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December 20, 2006

Dating Christmas

By Elaine Viets

I have boxes of Christmas ornaments. But they’re missing something.

I didn’t realize what was missing until I went to Chris and John’s tree-trimming party.

The couple had a bare-branched seven-foot pine strung with twinkle lights set up in the living room. Sitting on a card table were battered boxes of family ornaments cushioned in cotton and tissue paper.

On each ornament was a date. The year was neatly written in pen or pencil, etched into crystal, or in one case, needlepointed. That date made all the difference. It triggered a different memory for Chris as she unpacked each ornament.

"1983," she said, unwrapping a tiny Teddy bear. "That’s when the boys were babies." Her smile said that was a happy time in her life.

"1989. That was the year I needlepointed ornaments for all my boys’ teachers. I only did that once."

We didn’t need the year for the ornament that looked like a disco ball: It was clearly from the 1970s. Chris pulled out a painted sailboat from the 1980s. A seashell from a Key West vacation in 1990.

Junk hung beside art, but all were treasured.

Chris brought out some yellowing paper disks. "Those are from 2000," she said. "The year of my divorce. My life was so different then. It was too painful to put up my usual tree with all the reminders of our old life. Not that year. Instead, I tied red ribbons all over the tree, cut out these paper circles and asked the boys to write what they were thankful for on the circles. You’d be amazed what boys were thankful for at age18: ‘clean underwear’ and ‘Coors beer.’"

By 2005, the sad paper was replaced with pretty bisque china. "That was the year I married John," Chris said.

After that, the years were commemorated with quirky items, many with a Florida theme: shimmering glass bells, a pop-eyed puffer fish, a starfish Santa.

It took three hours to unpack the ornaments and go through them year by year. A hairy ornament that had been batted around by the family felines for fifteen years was hung on the lower branches for the current cat. Antique glass and twisted gold wire ornaments, German Santas and seashell angels all had their place on their tree.

The dates gave them a place in time: "That’s when we went to . . . that’s when the boys said. . . . That was the year that . . ."

When the tree was finished, we toasted it with eggnog and mulled wine.

"Look at that," Chris said. "It’s a wonderful tree."

"It’s a wonderful life," we said.

Happy Holidays.


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Altho' I am not so organized as your friend, I have saved the years of strange and wonderful things for the tree. Many of them have now been encased in clear plastic ornaments that pop open so you can put anything into them. For example, over 20 years ago, my daughter created a wonderful ornament from multi-colored starched thread over a balloon. Needless to say, it got sadder each year but we still hang the mass of thread and rubber encased in a clear plastic ball each year! The narritive to decorating our tree gets longer thru the years.
How many of you have the youngest place the tree topper on? Don't know where that one came from but we would never do otherwise.

Happy Holidays everyone from one looking forward to the tree decorating and cleaning up the wax soaked menorah!

Mary Alice

PS If you didn't order the award-winning molten chocolate cake mix, go to www.mysterylovers.com It is to die for!!!

Our tree is a mix of ornaments our daughter made in school, some we picked up on vacations throughout the years and store bought favorites from Hallmark and Disney. But my favorite ornaments are the ones given to me by former students. Sadly I never recorded who gave me each ornaments and now after 20 plus years I have forgotten who gave me some of the ornaments. I always advise new teachers to record or mark the ornaments given to them.
Also doesn't MYSTERY OF THE MISSING ORNAMENT sound like a fun holiday title? That's the extent of my writing career.

Okay, here's the big question we're wrestling with this year: Do you give treasured ornaments to your kids (some were given to them, after all) when they grow up, or do you keep them for yourself??

My neighbor Patty had her tree fall over last week, onto the stone floor, destroying all the ornaments she'd been collecting since the Northridge Earthquake, when her previous collection was demolished. I ran out and bought her the ten best ornaments I could find--now THAT was a fun shopping experience. THere are some truly bizarre ornaments in the world.

Nancy: I say, give one ornament at least to the kids, especially if you have a collection of similar-themed ornaments and won’t miss it. I still remember my Mom’s funky fabric elves all over the tree and wish I had one. Kids retain this stuff!

We still have some of the old glass ornaments from my parents' collection, although now I put them in a bowl for display. I try to give Cath and Kip an ornament every Christmas. Started collecting them for Cath when she was a kid, and she and Kip still hang those, right after the 'dead lady' collection from New Orleans. This year I gave them two cat ornaments to remember their first two kitties. I got the honor of putting the topper on their tree too. We all have handmade ornaments from my late stepmom as well. Happy Holidays!

Nancy, give those ornaments to the kids -- you'll collect plenty of new ones, and they'll love them. I think the child and dog-gnawed ornaments are the best of all.
In our house, Mary Alice, Dad got the honor of putting on the angel. We got to eat the gingerbread cookie ornaments.

I'm a Christmas ornament fanatic. First and most precious, I have a collection of gorgeous nutcracker ornaments from my childhood that were given to my father by his adoptive mother. They're from Puerto Rico and very glitzy -- all shiny, made from red and gold and silver and blue foil -- but very delicate.

Then every year, we add to the collection. The new ornaments fall into various categories -- animals, nature, transportation, musical instruments, hearts/doves/peace. My kids each get to pick some new ones, and they know that when they're grown up and have homes of their own they each get half the ornaments. I've told them that so many times that when the day comes I'll have no choice but to hand over the ornaments.

Nancy- I would advise to pass on as many ornaments and/or decorations as you can bear to part with. You may also ask which ones are special to each person, since you may be surprised. My husband treasures some tiny sking gnomes that sit on our mantle. Our most special ornaments are the one's that came from my deceased in laws, including the great grandparents slightly melted red candles in clips from the days of having lit candles on trees, Yikes.

I still mourn the glass ornaments that my great grandparents brought from Hungary that my mom tossed in her post-divorce insanity, that is not to be confused with her current insanity. Poor ornaments, had nothing to do with my dad.

Like Mary Alice, I am scraping wax and moving on to the Christmas portion of the season. Happy Holidays.

Nancy, I would let them take a few each year. Trust me in ten years you will have a smaller tree and they can pass aloong the family stories when they decorate with their own.

Happy Holidays!
mary alice

PS For one of my daughter-in-law's wedding showers the invite requested an ornament----handmade, vintage or other. It was a great idea for the starter set.

I am fortunate that my mother started buying ornaments for my daughter as part of her Christmas present every year. They started small and cute, then moved into Lennox territory for a while (they are gorgeous!). Last Christmas I made sure to pick up a couple for her, and did the same this year. As/if/when she ever gets around to having her own tree, she'll have a good start. But, as someone suggested, I'll let her have a couple of the stuffed teddy bears, maybe a papier-mache' apple or two, and quite possibly the entire remaining collection of tiny little wooden toy figurines that date from the Christmas I was pregnant with her.

Happy tree-trimming to all!

My parents brought their artificail tree from Long Island with all the Christmas ornaments. The tree went into storage during my young adult years, but when my sister would visit with my neice and nephew...the old tree and ornaments came out.

Then the neice and nephew got old and the tree and ornaments were given to one of the workers of my parent's complex. I understand the tree and the ornaments are somewhere in Puerto Rico. Feliz Navidad!

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