There is nothing like the holiday season to bring out the nostalgia in all of us. Each memory carefully unwrapped, admired and added to the collection of what it means to each of us to celebrate Christmas. Throughout the year I collect ornaments on our travels to add to the memories. A sweet ornament reminds me of the last time my mother & father-in-law came for Thanksgiving. The ornament purchased at a shop in Snohomish where I took my mother-in-law for some fun shopping. Some are funky, oft-repaired ornaments I made as a child and now my children add their handprint ornaments to our tree. The tree is not just glass and sparkles, but a cherished collection of memories.
Growing up my favorite holiday party was our annual Tree Trimming party. The weekend before we’d go to a u-cut tree farm and select the perfect tree. The 2nd Saturday in December a couple my parents were friend with would come over to help us trim the tree. The tree would be in the stand waiting for adornment. The men would wrestle the lights onto the tree – my dad always having a few choice words at some point. The women would then add the sparkly garland. Then we the boxes of ornaments came out, a special box of non-breakables set aside for the children. We each had our special ornaments, Baby’s First Christmas, ones our friends had made, etc. The we’d have dinner and exchange presents, often a new ornament for the tree.
At some point during my teen years a change happened. The tree farm sold out to a golf course and housing development. I was dismayed at having to go to lot to pick up a tree. While the tree was more beautiful than drought tolerate pines we’d been getting, the change was hard for me. The tree stand didn’t hold this different kind of tree. I’ll never forget that year, because while we were in the living room after dinner enjoying presents and conversation, the tree fell over onto the dining room table. I remember dashing to the tree and blowing out the candles from the table so that the tree wouldn’t catch fire. Everyone held the tree up while my Dad screwed a giant eye bolt into the wall and wrapped fishing line around the tree and through the bolt so it couldn’t fall again.
After a few years of these pre-cut trees my parents purchased an artificial tree at a post-Christmas sale. A FAKE TREE!!!! I just knew it wouldn’t be the same. One of my favorite parts of Christmas was laying on the couch in the living room with all the lights off except for the tree. The branch would have a slight rustling sound and I just knew the tree was talking to me. But we put it up, and no one worried if the tree had enough water to keep from catching fire with all the lights. My mom tossed the old worn-out garland and purchased ribbons and bows to adorn the tree instead. It was different, but not in a bad way.
In my early 20’s my parents divorced. The split was amicable enough. It also coincided with the year I had my first adult job and moved into my own apartment. Mom decided she wanted a pre-lit tree with white lights. I wound up with tree, the ribbons and all the colored lights my heart desired. I didn’t have a large collection of ornaments, but didn’t want my tree to be bear or only have glass store bought ornaments. I invited a bunch of crafty friends over with the kids for an afternoon and we made lots of ornaments, many I still put on my tree.
Over the next few years Christmas changed bit by bit. The first year or two we had Christmas at my apartment – neutral ground. We still went hiking (when my fibro would let me) and still attended the church potluck. Then my dad started a new relationship and my brother got married. Christmas changed again, evolving to fit our lives at the time. Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest and met my hubby. We often traveled to the East Coast for Christmas with his family. We had a baby, and then another, but every year without fail I put up my tree with its colored lights and gold ribbons and bows. Each year adding memories with ornaments and new friends to help trim the tree.
This year is different again. The same fake tree I was dismayed that my parents bought, had been mine since 2003. Each year the branches looked a bit barer. My husband and I decided that it was probably time for a replacement. How do you replace something that stood for all my favorite Christmas memories? Fortunately, I spotted a floor model on clearance (always have my eye out for a good deal) and he snagged it for me. I acted surprised when my daughter gifted me a new tree for Christmas. A pre-lit, white light, 3-piece 9 ft tall tree. Yesterday I purchased new ribbons – in silver and bought fun curly clips to replace the bows my mom chose all those years ago. The kids and I decorated the tree while hubby watched from the couch, icing his knee. Their delight at discovering old ornaments, my oldest carefully reading the dates written on the backs of ornaments so each person can hang their own special ornaments. After I dropped a few ornaments my kids decided that I should only handle the unbreakable and they (at 6 & 8) should be in charge of the breakables. My 8 year old’s anxiety kicked into high gear at the thought of her little sister handling the glass ornaments. I reminded her that I had to let go and let her start doing some at the same age. She looked at me aghast. These new memories will get tucked into the collage of Christmas memories.
My tree is different but still beautiful. Even with the same ornaments from years past it looks so different. Somehow its fitting in a year of so much change that we embraced the changes and go with the flow. I think of the Christmas’s spent with my husband’s family, both enjoying their traditions and company and yearning for something that felt comfortable and familiar. I think a lot of people will feel that yearning this year, a smaller celebration, people and places different than past traditions. Part of me yearns for those colored lights back (a small fix I know) but also learning to enjoy a new look for Christmas, a new way of celebrating.