*First posted in December of 2011, edited slightly for today.
I love decorating our Christmas tree.
Nearly every ornament holds a memory and tells a story.
There are the ornaments from my childhood – the ceramic angel with my name painted on it, the faded green felt drummer boy. There are the ornaments my students gave me when I was teaching – a tiny chalkboard, a handpainted angel. There are the ornaments commemorating special places – my husband’s high school, his hometown church, the waterfall where we got engaged.
Each year, I choose ornaments for the children. Sometimes the ornaments symbolize a special memory — a tiny Cookie Monster for the year Jackson’s first word was “cookie,” a Cat in the Hat for the year Lauren dressed as him for Halloween. One year we made ornaments from sea shells we collected on our vacation to Chincoteague Island. Another year I bought beachy snowmen ornaments – snowmen sledding on seashells – to remember a warm Florida Christmas.
There are the ornaments the children have made — gaudy stars on tiny paper plates, giant angels with a child’s tiny picture glued on the head, foam manger scenes, popsicle stick reindeer, misshapen beaded candy canes.
And then there are the most special ornaments, the ones that bring tears to my eyes each Christmas. These are the ones I’m going to cry about even as I type this for you.
When I was a little girl, my grandma gave me toys for Christmas. My favorite was the Wonder Woman Barbie-style doll with her long black hair and giant red rubbery boots. My apologies to my cousin, Wendy, who actually asked for Wonder Woman that year, but who got another doll instead. There were a lot of us; Grandma must have gotten confused. But I digress. After I became an adult, Grandma gave me special Christmas keepsakes each year — beautiful musical snow globes, a gold-trimmed cake plate with holly and berries painted on it and a matching cake server. And then after I began having children, Grandma gave them each an ornament every year. With my aunt’s help, she chose special ornaments — musical Nutcracker soldiers or snowmen, jingle bells with their names handpainted on, delicate Hummel angels.
The last Christmas before Grandma passed away, my aunt had the foresight to print a tiny photo of my grandma and attach it to each ornament. So Silas’ tiny snowman-shaped music box ornament opens to show a photo of Grandma. Rachel’s porcelain angel has Grandma’s picture on the base.
These last six ornaments are the most precious on the tree, the final gift of love from their great-grandma who wanted to give more than gifts at Christmas – she wanted to give memories and keepsakes to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
And so each Christmas her presence is profoundly felt as we decorate. Of course, each year, as I set out the snow globes and help the children hang their ornaments, I am also reminded how very much I still miss my grandma. But mostly I am overcome with gratitude for the memories of noisy Christmases at her house with lots of cousins and for the thought she put into providing special Christmas keepsakes for me and my children.
I love my Christmas tree full of memories.
What’s your favorite Christmas ornament?