Last weekend I put up our family’s Christmas tree. An artificial tree. Some of you are now cringing, aren’t you?
My philosophy: With an artificial tree, I don’t have to trek to the local tree stand every December, agonize over which tree to pick, hand over a wad of my hard-earned money, and then struggle to get the tree into and out of my car and up to my living room. I just have to pull a box from the basement shelf and carry it upstairs.
We’ve always had a “fake” tree, with the exception of one Christmas in the early 1980’s. That year, we bought a live tree, set it up in the living room, and diligently watered it every day. I remember one thing about that tree: My father knocked it over Christmas Day, in the commotion of the arrival of his mother and sister. Dad nimbly righted the tree and made sure the lights, tinsel, and ornaments were in order. No damage was done and my mother never knew of the incident.
I enjoy putting up the tree. I can make an analogy of how placing each branch in its proper place so the tree isn’t lopsided is like writing a book, but not in this post. This post is about how the ornaments we hang make the tree, whether it be a tree bought from the Smith Family Tree Farm or Sears in 1989.
There are many decorations on our tree that evoke the spirits of loved ones long gone and times when life was simple and carefree. Handmade ornaments are “gifts that keep giving,” year after year stirring our memories and warming our hearts.
The above ornaments were made by my paternal grandmother. We have ten of these beauties in green, blue, yellow, pink, and red. Using sequins, velvet, and ribbon, Grandma turned plain Styrofoam balls into treasures we place front and center on our tree. I think of her every year when I place each on a branch and throughout the season when I admire the tree. I’m sure every member of my family has the same sentimental thoughts. It’s amazing how the ornaments, at least fifty years old, still look brand new.
This angel is very dear to me. I remember the day I created her so clearly. It was December 8, the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day, so we Catholic grammar school kids had the day off. I went with my friend Kathy and her mother to our local pizzeria, where we each had a Sicilian slice. We then went to Kathy’s house for what is now called a play date. We each made an angel, using a pink egg carton, pipe cleaners, and glitter, and then watched The Nutty Professor with Jerry Lewis. The angel’s crown may be a bit loose, and I had to give her a new wing a few years ago, but she still holds the power to bring back the memory of that day spent with one of my first friends.
The Christmas in the year my sister-in-law Marilyn joined our family, she mailed us a box of handmade ornaments, one for each of us. The above, made of pine needles and cones, is the ornament I was lucky enough to receive. Each year when I hang it on the tree, I think of Marilyn’s thoughtfulness and generosity, and of her enormous talent. This is my “real” tree hanging on the artificial tree. So really, I have the best of both worlds.
I made this ornament in my early years of Catholic school. The use of macaroni is classic, and the assembly simply, yet the message is powerful and reminds us all of the true reason for the season.
Mass-manufactured ornaments can also hold special meaning. The above two remind me of my friend Joann. We worked together for seventeen years, and for many of those years I helped Joann put together our department’s small tree. When we moved to an open-space environment this year and we had no place to put the tree, Joann asked if I would like to take the boxes of ornaments home. She didn’t have to ask twice. So now every time I hang these CVS-purchased decorations, I’ll think of Joann and our time shared in the corporate jungle.
So put it all together and voila…
There’s one last thing I love about the tree. One year in my childhood, as I was helping my mother put everything away, she told me of a tradition she kept every year. While taking the ornaments off the tree, she would pray for each member of the family, asking that they would have a happy, healthy year, and that we would all be together the next Christmas. It’s a nice way to end the holy season.
What holiday decorations bring back fond memories for you? And do you go with a live tree every year, or do you love the fake as I do?
I hope you are all enjoying the season. And I want to wish a very happy Hanukkah to everyone whose celebration begins on Tuesday.