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Chasing Down The Muse: Older tradition meets the new

“Come help trim the tree," read the note from Lynn Brown. “Three-thirty on Friday. I’ve got champagne and snacks."

Who could resist? This would be the second annual “girl’s decorating event," a carry over from the year before. Last December, we had delighted in the transformation of a naked tree into a shining jewel, nestled on the front porch of the Browns’ South Laguna home. It was an experiment that worked: a Christmas tree, fragrant in the cool air, and a delightful greeter for friends and family.

This year, Emma was joining us in the festivities. The last time the three of us had trimmed a tree together had been on a camping holiday on Requeson Beach in Baja’s Conception Bay.

That tree had made the long journey stuffed between Emma and Mike’s camping gear, and been regaled with red garlands and a tiny strand of battery powered lights. Its small beacon of warm light reminded us of holidays at home.


It was partially outdone by the air stream trailer farther down the beach, completely decked out in lights, ribbons and a wreath, but instead of feeling envy, we cheered the decorations, as if it were Park Avenue in New York City. We expat campers were living proof that Christmas can be had anywhere.

Traditions, I’ve discovered, are sometimes the pieces that we carry from our past, and sometimes, what we make up in the moment.

Family festivities, such as prime rib with champagne for Christmas Eve and creamed eggs on toast for the following breakfast, have long lived in my basket of carry-forwards. My two sons now have expectations of the continuity of these events, and when their mother (moi) heads out of town, she confuses the heck out of them.

In my childhood home, Christmas Eve was my dad’s favorite. After a sumptuous dinner, we gathered around the television to watch either “Miracle on 34th Street" or “It’s a Wonderful Life."


My parents would open their gifts to each other "” kids were required to wait for Santa Claus and the rest of the relatives the next day. Dad forever was buying mom new clothes, and as part of the tradition, she was required to try on each outfit and model for all of us.

Before we tucked ourselves into bed, we had the annual reading of “The Night Before Christmas," from the vintage edition that had been my grandmother’s. When we were very small, it is my mother’s voice that I remember. As we grew older, my own took to spilling the tale.

“The stockings were hung," I would read, “by the chimney with care."

And they were. I’d chide dad to put out the fire so the red suited man wouldn’t burn his feet. My brother, Gly, and sister, Claudia, would help arrange the plate of cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. I’d carefully scribe a note reminding him that we had been good, and thanking him in advance for his generosity.

Then it was off to bed and the tumbled sleep that seemed sure to have the pounding of hoofs on the roof somewhere in my dreams.

Decades and multiple families later, traditions are more and more what happens "” in contrast to what was once planned. This year, my children and I are again scattered in disparate parts of the state, and as of this writing, no one really knows who will be where Christmas Day, what we might be doing, or who we might be with. It seems to go with 2009, which has been a challenging year for so many.

The tree trimming with Lynn and Emma jump-started my holiday clock.

Now, I’m on to putting up the outside twinkle lights, bringing in the star pine from the backyard that has served as Christmas tree for the last three years, and climbing up the ladder to retrieve the boxes of decorations.


No bah humbug! A holiday party is planned at my home for the Laguna Beach Business Club "” and then who knows? Because I don’t have plans, almost anything is possible.

CATHARINE COOPER is about increasing holiday cheer. She can be reached at