As I unwrap the tissue around the first piece, I savor the moment of rediscovery. Here’s the reindeer my mother made of wooden clothespins. Its hand-drawn face always makes me smile. The next ornament, an old lead crystal pendant from a long-ago chandelier, was a flea market find. I love the way it gleams when the tree lights touch it.
One of the clothespin reindeers made by Gail Martin
I sit beside a stack of boxes containing my Christmas treasures. I’ll have hours of quiet pleasure taking the items out one-by-one and placing them on the holiday tree. Some people feel it’s a chore decorating the tree and house for Christmas. Now that I’m retired, I no longer have to rush through the process or squeeze it in between work and other commitments. Having time to luxuriate in memories makes the tree decorating a special time just for me. Each piece evokes a memory of a special person or time in my life.
Here are the folded German stars that my friend, Jaye, made for me when she lived on an island in the Casco Bay. I know that further down in the boxes I’ll find the angel she cut from heavy paper. I also love the sprightly elf she made from a pine cone and an acorn with a red scarf tied around its neck.
Jaye Rexford made this cute ornament
I pull the tissue away gently revealing one of my Australian finds. It’s a pottery silhouette of a kangaroo that reminds me of three years lived in Alice Springs. There’s another kangaroo lurking in here somewhere. It’s made of felt with a sprig of holly adding a holiday touch. I remember the Australians calling the holiday chrissy. They shortened so many words that way. Where is the koala? Oh, here it is.
Next, I reveal a glass star that I hang where it can twirl freely and catch the light. Then a glass icicle emerges. It’s a substitute for the plastic ones we had when I was little. The plastic ones glowed in the dark and when we became impatient waiting for night-time, we took them into a closet to see their purplish glow.
Here’s one of the many cat ornaments. This black and white one looks just like my Silly Kitten who lived with me in Ohio and Maryland. I named her for a favorite storybook, The Three Silly Kittens. The grey cat made of clay grins guiltily while holding a tiny ornament in his paw. That was Ashley who was always into mischief. I miss having a cat now that we travel so much. For now, I can remember all the great cats in my life when I see the clay and cloth and glass cat ornaments dangling from my tree. I don’t miss the way Ashley could un-decorate the tree almost as fast as I decorated it.
There are so many animals on the tree, including a white tin rabbit representing my years of rabbit raising in 4-H. The felt sheep reminds me of traveling in New Zealand and Scotland. The cardinals bring memories of my grandparents who introduced us to bird watching. This tiny deer made of shrink art plastic takes me back to craft projects at home. Mom introduced us to coloring and cutting and heating the plastic shapes. I should make more of those. I still have some of the plastic for it even though it is thirty years later.
The next box contains seashells. Each hangs by a thin gold cord and a sprinkle of glitter enhances the natural shapes. I purchased those last year to remind me of my library in South Texas. The last year that I was the director there, they decorated the tree with seashells like these. The seashells also remind me of our trips to coastal areas like the Great Barrier Reef and South Padre Island.
Here’s the box of cloth ornaments. It must be the librarian in me that categorizes the ornaments by type when I box them each January. I have lots of quilt designs to hang on the tree. Many are fabric, but some are brass. I’ve always loved old quilts and my grandmother made one for me when I married. These ornaments also relate to my years in the Baltimore Heritage Quilt Guild. I wrote their newsletter for several years, then organized the quilt show and finally served as president of the guild.
I find the crocheted snowflakes. They add a lacy touch of white to the dark green tree. Here are the snowflakes that Mom made from ribbons. Next, I unwrap the pleated Victorian fans that I made from wide ribbons edged in lace. My tree certainly is eclectic.
At last, I open the individual boxes with two 1940s ornaments. My mother had some like these and she cried when I broke one. It had belonged to her mother. I hang the fragile ornament at eye level on the tree. It’s older than I am.
An ornament from the 1940s or 1950s.
Next, I add the sports ornaments that I found to match my husband’s interests. There’s a glass replica of a basketball, baseball and a football. The golf ball represents our three days a week on the golf course. Then I add our newest ornaments that represent our times in Maine and New Hampshire. That includes a moose made of birch bark.
Victorian fan Christmas ornament
My tree gets more and more crowded as the years pass. I can’t give anything up. Each has a special meaning to me. This year we found a bigger tree and I put a three-foot tree in the dining room as well. That one is totally decorated with tiny baskets. After taking basket making classes in the 1980s, I can’t resist a little one whenever I see it, now that I know how hard they are to make.
It isn’t finished, but I don’t mind returning tomorrow to the task. I don’t want to rush through the tree trimming. Placing each ornament takes time to find the best spot on the tree for that memory. Days later I’ll often move a few about to balance the tree or for better viewing. Memories are meant to be savored and for the month of December, these ornaments trigger many memories of people and places in my life.
(Memory piece by Virginia Allain from 2010)