that I will often pop a few sprigs of fresh cedar in and some white Fuji mums if we are having company to give it a little more festive flair.

I find that little elements of greenery spruce up any space, especially if you opt for an artificial tree. Touches in the powder rooms, a window ledge or a little spring at the base of a picture frame are all you need for a little touch of the season. As much as I love the look of fresh greenery the sensory experience brings me as much joy. You just can’t get the same experience from a scented candle.

A few years ago, we relocated the dining room to the front of the house. This allowed for a bigger table that can easily be set for celebrations or the rare Sunday supper when everyone is home. The room used to be the family room. We decided to keep the “Memory Tree” in the same space next to the fireplace where the kids still hang their stockings for Santa. Tess sets the table for a holiday dinner with friends.

This year I am exploring the idea of a live Christmas tree that can then be planted in the spring. I need to do a little more research to make sure that I can keep the tree viable until planting season but I love the idea of its branches holding my memories and then rooting itself in a special place surrounded by its own tree family because family is what Christmas trees are really all about.

I like to think that at Christmas the house is in full bloom. The pastel colours on what the kids call “Mum’s Tree” brings together all of the colours in the artwork in the living room. Ben is home from the city and takes a peek to see if there is a present with his name on it.
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Crystal Murray
Crystal likes to think about her forays in journalism like interval training. " I have had a wonderful freedom to be home when I needed to be and work when the spirit moved me. In the spaces between I have learned things about myself, my family and my community that I hope will find a rightful place in the new and refreshed pages of At Home on the North Shore. "