*orginally published 12/6/15
Traditions inform us of our past and can influence our future. They teach us lessons- about simpler times, what is truly important and sometimes they remind us of traditions that need to be changed. Memories are held in traditions- both of loved ones who have passed as well as life events. As for many others, Christmas is a time of year that holds many sacred traditions in my life.
I see all of the pictures people post of their beautiful Christmas trees, many with specific themes and decorations that are well balanced and color coordinated. That is not my tree.
My tree is a wondrous hodge podge of ornaments that go together only because they all hold a special place in my heart. One of my favorite days of the entire year is the day I decorate my tree. When I turn on Christmas music, and one by one open each bin and unwrap each ornament. Sometimes ornaments make me smile and sometimes they make me cry. Every one of them reminds me of a time or event or feeling or person. I don’t rearrange the ones my daughter puts on the tree- sometimes too close together. That is part of the charm- part of my tradition.
In our house, there are plenty of ornaments representing our love of pop-culture.We get new ornaments every year that usually represent something we love, a time in our life or someone’s personality. On my mother’s side of the family, once all of the cousins became adults, there were a few years in which we made ornaments for each other as gifts. One year we even made one together- snowmen out of clay that heavily suggested their poop (snowballs) was for sale. My poop selling snowman is broken, though I did find his arm in one of the boxes. Two amazing things came out of that rather short-lived tradition. 1. The fact that we now do a White Elephant gift exchange, which is even more fun with my Great Aunt Trudi as the wildcard- swooping out of nowhere to steal kinda random gifts, and inadvertently breaking up coalitions, and 2. This nativity made in the image of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as S’mores. My cousin glued a bunch of these together, before we even had kids, and I love her that much more for it.
Perhaps we started the tradition of making ornaments to exchange, because every year my Pop-pop would carve and paint Santa ornaments for all of us. Every year a different design. These are some of my very favorite on the tree. Pop-pop died in June 8 years ago. He never met any of his great-grands, but my daughter knows about him because at the very least, once a year, she looks at the ornaments he made, listening to me talk about him as she traces her fingers along the ridges of the wood carvings. I remember that first Christmas after he died, walking into my Mom-mom’s home knowing I would never get another Pop-pop ornament. But what an amazing and gut-wrenching surprise when we learned my uncle found the carved, but unfinished ornaments Pop-pop had already started and he finished them.I have ornaments memorializing people, as well as welcoming people into the world or my life. Ornaments marking events like trips or my first house. Plenty that are handmade, some by my grandmothers, some by Matt’s, some by me. Beautiful, delicate glass ornaments as well as weird ones. A ton from the dollar store that I bought the year I moved out and had my own tree. Large, smooth carved wood block ornaments Matt’s father made- three of them- one hanging by each of our Stockings. I have ornaments from my best friends. Some of those ornaments are from the days before we were married, before we had kids. The days that we would sit on my back porch smoking clove cigarettes, drinking mixed drinks made from cheap rum or tequila and talking about guys- some of whom later became husbands. Some of those ornaments are from more recent times, when we now we sit in the air conditioning, drinking craft beer or red wine, smoking absolutely nothing, as we listen to the squeals and laughter of our girls in the next room- making memories and friendships to last a lifetime. Sometimes we still talk about our guys, but we also talk about things like plantar fasciitis and the benefits of supportive walking shoes and podiatry. So many memories were shared with me by my parents when decorating the tree and even more were made. Because of my mom, the BEST Christmas records (yes- I said records because that is what we listened to and I promise you- she still has them all) will always be Alabama Christmas , Oak Ridge Boys Christmas and Willie Nelson Pretty Paper, and I always cry when Santa comes at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Because of my other mom- Deb, I will always have a real Christmas tree and love cool, vintage ornaments. Like my moms did, I tell my daughter the stories behind the ornaments and like I did when I was a child, my daughter is super excited initially and then gives up about a quarter of the way through decorating- leaving the rest to me. And so, some traditions carry on…..