From the Candy Cane Tree in Virginia to the Great Hall Tree in Minnesota

The search begins.

The search begins.

Once upon a time, a family set out in search of a tree.

They had never heard of a Candy Cane Tree before.

They searched high and low.

They searched high and low.


I see it!

I see it!


Yum! The fruit of the Candy Cane Tree.

After finding the Candy Canes, they searched for a tree they could take home.

The Spring House held a real fire in the fireplace and hot chocolate.

The Spring House held a real fire in the fireplace and hot chocolate.

Thanks, Ostlund Christmas Tree Farm, for a great adventure.

A tender moment after the tree has been decorated.

A tender moment after the tree has been decorated.

When Grandma returned to Minnesota, she got to eat cookies, drink more hot chocolate, and help light the tree in the Great Hall.

Don’t miss the last ten seconds of this video!

Do you have a Christmas tree tradition in your family? When I was growing up, we didn’t have a tree. This year, we made the tree the centerpiece of our family adventure before we celebrated Christmas early this year.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elaine Good on November 30, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    The photo of your granddaughter and Stuart could have come straight out of a Bruegel painting. (Maybe we’d need to change the clothing?)

    We did have a tree in Illinois when I was a child. But I rarely put one up now. Thanks for your story!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Ha! I didn’t think about Bruegel, but I certainly agree that the outfits would have to change. 🙂

      There are seasons for everything, times to begin rituals and traditions and times to end them. We haven’t put up a tree in our home for several years. And this was the first time Owen and Julia were both at ideal ages to participate in the wonder. And the first time we celebrated Thanksgiving one day and Christmas the next.

      Thanks for starting the conversation here, Elaine.

  2. Lisa Enqvist on December 1, 2016 at 3:09 am

    We did not have a tree in Ceylon, where I grew up. My first real Finnish Christmas – tree and glitter and candles – was when I was eight. In Thailand. We reused a small plastic Christmas tree for nearly 20 years!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 11:05 am

      Lisa, you could probably write a Children’s book on Christmas celebrations in different lands long ago!

      Thanks for adding an international flair to our story telling.

      And for reminding us that we don’t have to have an elaborate ritual like the one above in order to invite Christmas light and cheer into our home.

  3. Marian Beaman on December 1, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Your “once upon a time” took me into many fanciful directions, Shirley. How special it is to make memories with grandchildren. I’m struck by Julia’s powers of observation and how her penetrating gaze resembles yours.

    We didn’t have a tree in the Mennonite household I grew up in either. I longed for one so much I got a bare maple branch with twiggy “fingers” and put red bows on the ends and stuck it into our living room radiator. You probably remember my blogging about it: you left a comment.

    Yesterday Cliff and his brother Larry hauled a tree into our great room, so we could hydrate it and rescue it from the 80+ degree temps outside. We also watched the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center last night. It was pouring down rain there, but that didn’t prevent the crowd from jubilation at the end of the count-down. I think I would have enjoyed the tree lighting in the tall arches of Great Hall at Collegeville more. Lovely, heart-warming post!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 11:10 am

      Marian, you are such a keen observer and kindred spirit. Thanks for the warm words as I drank yet more hot chocolate this morning!

      I think I would miss the winter aspects of Christmas if I lived in Florida — but I’d be happy to have the summer weather in January through March.

      I would love to have you add a link here to your older post. Other readers would really enjoy it too, I’m sure.

  4. Janet Givens on December 1, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I can’t find the Like button! Oh dear.
    Thank you for this serene and poignant moment, Shirley. A great respite from my morning of Calls to Action and other energy-eating activities. Lovely photograph of the 70 and 7, too. A keeper for sure. Take care.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      I don’t have like buttons, Janet. Just want you to know there’s nothing wrong with your eyes. 🙂

      I’m glad you are calling yourself and others to action. I’m trying to do the same.

      I’m working on a blog post about stories, songs, and solidarity.

      Great to hear from you. Carry on!

  5. Audrey Denecke on December 1, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    What a beautiful sharing. I love the joy and innocence of children ar Christmas.
    We always had green Christmas trees for the holiday when I was very young. Our tradition was to get the tree (from a local vendor) on Christmas Eve or the day prior and leave it up until Three Kings!

    Thank you for both videos. The St. John’s video reminds me of my former parish community. The tree illumination was glorious with the surprise ceiling lighting to top it off!
    Before I moved to Wisconsin, I was a member of the St. Pauls Catholic Church, since my sister Terry, is the Environmental Lead there several family members would often participate in decorating for liturgical holidays. St. Pauls has a semi-circle altar area. At Christmas, a grove of tall evergreen trees was always erected behind the altar. The manger and nativity set were put up nearby. My father was asked to build a manger for St. Paul’s when we were meeting in a school gymnasium (before the new church building). It is still used today. My dad died in 1999, so each year seeing the manger brings him with us in yet another way. It is always a poignant moment.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      It sounds like you have some memories similar to both the Virginia and the Minnesota trees. Thanks for sharing them, Audrey.

      I was especially touched by your description of your father the manger builder. It led me to wonder what it is that I have contributed to my community that will live on after I’m gone. That’s a question worth contemplating, especially as we await Christmas.

