This year, with all the chaos that is our lives, short a living room, and tight on funds, I thought I could go without a Christmas tree. I figured, what’s one year without a tree in the long scheme of it? But my inner elf could not be dissuaded. Christmas, after all, has always been my favorite holiday.
As a young idealist, I had always assumed that the man I would marry would feel the same about Christmas as I do. But Jeremiah’s childhood experiences were very different from mine. For me, Christmas was candy canes and carols, huge family dinners and a late night drive from Grandma’s on Christmas Eve (once or twice I was sure I saw Santa…), presents and friends. For him, Christmas was a reminder that his dad was deployed…again. It was a time of higher stress, a reminder of difficulties. Later, as an adult working in the emergency services, the holidays showed him the worst of humanity. And, even though I understand all of that, it is rough to be an elf married to Scrooge.
(He literally says Bah Humbug when I first bring up Christmas. He sent me the above photo by text earlier this year.)
So, you might say we’re a mixed marriage in that way. All of this is simply to explain why I always end up decorating the tree by myself.
But for me, decorating a tree is about way more than putting shiny baubles on branches. You see, elf that I am, I’ve been collecting my ornaments for more than ten years, and nearly every ornament on my tree has a story.
It all starts with an empty tree.
We bought this one at the local market. It’s small–our last house had vaulted ceilings; this one does not–and more than a little Charlie Brown-ish. But that doesn’t matter.
You string the lights and garland. The tree begins to take on the spirit of your Christmas trees past.
And then you add the heart.
I’m not much for trinkets. They create clutter and tend to lose their meaning in time. (“Oh, yeah, we got that on vacation…now it sits on a shelf, and I have to dust it.”) But Christmas ornaments? They only come out once a year, and, for several weeks when winter is at its bleakest, they remind you of their story, first when you unpack them and carefully hang them on your tree, then when you walk past them each day, then again when you carefully pack them away. I’ve had some people think that I’m just really into ornaments, but that’s not really true. Even the most glorious ornament has no meaning to me if it doesn’t have a story. But those that do have stories? They are like old friends
This one sits near the top of our tree. My parents bought it for us for our first Christmas in our first house. It has special meaning this year, the first Christmas in our new home.
The front and back on one of my favorites, I bought this one while living in Salzburg, Austria. The reverse is the cityscape of a place that will always feel like home.
These three are from Jeremiah and my first vacation together. (There’s also an ornament from the Kennedy Space Center from that trip.)
I bought his one from the rescue that saved little Amelia before she came home with us.
Of course, I am the daughter of a pilot, the wife of a pilot, and I work in aviation. I believe my parents bought me this one the first year I worked for the family business.
I couldn’t find an ornament I liked in Switzerland, so I made one from a trinket cowbell. (MORE COWBELL!)
I brought Santa and his gondola home from Venice.
This little otter came home from the Shedd Aquarium, a just for the heck of it trip I took with Jeremiah while we were dating.
I made this one from our wedding program.
But this one, which I brought home from Vatican City, might be my favorite.
A surprise inside, lest we forget the reason for the season
And there are so many more…
So I guess every year I will have a tree, and I will decorate it myself, if only to bring these old friends out of their boxes and let them shine for just a little while.