A season of goodwill and cherished memories

Dec 10, 2013

A season of goodwill and cherished memories

I must confess I am one of the roughly 30 million people in the United States that bought a Christmas tree from a tree farm lot this year.  I do have fond memories however of many a cold winter’s day in December, as a youngster, trampling through a deathly quiet forest – with only the sounds of an occasional “thud” as huge clumps of snow would fall from pine tree branches, and my own heavy breathing from struggling to extract myself from waist deep snow – in search of the “perfect” Christmas tree.

I was all too eager to pass my wonderful childhood memories along to my own family, as we carried on the tradition of chaining up the car, bundling up to look like a Michelin family, and with bungee cords in hand and a toboggan strapped to the top of the car, set off in search of the “perfect” Christmas tree.  The reward, when we got back, was a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows and a stick of peppermint, Christmas carols and the scent of a fresh pine tree filling the house.

Fast forward to today.  I am at an age that the thought of frost bitten toes and fingers overrides the allure of the adventure.  So, as I longingly and quite guiltily gazed at all the artificial Christmas tree options, I heard my youngest daughter’s admonition, “no way are we ever getting a fake tree!”  Even though my children are adults now, their memories are still very vivid.  It is first and foremost about the smell of a pine tree that permeates the entire house and then all that goes with the holiday season.

I know there is debate about whether a living tree should be cut as part of a holiday tradition, or whether choosing an artificial tree contributes to global warming or whether one should support a tree farmer instead of the above, but really it comes down to personal choice and circumstance.  The memories we create, and the mark we leave, are way more important.

However, not everyone has fond memories of Christmases gone-by.  Just being alone can make the holiday unbearable.  Circumstances may find people (our neighbors) in need of food, clothing, and shelter; leading to the Christmas season being quite difficult for some. 

This is probably why one-third of all charitable donations are made the last three months of the year with 18 percent of the annual total donated in December.  In 2012, charitable donations increased by 3.5 percent for a sum of $316 billion dollars.  Volunteers contribute over 15 billion hours every year.  Charitable giving and volunteering (our actions) directly impacts communities.

Having been raised by a single mother, we didn’t have excess of anything, but we had a home, food, boxes of welcomed hand-me-down clothes, and toys under the tree on Christmas morning.  Growing up, I didn’t realize our social circumstance because what we had, we shared year-round, especially at Christmas.  My mother always made sure we invited (what she referred to as “shut-ins”) to our home for dinner.  We entertained dinner quests for Christmas every year.

I guess the reason I am sharing this story, is because it is not unlike many others from the past or today.  Even though growing-up we did not have an abundance of “things” we did had an abundance of goodwill, and isn’t goodwill really what Christmas is about?  Giving to our community or helping a neighbor has long been an important part of Montana’s culture. 

Whether you choose to be counted as part of the $316 billion in charitable donations, volunteer your time, provide toys or food for families in need, a Christmas tree (artificial or real) or Christmas dinner for a “shut-in”, our actions serve to help create lasting memories for our own family and for others.

On behalf of all the families of the Montana Wood Products Association we wish you cherished memories, a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.   I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.