Each of us has our Christmas traditions, passed down through the generations, beginning with when and how we choose to decorate our homes and start singing carols, from making out Christmas cards, holiday baking, or an elf on a shelf. Traditions may change as we get older; with no little ones in the house we've let leaving cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer slide into sweet memory. We send fewer cards, and while we do decorate, we've cut back on that some too. With age comes practicality; what gets put up, must be taken down and put away till next year. Christmas comes alive for me with the tree. I don't want to think of a time when I won't have a tree covered with family memories. The generations of love glisten in the lights. When I was a child Santa Claus decorated our tree while we dreamed of Christmas morning. We woke to the magic of his visit and the majesty of the tree we'd last seen as green branches arrayed in all its Christmas finery. When I was old enough to help, my mother controlled the trimming of the tree with the authority of Santa over the elves. Each ornament had its place and tinsel had to be placed strategically, strand by strand, not tossed in clumps on the branches. Those were lessons I happily learned. When I left home to start my own family, the traditions continued. My parents scaled down their Christmas and came to our house instead. Their tree was small; I inherited their old ornaments, my favorites from childhood. I have them still, plus so many more collected over the years. When my girls were young, begging to decorate the tree with me, I watched them with eagle eyes the way my mother had done. Certain ornaments were off limits; I made sure they were in clear view but out of reach of curious fingers. They tease me now about the art of putting tinsel on the tree; it's a dying art for sure. It's harder to find each year, but my tree would feel naked without it. I spent yesterday decorating the tree; today my whole body aches, but I don't care. My life is hidden in its branches. Only one of the huge glass balls from Germany is left from the half dozen my mother put on our tree. I have four little cherubs, each holding a musical instrument, while standing on glitter covered bells, along with two small 3-dimensional ornaments with a mountain village inside. When I take them out now, I'm reminded of childhood Christmas and amazed that the huge yellow ball isn't nearly as big as I used to think it was. I pick up ornaments from our first years as man and wife; we didn't have much money, and some might be considered cheesy, but they are precious. Every time I take our the little paper maché angels in their red dresses, I remember when I bought them at A&S—so expensive at $2 a piece— and my sister telling me to keep the price a secret from John. I remember John and me at Rickel's—a store that no longer exists, buying a box of four glass teapots with delicately thin spouts, and how, many years later when John came home to find our tree had fallen over, was dismayed and then in awe that those teapots escaped damage; that one of them appeared as if it had been taken out of harm's way to avoid the carnage. There's the baby's first Christmas ornaments, one with a rocking horse and one with several of the toys my daughter received that year. Before I know it, I'm holding those wonderful, hand-made ornaments the girls made in school: the clothespin reindeer, the popsicle stick and construction paper chalkboards, along with the laminated photos, and popsicle sleds. Even as adults they've created special ornaments I treasure. There are the violins and the ballerinas reflecting their interests. There are ornaments from the vacations we took, including a giant Mickey Mouse with a Santa hat from our first visit to Disneyworld. As I hold each ornament, deciding where it needs to go, I relive those trips and am flooded with memories. Holding one of my childhood favorites, I am overwhelmed thinking it's older than I am. It's passed from generation to generation. I think if the Christmas tree could talk, what stories it could tell, what secrets it might share. Would it say, “Everyone knows the Santa eyeglasses with the little mice is your favorite. You loved it so much, you waited a year and then put it on layaway because you couldn't justify spending that much on an ornament when money was dear and Christmas is about the children”? Maybe so. The children are grown, but memory is forever. At least I hope so.
~Elise Skidmore ©2022
Love this! Today I decorated the Christmas tree with my granddaughter for the first time. I took out the stuffed ornaments that I collected when her father was a child (happy meal toys from Christmas season) and let her put them on the tree. It was fun to watch her eyes light up as she got the idea. Put this thing on the tree. Got it! And as I watched her carefully to make sure no flocking was consumed, it occurred to me that if the others weren’t killed by it, she’s probably safe. We’ve had the same tree since I was 12. I hated that tree as a teenager, and while it is still probably not my favorite thing in the universe, I have come to see what a stunningly wise investment it was on my mother’s part. She was smart that way.
Years ago, my mother-in-law took her mother’s most prized ornaments and put them in display cases. Each of the boys got a collection. They hang on the wall year around, a reminder of a woman that I only met by letters, but who made me feel loved.
Every ornament has a story, doesn’t it? What a joyous time this can be… even amid the sad memories of those who can’t be here except in the echoes of Christmas past. Thank you for the reminders!
Thank you, Lisa. I love the idea of your MIL putting her mother’s prized ornaments in display cases. What a gift! And how wonderful you got to decorate with your granddaughter. It makes me very happy to know this touched you.
This heartwarming story reminds me of how much I use to love putting up our tree, I only had a few ornaments left from when I was young but I saved all of the lead tinsel and used it over and over until it finally crumpled away. My large tree is gone now and I only have 2 little ones. I’m finally giving away all my beloved ornaments to my step daughter. I hope they will love them as much I as did.
Thank you, Lucille! I can’t say I ever saved the tinsel from one year to the next, but I do still use it every year, even on my artificial tree. I suppose someday I’ll have to give in an use a smaller tree, but for the time being, I’m glad to have my big one front and center. Merry Christmas!