How do you adorn your Christmas tree? Are you a traditionalist with balls and garland? Or is your tree decorated from the artistic palette of children’s creations, salt-dough handprints and laminated artwork?
Whatever we hang on the boughs, we are telling our story. Many cultures share traditional stories, while our American trees reflect our individuality.
In Germany, where the Christmas tree tradition began, children search for a special ornament that Santa has hidden in the boughs. The finder of this glass pickle ornament gets an extra present, in some traditions, or a year of good fortune.
Australians adorn their trees with eucalyptus leaves and seashells. Russians celebrate Father Frost with decorations of snowflakes. In China, trees are hung with delicate paper lanterns. Trimming a tree with spiders nods to the Eastern European folk explanation of the origin of tinsel on Christmas trees.
My own tree contains a nativity ornament made of olive wood. The olive tree, native to the Mediterranean, is an evergreen with a long artisan history. Archaeologists have recovered samples of the tree from nearly 19,000 years ago. Olivewood carvings are traditionally given to friends and family as gifts of peace and love during the season.
Bay Weekly went in search of those adornments that make Christmas when we hang them on our tree — or share them with others.
In Memory of Joan
I adored Joan, my brother Tom’s wife and my first sister-in-law. A quiet introvert, she usually preferred the company of a book or her sketch pad. When she wasn’t curled up in a corner with either in hand, she could be found outside, exploring the natural world. Her sweet drawings were of birds, salamanders, wildflowers and anything else she stumbled upon. Joan made being outdoorsy cool in my pre-teen eyes.
When I was 18, I stayed the summer with Tom and Joan in New Hampshire. Joan and I spent hours fishing trout streams, hunting night crawlers on the town’s golf course and, best of all, planting gardens. That summer, under Joan’s tutelage, on my knees, digging in the dirt, I became a gardener.
Back home in California, my newfound passion was evident on my urban apartment’s tiny balcony. My garden of flowers, vegetables, cacti and anything else I could shove into a pot took up every inch of the cramped but sunny space.
In those days we still wrote letters, and I shared my gardening triumphs and failures with Joan, often musing how much I missed the quiet New England landscape.
That Christmas, she sent me a special gift: An ornament she hand-painted, hoping, she wrote, that it would remind me of her, New Hampshire, and our many outdoor adventures.
We lost Joan a couple of years ago, but she lives on in my heart, in my gardens and in that cherished Christmas ornament, always hung on a branch of honor.
Who doesn’t love two for the price of one? Last year I was down to the wire with my Christmas wrapping. I needed gift tags, but I’d also promised several people handmade ornaments. While I gazed into my fireplace lost in thought, an idea struck me. With a saw, I sliced a log into small wood slices. I decorated each one differently and tied them to my gifts. Voila! I had gift tags and ornaments. The slices were a hit — so much so that I’ve got requests for even more this year.
A Touch of Scandinavia
While visiting family in Norway, I noticed that every Christmas tree I saw was decorated with garlands of small paper flags. Most trees had only Norwegian flags, but my sister-in-law, a Norwegian of Swedish heritage, hung both Norwegian and Swedish flags on her tree. I brought Norwegian flag garlands home as a souvenir. Then, after much searching, I found American flag garlands for my tree and for my Norwegian relatives. Hanging them helps me feel connected and reminds me of a Christmas spent in Norway.
Angels Among Us
To you, the medical and office personnel, I present this angel as a symbol of the guardian angels you have been to patients these past years; and in sincere appreciation for the way you go above and beyond the call of duty through the gracious manner in which you interact with us patients who come here either very ill or frightened by apprehension of what may be our physical or mental problem. May God bless!