Christmas is a time of such excitement … such promise. Life slows down enough that everyone can relax and just breathe. School and work are on short hiatus, removing much of the stress of the outside world and the pressure of deadlines. We can sleep late, keep our jammies on all day, have time-consuming pancakes for breakfast, play games all day in front of the fire, and serve as pillows for the dog (who’s the laziest person I know). But best of all, we reminisce and visit with family and friends, and make new memories.
I’m especially fond of decorating our house and garden. In the big maple tree out front, we hang bright red glass ball ornaments. I first saw that when I was a freelance writer for WRAL.com, and had been invited to the Governor’s Mansion to talk about its decorations. The Gov had red ball ornaments out front, and I loved how it looked. Turns out it looks just as lovely and old-fashioned at my house, too.
But my favorite decoration and tradition, hands down, is decorating our Christmas tree. It’s a festive record of our lives. When I was a little girl, my mother would always make popcorn and we’d munch on it while we decorated the tree. It was all gone by the time we had to put the strings of tinsel on, thank goodness, because otherwise the tinsel would’ve stuck to our hands. Now that I’m a wife and mom, I have the authority to ditch the tinsel … and the excitement to help build new traditions.
My husband sets out the boxes of ornaments on a stool and we decorate our tree over the course of a couple of days. Here and there we steal moments to hang 10 or 15 ornaments, then go on about our business. From my seat in the living room, I can see our small terracotta plate that we got on our trip to Arizona in 2008. We stayed with our friends, Kristen and Frank, and their two children. It was the farthest west my husband and I had both ventured, my son’s first sunset horseback trail ride in the desert, the first Saguro cactus I’d seen in real life. A couple of branches below it is a brass pineapple ornament we got in New Bern in 2008, and near that is a small porcelain replica of the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, which my husband and I got on an anniversary trip a couple of years ago.
Dotting the branches are little ornaments that our son’s made over the last 12 years, mingled among cheery wooden ornaments my mom got when we lived in Germany when I was very young. Several Basset hound ornaments commemorate the life of our beloved Penelope Buttercup, our first baby. There’s a jaunty wooden tiger ornament, homage to my husband’s nickname for our son: “Tiger.” The newest travel ornament is from the National Museum of History in Washington, DC. My son and I traveled to our nation’s capital in October with my husband, who was attending a training session. We’d drop him off every morning at 7:45, then have some breakfast and plan out the day. My son loved navigating the DC Metro maps; we walked our legs off and saw every national monument over the course of a whole week. But one day, in particular, it was raining heavily and since my son was in a cast, we had to stay indoors to keep his arm dry. We spent one whole day in the National Museum of History … and had a ball.
There’s also evidence of our annual Christmas party … last weekend marked our 17th one. We haven’t missed a year since we got married in 1994. Every year, we have ornaments that we give to our guests to mark the occasion … this year we had a choice of small golden wreaths made out of jingle bells, and origami cranes that my son and I made (they just sit on boughs and are so pretty). One of my favorite annual ornaments isn’t necessarily the most pretty, but the most telling: small American flag-painted stars we had in 2001 to remember September 11.
So we add the ornaments slowly to the tree, savoring the stories and remembering what we were doing and what we were thinking at the time. It’s an oral history lesson for our son, so that he can remember the stories that make up our life, and so he can pass them on to his children.