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Volume 15, Issue 51 ~ December 20 - December 26, 2007


Christmas Ornaments are
Memories from Our Past

Rubbermaid tubs are treasure troves of history

by Carrie Madren, Bay Weekly staff writer

As we unpacked our ornaments for our second Christmas together, my husband and I conjured up Christmas ambiance. Evergreen candles burned as we sipped eggnog laced with nutmeg. Sufjan Stevens sang indie Christmas songs in the background.

Out came the big Rubbermaid boxes that bear nativities, tissue paper-wrapped keepsakes, strings of lights and festive ribbons. One by one, we greeted each familiar ornament and hung it on our evergreen. There was the pink ball painted by a friend, the sailboat with tiny canvas sails, the Santa snow globe, the folk-style snowman and the webbed oak-leaf skeleton cast in silver. A funky orange ball with tiny round mirrors in bright colors — our ode to the unexpected at Christmas — earns its keep by eccentricity.

As I considered where to hang the blue plastic star embossed with a Nativity scene — beloved as a gift from my childhood choir director — I marveled that our collection is just starting. Decades into the future, we’ll be hanging these and many more memories on our tree.

Christmas ornaments — the trinkets of Christmas — read like the layered geology of our past. The longer we hold onto them, the more history they hold for us. Some ornaments remind us of eras gone by: friends whose roads diverged or places far away we’ve known and loved. Some ornaments bring back memories of the giver — like the tiny cross-stitched C encircled by a wreath sewn by my mother for me in my childhood.

Others still carry special memories, even though we might be hazy on the origin. We pulled out a beautiful heart-shaped, glass mirror ornament, inscribed Our First Christmas Together, 2006. We stood together, holding it up in proper Hallmark fashion, and I felt the weight of its meaning as I dangled it from its silver ribbon.

Marveling turned to head-scratching as we realized — dumbfounded — that neither of us could remember who had given us this piece of our ornament history just one year ago.

Little matter; we treasure it just the same.

Our Christmas trees become monuments to Christmases past and present, strung with meaning. Bearing collections accumulated over years, a trimmed tree is a patchwork quilt of history.

Even the evergreen itself — symbol of everlasting life — carries its weight in meaning. The only tree lively and green in the short, cold days of winter, the evergreen reminds us of God’s gift of eternal life for those who believe in His son, the first gift of Christmas. It lives on while the trees of autumn splendor stand bare.

The older the ornament, the more history it holds. Growing up, unpacking our ornaments was like greeting old friends. Twin six-inch-high kids — with plastic faces and matching striped pajamas, each wearing night caps and holding a present — always went on the lowest branches, placed with reverence by my brother and me. Those were the ornaments charged with guarding our own wrapped presents that teased us from under the tree until Christmas morning.

In another — crafted in Sunday School — a tiny plastic baby Jesus lay under a blue felt square, tucked into a halved walnut shell suspended by a gold cord. This baby Jesus — God’s greatest gift to us, in a nutshell — always got prominent placement, for it represents peace, salvation and love brought to us by that baby boy.

Another, a stained glass-like circle framed in gold plastic that reads May the Peace of the Lord be with You, gets a strategic spot in front of a tree light to illuminate the text. A tiny inch-tall angel — among my first — is made of the most brittle wood shaving, a bead head and espresso embroidery-floss hair.

As new ornaments come, old ones break, rust or become too fragile to hang. Our ongoing collections evolve, just as the years of our lives.

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