By Lee Pitts
Around our house we practice the traditional Christmas customs. My wife and I kiss under the mistletoe, or a close facsimile thereof. And we eat turkey in every conceivable fashion from Thanksgiving until New Year’s.
There is the customary wrapping and unwrapping of packages and not taking down the outdoor lights until July 4. We swap cards with long lost friends and relatives, drink eggnog, hang our stockings with care and test the limit on our charge cards like everyone else.
The one Christmas custom I enjoy most is decorating the dead evergreen we drag into our house every November. It’s when I get to open the boxes containing our Christmas ornaments. Individually wrapped in crumpled tissue, like a jigsaw puzzle each piece when hung on the tree collectively tells the story of our life together.
My wife and I each inherited a few ornaments from our respective families to remind us of Christmas as kids, but most of our ornaments have been collected in our nearly 50 years of marriage.
Amongst my favorite are the hand painted wooden figures reminding me of our early years when we didn’t have enough money to buy gaily colored glass balls or blown glass figurines. Through the years we have added ornaments of every description: glass, leather, plastic, wood, old fashioned and modern. Like us, many of them bear scratches and scars.
Whenever my wife and I would travel, we would buy an ornament to remind us of our adventures to places like Williamsburg, Australia on Christmas Eve, the Caribbean, skiing or houseboating with Skinner and Joan, Hawaii, our three month trip to all the continental 48 states and one very special evening at the Kennedy Center with my mom. Unwrapping the ornaments and hanging them on the tree is like revisiting those special places.
Some cherished ornaments have been given to us by special friends and favorite relatives. A picture of a godchild in a small frame or an engraved angel with the date of an anniversary. In our house an ornament doesn’t have to be pretty to be hung in a prominent position on our tree.
One of our least pretty ornaments is also one of our most prized – a gift from a much loved aunt who lived in Ecuador for a while.
It takes three days to decorate our tree each year. Not because it takes this long to toss the tinsel, but because each ornament tells a story I must recall and retell. Or, an ornament will remind me of someone I think about only once a year.
Naturally, many of our ornaments have a country theme. A cowboy Santa Claus, a Holstein reindeer or a candy cane boot. A few years ago, my wife began collecting cow ornaments. Someone found out and now cow ornaments are found in every gift shop in America, and we have bought one of each I do believe.
In our scrapbook of Christmas “Kodak moments” are two pictures of our trimmed tree taken several years apart. Astonishingly, the ornaments are placed in nearly the same spot although years apart.
It seems unknowingly my wife and I have prioritized the ornaments. Favorites go in the front and in the middle. Those without a story to tell are hung in the back.
But they are all irreplaceable. So much so, my wife keeps them in boxes close at hand for easy retrieval in case of fire or flood.
Like the people we have met and the places we have been, these Christmas tree ornaments decorate our lives. In most cases they were presents we gave ourselves. They represent the shared experiences we have hung on our tree of life.
I must admit, the tree is getting crowded now and I don’t know how much more it can handle, but it will always bring a smile to my face and holds a special place in my heart.