Even though decorating a tree can be a pain, every year when I open the bins and trunks that contain ornaments, I am opening a door to my past. I have too many ornaments and too small a tree, so there are some that are never used because they hold no sentimental value beyond memories of when I’ve used them on past holidays.
We used to live in bigger houses. Then, before Tim moved here, we’d put a large, real tree in the apartment and only decorate our house with smaller things. Some years we didn’t decorate at all because we traveled. However, the year that Tom sadly hung a single ornament on a cactus made me feel so guilty that I think I’ve decorated ever since.
There are some ornaments that I use every time I decorate because they mean so much to me. Small glass ornaments that hung on my family’s tree from the time my brother (eight years older) was a baby. Ornaments cross-stitched by my friend Amy, as well as the AIDS Santa she gave me one Christmas after Steve R. died. A little hand-quilted ornament that my mother gave me after the Thanksgiving that she, my sister, and I worked on Tim R.’s AIDS Quilt panel.
There are ornaments that hung on Tom’s family tree when he was a little boy, and ornaments from his grandmother, who always decorated lavishly at Christmas. Ornaments that symbolize times that Lynne and I have shared over the past 38 years of friendship. (Yes, years before we were even born! Another miracle!) As I said last year, the two garlands that hang over two doorways are filled with the Star Trek ornaments Lynne has given Tom, and the Barbie ornaments she’s given me over many years. There’s a pink rhinestone pig that Lynne says is ugly but which I love that was from her son Jess and his wife Laura one Christmas.
There are little picture frames with pictures of my family and Tom’s nieces and various dogs. There’s the ornament I bought in December of 2001, a fragile ball of cobalt blue with an American flag on it, and each year when I take it out of its box and hang it, I honor everyone lost on September 11. There are several handcrafted ornaments from Tom’s mother, an artist, as well as ornaments she and his father have bought us when they’ve traveled. And there are plenty of Winnie the Pooh ornaments, although most of these stay out all year on an antique set of shelves that bear the name “Pooh Corner.”
Since we don’t have kids, there’s no knowing what will happen to all this stuff when Tom and I die, but I don’t care. It’s enough for me that our ornaments aren’t just glass, plastic, metal, or pewter, they’re memories of and gifts from people too many to mention: people who taught me about love, friendship, and the comfort of tradition.
As you unpack your own ornaments or decorations this season, why not take the time to photograph a few of them for a site that I’ve listed on my sidebar for a while. God’s Nightgown publishes photos of things that matter to you, along with explanations of why they’re special. When your items appear, you can even send links to them to people who might appreciate knowing why certain things are meaningful.
Holidays can be hard when they remind us of better times or people we’ve lost. The real gifts though, are that we had those moments and those loved ones in our lives. Try to carve out some quiet time to cherish your memories and honor your past.