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Family, Parenting

Going out on a limb for Christmas

Me and Catherine on her first Christmas in 1996. This was back when whichever parent was behind the camera made goofy faces to elicit a smile. Looks like Basil's effort worked better on me! Behind us is the little tree I decorated while she napped -- our first bit of Christmas magic for our girl!

Trimming the tree is therapeutic this year. It’s taking a long time — our crazy schedule means decorating piecemeal, and there’s a hidden blessing in that: There’s more time for reflection than in years past when the tree was dressed in the time it took “It’s a Wonderful Life” and a couple of Bing Crosby CDs to finish playing.

Unwrapping each ornament is turning out to be a terrific walk down memory lane and a wonderful mirror of who we are. Our tree will never make the Pottery Barn cover, and that’s just the way we like it.

The angel on top was a wedding gift to my parents. She is not terribly pretty and a little worse for wear, having endured 50 years and a too-close encounter with the big blue bulb that used to illuminate her. Still, I can’t imagine anything else on top of my tree.

The remaining ornaments are

  • a mix of my parents’ — many of them Styrofoam orbs painstakingly handmade and now losing their straight-pinned rows of beads;
  • ornaments I made as a child, such as the glitter-crusted emerald-green bell (made in Sunday school, 1972) and the toilet-paper roll angel (blonde, blue-eyed, wearing a purple tissue-paper “dress” and gold foil wings)
  • Catherine’s many works of art — nearly all of them covered in a thick coating of glitter;
  • a religious icon Basil made in Greek school — its hanger is a metal ring from the top of a soda can;
  • a whole collection of postal-themed ornaments for Basil;
  • numerous snowmen, angels and other creatures Mom and Dad made for Catherine;
  • a menagerie of sea-themed decorations to reflect our love of the beach.

To see our tree is to have a peek into our lives. And like all good traditions, this one was passed down from my parents.

Growing up,  I looked forward to trimming the tree as much as I relished helping bake the cookies. The ornaments represented glittery bits of magic ushering in the season. What fun to try to guess what each one was while unwrapping the tissue paper encasing it.

It seemed to take an eternity to string the fat colored lights. Then Traci and I went to town dressing the tree with balls and cartoon characters, silly elves and plastic candy. The fragile ornaments and icicles were Mom’s to hang, along with the tinsel and silver garland. And — if my own experience with Catherine is any indication —  I’m sure after we were tucked in bed, she moved a few of our efforts to new perches.

Catherine’s first Christmas, I bought a tiny tree and decorated it at light-speed while she napped. She was just 8 months old and full of wonder as I sat her on the floor in front of the tree.

Although we photographed practically every waking moment in her first few years, we don’t have a still picture of that moment. I don’t need it. I will always remember the curve of her chubby cheeks highlighted by the glow of the tree lights, her wide eyes and rosebud mouth as she sat transfixed, trying to make sense of this new addition to the living room.

Over the years, I’ve tried to bring my own style to the tree. I’ve exchanged the colored lights for little white ones (though Basil and Catherine threaten to bring back bright hues), and I did away with the tinsel and garland.

The icicles are mine now. They go on last — along with some of the other fragile decorations Mom passed on to me.

Among them is an evzone. I never knew why Mom had a Greek soldier ornament.

It’s Basil’s to hang now.

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


2 thoughts on “Going out on a limb for Christmas

  1. My tree is also filled with memories (and a few ornaments from you). Remembering each one’s story is my favorite part of decorating. My kids tell me that there are too many and I should get rid of some. Never! Unless, perhaps, it is to pack up their own creations to be hung on a tree of their own someday. By the time they move out I should be able to share enough to fill a small tree for each.

    Posted by Jacquie | December 13, 2011, 10:58 pm

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