No Gifts Under the Tree


As my husband and I settled in for the plane ride from DC to the tiny snow-capped town of Gunnison, Colorado on December 22, I was filled with both anticipation and unease. It was our first Christmas foregoing traditional gifts and instead coordinating a family destination Christmas in the snow-filled winter wonderland of Crested Butte, Colorado, just a few miles from my sister-in-law and her husband.

The family was gathering from all parts of the continental US to be there: Dylan’s parents and us from DC, his other sister from California, and his grandparents from Utah. Everyone chipped in what they could to help cover expenses and we all agreed not to do any gifts. A Christmas together was the gift.

This would be the first year I wouldn’t be waking up on Christmas morning to stockings stuffed with tiny surprises or gifts peeking out from under the tree. Heck, we weren’t even going to have a tree this year.

Would it still feel like Christmas?

I wondered.

I love everything about this time of year: the lights, the tinsel, the familiar ornaments, the wreaths hanging on doors and in store front windows. I don’t even get upset when I see Christmas displays beginning in August, even though I know they are just a ploy to get us to spend more, more, more. I look forward to Christmas all year long.

When we arrived and began exploring the town of Crested Butte, I couldn’t imagine being in a more perfect setting for Christmas. It was like a scene straight out of a Rankin/Bass movie. I fully expected to see claymation elves leading reindeer down the streets.

We spent the days leading up to Christmas skiing and drinking hot toddies and cooking and eating. Even Dylan’s grandparents joined in for an afternoon of cross country skiing— pretty impressive for a couple in their eighties!

But on Christmas Eve something still didn’t quite feel right.

“It just doesn’t feel like Christmas,” I told Dylan.

I couldn’t explain any more than that.

After being out and about all afternoon, we headed back to the condo to settle in for the night. Along the way, we passed a gas station with two scraggly pine trees with a sign next to them. In scrawling Sharpie I could just barely make out the words, “Free Trees”.

My brother-in-law did a loop around in his pickup and we loaded a tree in the back, hoping no one from the resort would see us dragging a six foot pine tree through the parking lot and into the condo.

No one did.

We propped the tree up in a corner next to the fireplace, then began searching for things we could use as decorations. We didn’t have any twinkle lights, but my husband’s family never travels without headlamps, so we gathered as many as we could find (which was more than you might think) and strategically placed them around the tree.

My mother-in-law took a break from cooking (a rare thing for her to do) and made a tinfoil star for the top.

Dylan’s sisters found a bag of microwave popcorn, and I found one of those weird sewing kits that are often in hotel rooms, and they got to work stringing popcorn.

Grandma taught me how to make paper chains without using tape, and we sat next to each other adding loop after loop to the chain.

Christmas music was playing in the background.

The smell of turkey and stuffing and cinnamon wafted through the air.

The lights on the tree danced.

Every face was smiling.

And there it was: the feel of Christmas.