I set up my Christmas tree today and it is literally dripping with ornaments. I have to be honest that I had to purchase a second tree just to hold all of the lovely trinkets that I have collected over the years. My main tree is well over ten feet tall and the other one is smaller. Every single ornament has a story. In fact, I might fill a book if I were to write a paragraph detailing how and why I have each of them.
Many of my ornaments were gifts from friends, family members and students. One is especially beloved. It is a pink crocheted bell that a youngster gave me when I was completing my student teaching. She was a troubled child and I had been warned to watch her. Somehow I never thought to be wary of her. Instead the two of us bonded almost immediately. I found her to be enchanting and when she brought me that bell that she had crafted with her own hands I was touched to the very center of my heart. I often wonder where she is now. She would be in her forties. I hope things turned out well for her. I suspect that she would be surprised to know how much I treasure her thoughtful present.
My tree wouldn’t be complete without two decorations made from old Christmas cards and photographs. One was made by my friend, Linda, and it holds a picture of her two boys when they were tiny tots. The other came from my daughter, Catherine, when she was a little girl. It has an image of our first dog, Red, a beautiful and sweet golden retriever. They sit proudly amidst far more elegant ornaments but somehow they seem more important than even the annual Swarovski crystal snowflakes that I have been collecting since I visited the factory in Austria with friends, Monica and Franz, more than a decade ago.
I have a plastic angel with faded silver paint that came from my grandmother’s tree. Most people would think it quite ugly but it always reminds me of the fun times we had every Christmas Eve at her house with all of my cousins. I also have the glass globes that were on the first tree that Mike and I ever had. They too are a bit the worse for wear but I haven’t had the heart to part with them.
I have a large number of Hallmark ornaments. I tend to go back for more Mickey Mouse and Snoopy creations than any other. I also love the ones that replicate the toys that my girls had when they were small. My favorite among those collectables is Steamboat Willie. He whistles away as he steers his little ship. It always takes me back to the old black and white cartoons that sometimes played on television when I was a child.
When the Harry Potter books came out I became an instant fan and I have purchased themed decorations depicting many of the characters in the stories. My mother noted my enthusiasm and found a number of them for me. Harry is great but I am madly in love with the one that resembles Hagrid.
My friend, Pat, was a true lover of Christmas and gave me dozens of the decorations that don the branches of my fake fir. Over the years she gave me Snow Babies, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, silver bells, gingerbread men, redbirds, snowmen, and some of my most adorable and beloved adornments. Other friends like Cappy and Marita filled the my tree with trimmings from all over the world. There are straw bells and baskets from Mexico, blue and white globes from Denmark, ships in bottles from Italy and Santa figures from here and there.
I tend to purchase a new ornament any time that I take a trip. When I place those trinkets on the tree each year I instantly recall the fun that I had. I bought tin toys from the FAO Schwartz store that used to be in Chicago, a replica of Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, a double decker bus from Canada. There is a brown bear from Yellowstone and workers sitting on a steel beam from New York City. I have Revolutionary War soldiers and ballerinas. Nutcrackers and humming birds. I particularly enjoy an Elvis from Memphis and a duck from the same city.
My Christmas tree is really a tree of my life. Christmas after Christmas it records my travels, my friendships and the people and things that I most love. It tells as much about who I am as anything. I doubt I would be able to describe myself better than that tree does. It has bells and whistles and lots of sounds and is actually quite fun. I love nothing more than sitting in its light with the rest of the house in darkness and just enjoying each of the many decorations and the memories that go with them. They speak of the blessings that have followed me and the people who have always meant so much to me.
My tree has no coherent color scheme or theme. It appears to be a hodgepodge but I think of it as one of the loveliest things on earth. I used to prefer live trees but when I realized that my children were sick every year because of they were allergic to the sap I learned to love my artificial ones. I’ve had to replace those a few times but I carefully pack away the same ornaments year after year. I’ve had to make repairs and once in a great while I’ve had an accident and broken one which is momentarily heartbreaking but the memory that is associated with it never goes away.
My grandchildren especially love my tree. They press the buttons that make the decorations whir and spin and light up. They search for new ones each year and attempt to find the pickle that I purchased in Indiana way back when my eldest grandson was born. They like to hear to stories associated with each of them as much as I enjoy telling them. Somehow they never tire of laughing at their silly grandmother and like me and their mothers they would never change a thing about my crazy way of decking the boughs of my holiday fir.
It takes me hours to fit all of the ornaments on my tree. I worry that I will one day be too frail and weary to enjoy it as much as I do now. Both my mother and mother-in-law eventually eschewed their big trees in favor of small tabletop bushes. I truly hope that I never have to do that. I’d like to think that my children and grandchildren will help to bring my tree to life because they delight in it as much as I do. It is truly a tree of my life, a special view into who I am.