Christmas Memories

Christmas ornaments

When you decorate your Christmas tree this year, consider how the ornaments that you place on its branches are like a time capsule of your life.  When I was a newlywed, I couldn’t wait to decorate my first Christmas tree.  But like most newlyweds we lived on a budget, so one way to fill the branches was to make the ornaments myself.  I scoured the shelves of craft stores looking for ones I could paint or piece together by following the directions.  I preferred a “country” theme of homemade decorations made of patchwork material and wood with popcorn strings as garland.

As our children were brought into our lives, it was important that the ornaments were “safe.”  Plastic ornaments that said, “Baby’s First Christmas,” and ones that could be displayed with pictures of our bundles of joy, became our favorites.  Then there were the years when our daughter was a Girl Scout and I was one of her leaders.  We made ornaments together that were easy for the children to assemble, such as taking a lollipop stick and pushing it into a small Styrofoam ball.  Then covering the little ball with colorful material and tying the material around the base of the ball where it sat on the lollipop stick with ribbon.  Or taking a larger Styrofoam ball and a variety of colorful material cut into small pieces. We pushed the pieces of material into the ball until it was covered like a quilt. Then we stuck a pipe cleaner in at the top, so that it could be hung from the tree.  And, of course, the children brought home their own artwork from school to be placed on the tree with tremendous pride.

Soon we started taking family vacations, and every place we went, I bought an ornament to help me remember our trip.  Ornaments from Disney World, Santa’s Village, Yellowstone National Park, and The Bronx Zoo, among so many others, were added to our annual Christmas display.  We added ornaments that represented things that our children enjoyed like musical instruments, ballerinas, robots and superheros.  My daughter informed me one Christmas, that the tree should be topped with a “star,” not an “angel.”  And so we went on a search until we found the perfect star to crown our tree and my angel was retired to the Christmas bin where she could rest after her long years of hard work.

Once the children were grown, I started to add more glass ornaments which reminded me of the Christmas tree of my childhood.  I can still remember climbing up into my parents’ attic to find the wooden crate, originally from a fruit and vegetable market, that held the old ornaments.  The old crate had a colorful painting of fruit on it that always intrigued me.  Just seeing that crate, brought a sense of happiness and joy to me.  Inevitably, every year, some of the glass ornaments would have been broken while packed away.  But peeling back the layers of old tissue paper, which protected each ornament, was like opening a treasured Christmas present.  It was exciting to see what ornament would be revealed.  My favorite, were the oldest ones that dated back to my parents first years as a married couple in the early 1940s.  Perhaps some were even older, passed down from my grandparents for my parents’ first Christmas together in 1942.  These ornaments hung on their tree while WWII was raging in Europe and Asia.  “Holiday Inn” with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire was playing in the theater.  “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Bells of St. Mary,” “It’s a Wonderful Night,” and “White Christmas” weren’t even made yet!

Each fragile ornament, spun of glass so many years ago.  Each had been hung on Christmas trees long before I was born.  And each one held a sense of magic for me . . . the magic of the season for one little girl.

This year my children will come home from college and help me decorate our Christmas tree.  On it we will hang a collection of ornaments.  They will include ornaments from our first “Country” Christmas, their “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments, decorations that they made as children, souvenirs from our travels, ornaments displaying pictures of them as they grew and changed through the years, along with others that are mementos of their childhood, all under my daughter’s Christmas Star.

But the ornaments that I treasure the most, are the few leftover from my own childhood.  I still have some from my parents’ first Christmas trees.  I am usually not brave enough to place them on the boughs . . . but maybe this year, I will include just one or two.  I will make sure they are sturdy branches, because the ornaments are as precious as the memories that they evoke.

Wishing all of my readers a most joyous Christmas season!   Author of The Tin Box Trilogy

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