Christmas Ornaments: Memories of the Past, Possibilities for the Future

This time of year is always very powerful for me emotionally. To me,decorating the Christmas tree is much, much more than a nod to tradition. It is actually more like a rite of passage, one that connects me to my past and prompts me to wonder about my future.

           I have literally hundreds of ornaments. More than just a bauble to hang on a branch, every ornament I have holds a memory and a meaning. Like miniature time capsules waiting to be opened, unwrapping and touching each ornament brings the past into the present and makes it real once more. Some of the memories are happy, some are sad, and some are bittersweet. My ornaments remind me of who I was and who I am. Where I’ve been and where I want to go next.  

As I write this newsletter, the foil angel I received in preschool (that has topped my tree for over fifty years now) is watching me from her perch.  If she could speak, she could tell you  the story of my life. She has seen me tiptoe into the living room on little tiny bare feet at 4:00 on Christmas morning to sneak a peek at what Santa left and has heard my squeals of delight as I opened my presents and dumped the contents of my stocking out onto the floor. She has waited patiently for me to get out of bed and join my family downstairs for Christmas breakfast when I was a teenager and felt me hoist her to the top of the first tree I ever had when I moved out on my own. My angel sat at the top of my tree when I was married, and carried on her duties after I divorced, and more than once she has seen me sit alone and cry over the loss of my mother, whose absence is even more poignant at this time of year.

My little foil Christmas angel holds the stories and secrets of my life; she stands as a watchful guide over all my other ornaments and the memories they represent. She is the first one to be put on the tree each year and the last to be taken down. Out of all my ornaments, I look forward to seeing her the most. I anxiously take her out of the special wooden box that she shares with the plaster-of-paris wise man I made in Sunday school and carefully remove the tissue paper I wrapped her in the year before. My heart always skips a beat and I smile when I see her old, faded, and familiar face, and she comforts me as she instantly connects me to all the Christmases that have come before.

Some years I think it would be nice to have a “designer” tree; one that has been carefully decorated in color-coordinated grandeur, but when I look at my tree, I see the milestones of my life. A miniature Statue of Liberty I bought in New York right after 9/11 hangs next to my commemorative Hotel Del Coronado ornament. A tiny cruise ship from a trip to Alaska shares a branch with a carved wooden angel I found in a small shop in Portugal. Small picture frames, some decorated with dog bones and some with little fish, hold photos of beloved pets from the past, not to mention the 15 weiner dog ornaments friends have given me over the years in honor of my dogs. A “World’s Greatest Teacher” ornament I received from a second grade student almost two decades ago keeps company with a fairy an old boyfriend (who I heard died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease a few years ago) gave me because her half smile and long red hair reminded him of me. And the list goes on.

Yes, you can keep your designer trees and all their sterile beauty. I will sit instead with a fire glowing in the fireplace and a warm cup of tea and watch my little foil angel and her motley crew of misfit ornaments light up my room, reminding me of what has been, and imagining what has yet to be. Perhaps next year a little bride and groom will adorn a branch along with a little book that has the words “Best Seller” printed on it. Hmmm…now that’s something to look forward to!

Happy Holidays, and no matter what your Faith is, Be Blessed.

© Cathleen McCandless 2010, all rights reserved

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