Across the street from where we live is not one, but two, planted Christmas trees. One is small and fluffy like a Douglas Fir, and the other is huge and defined like a Spruce. They seem out of place. I don’t know when or who planted these random neighborhood trees, but I do know that they are a year-round reminder of Christmas and the fact that my family has never-ever had a real Christmas tree. This year, that all changes.

My eagle-eyed son was the first one to notice the trees. He was a young preschooler and we had just moved into our home right before the holidays got into full swing.

“Does Santa live in our neighborhood?” my son asked soon after moving in.

“Nah. I actually thought he lived in the North Pole. We don’t live in the North Pole.”

“Then why are there Christmas trees growing here?” He pointed to the small field across the street from our house.

“Hmmm…Good question.”

Growing up, my parents always put up an artificial tree. My mother would try to recreate the aroma of a fresh cut tree with sprays, ornamental sachets, and candles. While they smelled lovely, they weren’t quite right. My husband grew up in a similar situation. His parents had multiple artificial trees that they’d decorate thematically and place in different rooms throughout their home. So, when it became time for us to celebrate the holidays in our own home, setting up an artificial tree became the default.

“Can we have a real tree this year?” My son asks for a real tree every year. And every year (until now) we’ve said no.

That’s the thing about traditions. No matter how insignificant the tradition really is, it’s actually serious business because it is a tradition. I remember how crushed I was when the restaurant we’d always go to for hot chocolate after midnight mass on Christmas Eve was unexpectedly closed. I was 12 and I’m pretty sure I cried. My mom made hot chocolate at home, but it wasn’t the same.

What I know now is that flexibility in our traditions makes for fewer headaches and more fun. So, no one in your tribe (including you) wants figgy pudding? Why force it then? Go for the chocolate pudding and call it a day. Want to shake things up and open all of your gifts on Christmas Eve? Do it! Just because you grew up with a certain kind of tree, doesn’t mean your kids have to grow up with that same kind of tree.

“If we can’t have a real tree maybe we can decorate the trees outside for Christmas,” my son says on a recent walk.

“I loooooovvvvvveeee this tree,” my daughter squeals as she runs to the big one I think is a Spruce because tree expert I am not.

When I told them we were going to do something a little different this year and try out our very own real Christmas tree, their excitement was palpable. I’m pretty sure they won’t want to take it down.

But, just maybe, it won’t be so bitter sweet when it’s time to bid farewell to our first real tree. After we lay it out on the curb to be recycled with the other real Christmas trees, we’ll just look across the street at the two random Christmas trees growing on the grounds and be reminded that the Christmas feeling is something that you can carry with you every day of the year.