I love Christmas trees. Christmas trees not only symbolize all the beauty and hope of the season but are reminders of Christmases past. I have three trees this year. Maybe more if I have to count the tiny tabletop trees. My husband says I should. So to be perfectly honest, this year, six Christmas trees grace the house. It’s really not about the tree. The tree is a variable. What is important are the ornaments.
When I was a child, I didn’t understand this. The tree was everything. When I was eight, we lived in South Carolina where my parents couldn’t find a real tree. We ended up with a silver tinsel pompom tree which my mom decorated with red ornaments. One couldn’t put Christmas lights on this tree so one was supposed to plug in a color wheel that would project lights upon the tree. We didn’t have a color wheel. Using the lights from trees past, my dad rigged an outline of a Christmas tree on a board that stood behind this tree. This did not say Christmas to me. The next year found us in California and my brothers in Boy Scouts. We bought trees from the Boy Scouts or the Knights of Columbus, whoever had the lot. But a few years later, another artificial tree snuck into our house. This one was decorated with green and blue balls and a green and blue glass spire. I swore that I would never have an artificial tree. My first tree as a newlywed came from a grocery store. The next year we learned if one waited until a day or two before Christmas, the Lions Club greatly discounted their trees. We couldn’t afford a tree the year my eldest was born but my husband’s grandmother gave us a potted pine she had growing on her deck. I killed it. The next year we began going to Christmas tree farms and cutting our own. The girls grew older and dashing to the Home Depot lot by our house was quicker. The last daughter went to college and I bought (horrors!) an artificial tree. I had learned by then that what I wanted as a childhood was a tree with history.
The history is the ornaments. As a child I wanted more than red ornaments. We had some decorations that reminded me of years past: an angel my sisters liked to play with; the Noel angels who held candles; a nativity set to which my parents gradually added pieces. I wanted more. Fascinated by the Victorians and their love for Christmas, I wanted a tree of unusual ornaments. I wanted to remember Christmases past, while enjoying Christmas present, and looking to Christmas future.
My tree is a reminder of the years I have celebrated this joyful season. Four glass ornaments from a set of nine bought at Cost Plus the year I got married dangle on the tree. The last Santa seems sad. I broke his brother taking down the tree four years ago January. I had read that a student I had as a seventh grader had died. Crying for him, I let my thirty year old Santa slip through my fingers and shatter. Sometimes life is sad.
As I decorate the tree, the ornaments remind me of where I have been. I have one green ball and the glass spire from my parents’ artificial tree. My brother found them in the garage and brought them to me for my first tree. I have a pink reflector ornament that once graced a tree in the lobby of an apartment building on Green Street in San Francisco. My husband’s grandmother managed the building and saved the ornament when the building converted to condos. I have a pewter reindeer bought at The Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, Ohio one November and a two angels kissing given to me by a professor while I was in graduate school. My husband was delighted when he found a wooden train ornament at a store in the mall where we took our first daughter to see Santa. My husband’s aunt gave us a delicate bell shaped like a girl the year my second daughter was born. On our way to a Christmas party in San Francisco the year our third daughter was born, we stopped by the Christmas store on Pier 39 and bought three wooden bears, each inscribed with the names of our three daughters.
Some remind me of friends. The Lion and lamb was bought during an excursion to the San Francisco zoo by a Jewish friend who would never have a Christmas tree but liked this ornament. The year we spent Christmas away from our house, I brought the Lion and Lamb with me. Another friend sent me three wooden ornaments from Vermont. I still have the bear. My older daughters have the other two. A friend made me a sheep one year. Another friend made me a cow ornament. Each year I remember these women and the times we shared.
Other ornaments remind me of my daughters. While they were in grade school, my daughters and I made ornaments. We cut out cookie shaped ornaments from salt dough, and then decorated them. Many of these have crumbled but I have a small bag that I look at when I get the ornaments out. I do not hang them for fear they will disintegrate. We painted wooden ornaments and ceramic ornaments; some of which we gave as gifts. Others hang on my tree or on the trees of my daughters.
As they left home, I gave each girl ornaments. Gone are the sugarplum fairies and the dancing lions. Gone are some of the reindeer. Gone are some of the angels. I hope these ornaments remind each daughter of her childhood, what she loved.
My ornaments are my history. Each one tells me a story, reminds me of an event, a person, a year. Memories keep us warm; remind us what is important in life. Memories make me realize that I have had a good life. I have had all the things that are important: family, friends, love. These warm memories of the past woven with the love of the present gives me hope for the future. This is what I love about the holidays: you remember that you are loved. And you remember to love others. Love is the most important gift of all.
Merry Christmas! May your holidays be warm and memorable!