Tonight we finally decorated our tree. I wanted to do it a week+ ago, but Smart Guy was visiting our daughter in Israel and Middle Man is off at college. Neither Little Man or I wanted to decorate the tree without them; it’s a family event. Middle Man let us know that he won’t be home until the 24th (who decorates their tree one day before Christmas?), and it took a few days for Smart Guy to get a little beyond his jet lag and get off work early enough to help. In a perfect world, all of my children are home; carols are on the stereo, and we decorate the tree together. However, as my children grow up… I have to re-examine “perfect.”
Tonight we put on Diana Krall’s Christmas Carols; we pulled out the boxes of ornaments, and we decorated our tree. As each ornament came out of it’s tissue paper nest, from last year, the memories flowed. There are the ones that the kids got when they were little and loved Little Mermaid, Lion King, my little glass Tinker Bell (yeah, a Disney house), the Moose from when Little Man was fixated on them, the princess Barbie ornaments, and the sweet little photo ornaments that each of the kids made over the years. There are elementary school photos surrounded by sparkled-covered shower rings, spray painted puzzle pieces (to make a very clever wreath around sweet faces), and mini picture frames. These photos are a reminder of how tiny my babies were, and how grown they are now.
As I hang each ornament my mind drifts to years past. Each of my children has told me which ornaments they particularly love and when I unwrap the chili peppers each year, I can only think of Middle Man. When I hang the Little Mermaid trio (Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian) I see my little girl singing along with Ariel and sitting, eyes transfixed. The moose and the Hakuna Matata remind me of Little Man. There are the ornaments that my mother gave us each year, several stored in special boxes with her hand-written labels. There is the silver bell that my grandmother gave us the year we married, and the hand-made ornaments my aunt made. There are four German ornaments that I bought 26 years ago, just before we got married. We had no money, but they were 50% off and spent my tips to buy them— our first ornaments, for our first tree as a married couple, that next Christmas. I’ve bought
ornaments after Christmas every year since. A picture of my 13 year old niece, on her first Christmas—a three month old baby, propped beneath the tree, and a beautiful Hanukkah ornament that dear friends gave us 15 years ago, hang beside all of the others I’ve collected in nearly three decades. My sister made a beautiful string of glass beads that always goes on last, slipped around the hanging ornaments and hanging delicately from the tree’s limbs. Each thing on the the tree reminds me of so many happy years, and so many people I love.
When I was a child, I would lie under my Christmas tree in my family’s living room and look up at the tree. I’d squint my eyes and let the lights blur; I’d look at the shiny orbs hanging from the branches. My mother was an interior designer wannabe, and some years our tree had spray on “flocking,” fake snow applied to look like a winter dusting of snow. Other years she draped shiny silver tinsel, or tried to get away with all gold or silver ornaments. We always insisted on mixing in some colors however. A few times she tried to do all white lights (something I love now), but we always insisted on colored ones too. To this day, I love to add the old fashioned colored, traditional ones.
There is nothing quite like sitting in the living room with just the Christmas lights on, looking at the ornaments and tripping… tripping down memory lane. Each ornament on my tree brings memories and thoughts of past years with my children and family. The tree is a symbol of so many special times, and I want to enjoy it for as long as possible. I’d love to put it up on December 1st and enjoy it all month, but every year we scramble to find the time when we can all be together. This year, with Principessa in Israel and Middle Man making his way home from California, it was only the three of us.
As the music played, our tree was transformed into a sparkling thing of beauty. I was surrounded by the people I love, as well as some who are gone forever and some who just can’t be here this year. My mother loved the music; she would sit in my living room each year and listen to carols, and watch the tree. My grandmother loved wrapping and giving presents. Each year, when I was little she would have me over to her house. She would set up a card table in her elegant bedroom, make me a hot chocolate and get herself a coffee, and we would watch Christmas specials and wrap presents together. I loved sitting beside her on that big bed, and I felt so important being trusted with her Christmas secrets. My kids were once little, and loved the ornaments and lights, the music and treats. They rushed to put the ornaments that they love on the tree, as I urged them to be careful with the fragile glass. All of that comes back to me, each year as I decorate my tree.
This year, there were moments when I felt bittersweet tears spring, missing my mother and two of my children. The years have slipped by and I miss them, even though I know they are both making their own lives happen. I will always want them around for the holidays; I will always miss their sweet little selves. I still miss my grandmother, all these years later, and my mother’s loss (one year ago next week) is still so fresh. I’m sure that Christmas carols will always bring my mother to me. Now I will sit alone in my living room each year, and probably do what she was doing all those years—remember. There were only three of us around our tree this year, but all the memories were there, nestled in worn tissue paper and waiting to be hung on the tree.
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