Three weeks ago I lugged in the red and green duffel bag holding the Christmas tree and the faded blue plastic storage tub holding all the ornaments. During this season, decorating the Christmas tree is just about my favorite tradition. As I hang the ornaments on the tree and sprinkle the other Christmas decorations around my place, I examine my present, my history, and my future.
As a single adult with no kids, I have only had a tree for about six years. In my twenties, I did not always decorate or I just hung a few ornaments from the living room window curtain rod. Finally in my thirties, I decided I wanted to participate fully in the spirit of the season and realized that there was no reason that I should not have a tree. Since then, I have eagerly waited to feel the magic and transformation that the tree and ornaments bring to the space where I live. It makes home, home.
During my childhood, the gifts of Christmas ornaments were part of an annual tradition. My mother usually made or purchased three ornaments for my two sisters and me. In addition, we traded ornament gifts with my three cousins, which my crafty aunt C. made. I received ornaments from my godmother and rapidly the collection in my childhood grew. Usually my name and the year the ornament was given is etched somewhere on the decoration. I have a whole timeline in ornaments. The tradition continues to this day, as I still receive ornament gifts from my mother and occasionally I will buy one as a special remembrance.
One year, while I was living and working in Minnesota, and wouldn’t be making the trip home to New Mexico, my mom gathered all of my childhood ornaments and sent them to me. It was one of the best packages I have ever received. That package signaled the growth from daughter visiting to making my own home. I still share the holidays with my parents and sisters, but it’s nice to have my own home fully decorated for the holiday season.
The ornaments. Some are handmade. Some are mass-produced. Some are breakable, some are sturdy. Some are old, some are new. Those ornaments represent childhood and adulthood. They remind me of important people in my life. They signify certain events and trips and places in my life. Each year as I unpack and hang them, I rediscover these ornaments as talismans and souvenirs and keepsakes.
There is the wood shaving snowflake, made in Germany, that was given to me as a baby. It’s beautiful and simple and handmade. It makes me think of the optimism in giving a baby a gift. I grow older each year and yet this ornament never changes.
There is the orange felt Denver Bronco that my mom made in the frenzy and fever of the “Orange Crush of 77” season when they made it to the Super Bowl. This ornament is cute with its blue fringe mane, but it also makes me laugh. I am not much of an avid football fan, but I love the tradition and camaraderie that sports fans have with their teams. Because of a few dear friends and their avid support of the orange and blue, and my mom’s craftiness, I love this ornament.
There are a series of angels that I hang on the tree every year. A few are from my godmother, S., who always gave wonderful and thoughtful gifts. Some are wooden, some are metal, some are fabric. These angels, some cherubic and some angular, make me think of the Christmas story. Mostly, though, they remind me of the friends and family members who make me believe in the good of the world. I think that at times we are all angels for someone else, as others are for us.
A small ceramic ornament, shaped and painted like a picnic basket with a kitten inside, has my name and the year 1984 painted in small black script. It was made by my best friend from elementary school and her mother. As I recall, she gave everyone in our fourth grade class, all 17 of us, an ornament. I wonder how many of those former classmates still have theirs and hang them on the tree? C.H., and I were best friends all through school. When I moved to another small New Mexico town, 200 miles away, for seventh grade and the rest of my school years, we began writing letters. The frequency was often. We regaled each other with tales of boys we liked and school activities and growing into ourselves. We shared deeply and when we were twenty and in college, she in Texas and I in Wisconsin, she asked me to be a bridesmaid, along with her sister and her husband’s sister. College life and then careers had us drift apart a bit, but we are in touch and I hope to see her soon. This ornament represents a childhood friendship that lasted and led to lifelong intimacy.
The ornaments made by aunt C. remind me of childhood and the Christmas traditions with my cousins. There were six of us, my sisters, three cousins, and me. We shared Christmas and holidays and growing up together. Now, one of us is gone and the next generation is growing. I hope that 2015 can bring a reunion and a renewal of those beautiful cousin bonds.
The birds and bird house ornaments remind me of my still fledgling (pun intended!) birding skills and the years I worked weekends in a bird feed store. I worked for two kind and generous women who led interesting and full lives. As I approach the age that they were when they opened the store, I think about reinvention and kindness and friendship and the surprises of an ordinary life.
I have ornaments that remind me of my college years in Wisconsin, road trips to Nebraska, and my only trip abroad to visit my sister in Germany and Italy. Adventures, as important for the memories as for the living and learning, are always there for the taking and hanging these ornaments lets me bask in those adventurous times.
I have the words “Peace”, “Hope”, “Love”, and “Faith” hung as ornaments on the tree. Those qualities and values represented by the wooden words keep me grounded. I struggle and live for those. The words are strung up with twine and I surrender to the beauty of living.
At least half of my ornaments represent my home state of New Mexico. There is the wooden key chain alien from Roswell that I hung with yarn to make a tree decoration. The red wooden chile ornament, the glass gondola souvenir from the Sandia Peak Tram, a sand-colored pottery angel from Santa Fe, a bell painted with desert scenes. This is where my heart and soul live and I make plans to return to the state permanently, sometime in the next year. They remind of my past, and my future.
Do you have ornaments from childhood, from your family? Do you have traditions and belongings that you hold dear at this time of year? Have you created new rituals to build upon? What stories and experiences do you share?
These ornaments tell a story. They are tradition. They are memory. They are future. They are family. They are sacred. They are ordinary. They are the physical representations of the experiences, people, and memories that are our hearts.