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The numerous ballerinas representing my years performing in the Nutcracker. The various Disney characters from our trips to Florida. The little lobster on a crate from Boston where I, as a skinny twelve year old, ate two entire lobsters in one sitting. My teapot from the year I performed in the Importance of Being Earnest. And the pink Rwandan basket ornament bought to commemorate my first college trip to Uganda. The sweetness of this gift is not lost on me considering how my life turned out.
Contributions came from outside our family as well, from friends, family, teachers and neighbors who gifted us with ornaments and ended up embedding themselves in the cultural heritage of our family. When I hang these ornaments I am reminded of people who cared for me deep in the past. My wooden bear with the pull string came from my mother’s friend, Mrs. Donna, who died of cancer when I was very young. I cannot recall her face, but because of the ornament I remember her kindness.
Our family Christmas tree was not themed or planned. It was eclectic, personable and fully ours.
Then in December 2005, my parents packed up all my ornaments and said goodbye. I was just married (as in hours) and was honeymooning with my new husband at his family’s cottage up north. My husband, Scott, also grew up in an ornament family. His box was in the back of the car along with mine. Christmas was only days away and it wouldn’t be Christmas without our ornaments.
We were so young and poor, but on our drive we spotted a farmhouse with a hand painted sign out front. “Cut your own Christmas Tree.” The woman who lived in the house handed us a saw and pointed to her backyard. “Pick your favorite.” My unsteady southern feet crunched behind Scott in the snow as we set out, a friendly golden retriever eagerly jumping around our tracks. We cut our tree, paid seven dollars and took it to the cottage to enjoy. We hung every ornament for the first time together on that beautiful, bargain tree. Just the two of us.
These days I’m up to my elbows in Christmas ornaments all the time. It’s my job. Each Fall Ornaments4Orphans imports boxes so large you can swim in them like those giant ball pits at Chuck.E.Cheese. By December, I’m a little burnt out.
Just when I’m sure I never want to see another ornament gain, it’s time to set up our Christmas tree. Scott anchors it in the corner then goes out to the carport to bring in our family ornament boxes. I watch our daughter ooh and ahh and rush to touch them all, to hang them all, all these ornaments we’ve kept and loved since we were kids. She insists on hanging my Han Solo, the ballerina mouse, Snoopy at his typewriter. We tell her where each one came from and why it matters to us.
She has her own ornaments too, collected since her birth to one day remind her of how she was precious to us and what was precious to her.
We outgrow our childhood clothes and toys, but we do not outgrow our ornaments.
Our Christmas trees tell the story of our lives. Of our families. Where we’ve been, who we love and who loves us. Each year we haul out the ornaments and hang them up, rediscovering their stories, elbowing one another for the best branches, cursing the tangled lights beneath our breath, bickering, laughing, celebrating with our people.
I think about this as we box up our Ornaments4Orphans and ship them out across the country.
I wonder who they will end up with and what meaning they will take. The Hope Ornament given to a discouraged neighbor, the Paper Bead Africa given to an adopting family, the Stuffed Elephant given for baby’s first Christmas or the Angel Ornament gifted to the NICU nurse. I imagine the memories that will be attached to those ornaments and the stories they will represent. My prayers are with each one of them as we pack them up and send them on their way.
Christmas Ornaments can seem like such small, inconsequential things. But I know better. Maybe you know better too.