Christmas Tree

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 timesย 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.


  1. Kary

    Read your blog “Ornamental” this a.m. and just got in from a church Xmas eve communion service. The turnout was large-had to have been 400-500 souls present.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading the significance you rendered ornaments-“ornaments represent childhood and adulthood…they remind me of important people in my life…they signify certain events, trips, and places in my life”. In my growing up days Xmas was an important celebration but since that time its significance has gradually diminished. Xmas originated with the Catholic Church as a celebration to rival the pagan celebration of the Roman God Minerva. No one has credible knowledge of the actual date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Additionally, Xmas has become very commercialized and that factor greatly diminishes my spirit for this holiday. The significance of Christianity is predicated on the Passion Story. That is an event that is confirmed in the writings of the Roman Historian Tacitus. Years later the Jewish Historian Josephus writes of the execution of James (60 C.E.) the sibling of Jesus who headed the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. When Titus sacked Jerusalem in 70 C.E. the Jesus Movement ended.

    I related well to your testimony about childhood friendships that increase in potency and renders many years of affirmative endurance during the Xmas celebration. Growing up we had many Xmases with our paternal cousins, aunts, uncles, at our paternal Grandparent’s home in Clanton, Alabama. I recall with many fond memories of those Xmases with extended family-“just like it was yesterday”. We all have now ventured into various directions and I have minimal contact with my paternal cousins, aunts, uncles, and the grandparent’s are now on the other side of the grave. Strangely, in recent years I have maintained contact with my maternal cousins, aunts, and uncles during Xmas and throughout the year. I will never, never forget those wonderful visits to the home of my paternal grandparent’s during the holiday season in my growing up years. But I am continuing to look forward and not too much in the past that I can be part of excellent forthcoming Xmas holiday celebrations in Durham, North Carolina-my domicile. Since relocating to Durham in 2011, I have experienced quite a few wonderful holiday celebrations with friends.

    You mentioned that you attended college in Wisconsin. Where did you matriculate and what was the academic emphasis on your diploma? I own a B.A. in Economics from the University of West Florida in Pensacola and a Master of Library Science from North Carolina Central University(NCCU) in Durham. I am only four courses short of procuring a Master of Information Systems degree (online) from NCCU. By this time in 2015 I will FOREVER be finished with formal education.

    When you mentioned visiting Nebraska at sundry times, that sentence caused me to think of comedian Johnny Carson’s referral to his growing up days “on the plains of Nebraska” during his monologue. To him it was all humor but your experiences there might be different. In 2015 you might write a blog on your visits to “the plains of Nebraska” though not in residence.

    Your blog indicated the noticeable significance of the Xmas season to you. You have many potent memories that are precious and enduring. Prayerfully, you will have many pristine Xmases that await you in the forthcoming years with family and new friends. Also, by way of much encouragement from family and friends, and hunkering down, your professional endeavors will be very successful. The 130th Psalm directs the reader’s attention to being mired in almost hopeless situations, being very patient and working through those difficult times, and in the end your reward will be plentiful-not marginal. I have “lived” the 130th Psalm and the sojourn is nowhere near pleasant but in the end the dividends are high.

    Finally, I mailed you an ecard on 22Dec.14 (Mon.) with your personal email address obtained from your blog’s bio. Keep up the assiduous effort in your professional and private endeavors. May the Lord smile warmly on you in 2015.

    1. Thanks, William, for reading and sending such a thoughtful and thorough comment! It is like receiving a letter in the mail. Hope your Christmas was merry and lovely! Yes, Christmas is a wonderful time of year, for meaning, for tradition, for family and friends. I took a little technology fast (break) in the last week, so I am only now replying. So much to reply to, and I don’t think I can in this space, but I will say thank you and respond to the Nebraska part. Love the state and have taken several wonderful road trips through it. If you want, look for my post, “On the Road in Nebraska: Cranes, Cather, and Corn.” It is from May 2013. Happy New Year!!

      1. For me, the Christmas of 96 was the last one I spent with my Father. He passed in May of 97. Being. Christian, I understand the true meaning of the day, so that has not changed for me. But I truly miss spending the day with my dad.
        I imagine it takes you hours to pack away all of the ornaments.

      2. Hope you have special memories of that last one with your Dad. That’s hard to lose ones you love. I do know what the meaning of Christmas really is, but I also enjoy some of the traditions that go along with the day, like trees and ornaments! ๐Ÿ™‚ The tree is full, but it’s just over 5 ft and most of ornaments aren’t breakable, so a couple hours or so. Happy New Year!

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