      • Audrey Denecke on December 1, 2016 at 4:56 pm

        Ah yes, I too will reflect on that.

  6. Joan Z. Rough on December 1, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Oh, what fun! When we lived in northern Vermont we had land where would always cut our own Christmas trees. One December when our kids were very small we went there to cut a tree for Christmas. It was a very snowy day. We had our dog with us who suddenly became very alarmed and started chasing after something. We followed along and found fresh bear prints in the snow! Very exciting, but I think the bear was already in New Hampshire because it took us hours to find our dog who was fine but was intent on getting the bear.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      I laughed out loud, Joan, thinking of your dog trying to chase the bear into New Hampshire! Glad you eventually found the dog and no one got eaten by the bear.

      Great story. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your holiday from online noise.

  7. Linda Gartz on December 1, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    What a lovely family time together. We used to cut trees when the kids were little. Loved that! Your grandson looks just like you! Same eyes. Merry Christmas!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      You know how to warm my grandma heart, Linda. Thank you!

      Merry Christmas to you and yours in the Windy City.

  8. Richard Gilbert on December 1, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    What a charming telling videos! We used balled and burlapped trees for years, and planted them—some got huge. Then we went to cut trees, often cutting them ourselves as you did. Now an easy to handle artificial one. But yesterday, having happened to park by a Christmas tree lot, I loved and the scent. I miss that, though I have such bad allergies that a tree inside can now make me sick.

    Glad your family and little ones were able to be such important parts of your tree outing.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      We can call it the developmental cycle of how we celebrate based on the stages of family life and health.

      This was only the second time we cut a tree. And the first time we had grandchildren at the magical ages of 5 and 4.

      Years ago we put decorations on a Norfolk Island Pine indoors, and we’ve done just about every other way of including a tree.

      This one was by far my favorite. Hope you get lots of safe whiffs of pine and hemlock.

  9. Laurie Buchanan on December 1, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Shirley —

    The photos that accompany this post are heartwarming. The “tender moment” capture is my favorite. And the two video clips (tree cutting and lighting of the tree) are wonderful additions.

    And while we don’t decorate a tree, hang stockings, or exchange gifts, our tradition—Thanksgiving through Christmas—is to give food certificates to homeless people (McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, etc). We learned from a person who’d lived on the streets for an extended period of time that it’s a good alternative to giving cash.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 1, 2016 at 6:30 pm

      I love the tradition of giving food certificates, Laurie. You are living the most important holiday spirit.

      We didn’t exchange gifts this year but did exchange charities. We watched this video and gave gifts to it. The children were entranced. So were we:

  10. Merril Smith on December 1, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    What a lovely, heartwarming post, Shirley. The tender moment photo is wonderful–indeed a tender moment.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 2, 2016 at 11:50 am

      Thanks, Merril. Something about the complete trust on Julia’s part and the visible savoring on Stuart’s part pulled my camera out of my pocket. I know you know those moments also.

  11. susan scott on December 2, 2016 at 2:53 am

    How gorgeous the photos and videos Shirley thank you! Such a sense of occasion –

    We had the full fir tree when we were children and there was nothing more exciting than decorating it! When our children were young we continued the tradition and put mince pies, carrots and milk underneath it for Santa and his reindeer, and all the presents of course. When our sons grace us with grandchildren I imagine the tradition will be continued.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 2, 2016 at 11:54 am

      Susan, my opinion about mince pie is that it should indeed be given to the reindeer. 🙂

      Love hearing about Christmas traditions in other places. Thanks for sharing yours.

      These years of three generations together enjoying the wonder of Christmas with young children are indeed precious. I hope you get to experience the same.

      I know you will find important ways to honor whatever family configurations you have now and in the future. I don’t assume the blessings above are the only ones.

  12. June on December 2, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Thank you for sharing your adventure of finding the Candy cane tree. It has been my responsibility to set up the tree, how every, the decorating of it has been a family responsibility. I remember a story about the first Christmas Tree, it was as high as hope, as wide as love, and with the sign of the cross on every bow.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 2, 2016 at 11:57 am

      June, I love it that you carry the memory of the words of a story about Christmas trees all those years ago from your childhood.

      It was fun to find the old ornaments. We have some picture ornaments of Aunt Kate when she was a baby and of our two grandchildren as babies. They loved these of course.

      Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  13. Elaine Mansfield on December 3, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Lovely traditions, Shirley. Thanks for sharing them. My friend’s young daughters love the outdoors and I have trees. Hmmm… A candy cane hunt?

    My younger son will be with his partner’s family on the west coast for Christmas. My older son and his wife like to be at their NC home on Christmas (and I like to be there with them), but usually they come for Solstice and leave for home just before Christmas. They haven’t seen their grandma, Vic’s mom, for a while, so may come here–or maybe I’ll go there. The family holiday traditions morph. I’ll ride the waves.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 3, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      Thank you, Elaine. I can assure you that a candy cane hunt thrills children and their parents alike. Don’t make the tree too easy or too hard to find. The Goldilocks principle. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your family celebration plans this year.

      Your word “morph” is actually the theme of most of the comments here. We have a few things we do every year. But as we age, our parents age, our children grow up, etc., things change.

      And so do our ways of showing love in this season of darkness and light. May you be held firmly in love as you ride the waves.

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