I have so many lovely Christmas decorations that I sometimes find it difficult to find a place for all of them. Some years I leave a few behind in the attic and then rotate them into the holiday lineup at another time. Interestingly my most cherished pieces are rarely noticed as they sit beside much more elegant creations. Nonetheless they make my heart sing each time I give them an honored place in my home.
The first two are homemade ornaments for my Christmas tree. One was a little gift from my dear friend Linda back in the days when our children were babies and toddlers and neither of us had much money. We were young mothers in our twenties having contests to see how long we might survive the Houston heat without air conditioning to save on our electricity bills. Linda was the more steadfast and creative saver of the two of us and so one day she made a cute little ornament from an old holiday card and a photo of her two boys. She carefully trimmed the image of a wreath and let it encircle a picture of her smiling sons. I’ve proudly placed it on my tree every single year since then and my own daughters always look for it when they visit on Christmas Day.
The other ornament is also made by hand and was inspired by the one from Linda. My youngest child, Catherine, took a snapshot of our faithful and beloved Golden Retriever, Red, and framed it with a garland from a Christmas card. Red was a remarkable pet and we loved her as much as she loved us. After she crossed the Rainbow bridge that little paper ornament became more precious than ever and I have to admit that I am never able to hang it on one of the branches without getting a catch in my throat and a few tears in my eyes.
On the first Christmas of my married life my holiday decorating was rather threadbare. Mike and I were both in our early twenties and still studying at the University of Houston. We managed to get by on savings from the work he did in the summer and a little job as a teachers’ aide that I had gratefully landed. We had to adhere to a strict budget to make it from month to month so luxuries like Christmas trees and ornaments were not part of our spending habits. Luckily I have a birthday in November and that year Mike’s parents gave me twenty five dollars that I set aside for Christmas celebrating. I used it to purchase a tiny live tree, a stand for holding the tree upright and two boxes of glass ornament and a string of lights the rest I kept in my savings jar for gifts. I wrapped a sheet around the base of the tree and my Charlie Brown creation looked lovely in our tiny living room.
One day when I was shopping for groceries at a big box store I spied a creche for five dollars that I thought would look perfect at the base of our tree. It was about ten inches wide and six inches tall and held tiny figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and some angels and wise men. I just knew I had to have it but purchasing it would mean sweating bullets until the next pay check arrived so I grudgingly left it behind. The following week at my job I learned that all employees of the school district where I worked would receive two paychecks in Decembers to ensure that everyone had a jolly holiday. I knew then that a miracle had happened and I would be able to purchase the nativity scene. I rushed to the store after work praying that there would still be one available and to my delight there was.
Now that little manger scene is always the finishing touch as I place it underneath my tall tree that is dripping with collectible ornaments. I doubt that anyone else even notices it amongst the gorgeous things that I have purchased over the last fifty two years but to me it is the most important and meaningful decoration for the holiday. It has held up quite well given its age and it reminds me of the true meaning of the season with its simplicity.
There is yet one more Christmas decoration that I cherish above all others and it comes from my childhood of long ago. I suppose that I was about ten years old when my mother and brothers and I were perusing the aisles of a five and dime store located in a strip mall near our home on Belmark Street in Houston, Texas. My father had died about two years earlier and we had somehow adjusted to being a different kind of family. Finances were always tight but my mother never spoke of it. She somehow appeared to be a magician when it came to money. She found a way to keep us comfortable and secure while also providing small luxuries like trips to drive in movies or an occasional ice cream cone on a Friday night. We knew not to ask for things because we did not want to burden our mother with our childish wants. We took whatever she was able to give and were satisfied.
On that day in December as we gazed at the wares in the little store that we loved to frequent we came upon the most beautiful nativity set that we had ever seen. The figures were about ten inches tall save for baby Jesus and so wonderfully crafted that they were like artistic renderings from Michelangelo. They all stood under a primitive looking wooden stall mesmerizing all of us with so much delight that we were hardly able to walk away from the lovely sight.
We spoke of the manger scene all the way home and in a rare moment expressed our desire to have it for our home. Our mother reminded us that we had to be careful with our spending but admitted that even she had been taken by the creche. She sat silently for a few minutes and then with a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her face she announced, “I think we can do it. What do you think? Should we go back and buy it?”
Of course we all concurred with glee and immediately piled back into the car with great joy. I have rarely in my life experienced such delight as I felt as the clerk in the store brought a big box from the back room and carefully wrapped and placed the figurines inside. Every Christmas from that time it was the show piece in our family home and when my mother died my brothers announced that I should have the few pieces that had survived the more than sixty years of Christmas splendor.
The wooden structure rotted years ago so I found another to replace it. One of the wise men broke along the way so I now have only two. Baby Jesus is missing one of his arms but there is something touching in that. I place the figures in a lighted nook in my home each year and feel the same joy that filled my heart when I was ten years old. Not even the newer more elegant nativity set that graces my living room holds a candle to the memories and feelings of hope that I experienced on that Christmas of long ago.
I suppose that each of my favorite holiday decorations mean more to me than anyone else. They represent love in its purest form and isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?