Monday, December 26, 2011

It's All About the Tree

For me, Christmas is all about the tree. It’s the focal point that’s the fairytale of the holiday.  When I was in 6th or 7th grade, I bought my first ornament for my-some-day-Christmas-tree. It was a Santa covered in a flocked paper with gold foil decorative trim. It was a dollar, which was a lot to me.  That ornament was the symbol of another life; a fantasy landscape of a future where I would have a happy home with a husband (who would be a loving father) and kids and a beautiful tree with presents and nothing to hide from. I would buy one special ornament each year and by the time I was old enough to get married and have a tree of my own I’d have my ornaments ready to go. 

The next year, I bought a gold tinsel bell with a hanging red ball for the ringer. And the year after, an angel cut and hammered from tin, painted in Mexico and angelic in an indestructible way. I don’t remember what came next.  As time went on, people began buying me ornaments, most quite wonderful and some not.  Over time the collection grew and grew and grew and each year when I dragged them out, I saw them as exquisite treasures; the building blocks of a happy holiday future.

The collection of ornaments fell into different categories: those purchased as a keepsake (a pair of shapely white angels from the WBAI crafts fair); a series (the wooden Twelve Days of Christmas from my friend Barbara,  six ceramic characters from Alice in Wonderland from my friend Mike); the handmade ones (the two over-sized Styrofoam balls covered in a piecework of men's ties found at a yard sale; a tree in an eggshell diorama made by my 8th grade friend Susan--it took her nine eggshells to succeed!) 

and of course, those wonderful, wonderful made-in-preschool-kindergarten ornaments out of clay and cardboard and pasta and foil...thank heaven for those teachers.

Year after year throughout my adult life, true to my dream, my trees, bejeweled with an unusual collection of ornaments (see the cat-in-the-MEOW-box?)  the highlight of the holidays. I've typed up an ornament scavenger hunt for children to hunt for all the felt sewn and embroidered Sesame Street characters, the copper kitchen utensils, various vehicles, or articles of clothing (Find the sweater, dress, three high heels, suit of clothes, mitten, evening gown, felt slippers and black glass ballet slippers).

Now numbering over 400, virtually each ornament is special to me. When I don’t hang them all, I feel as if I’m offending those left out. The past few years I keep trying NOT to purchase any more ornaments but there they are, calling out to me. This year alone there was the perfect trowel (in a shoebox-coffin for ornaments) marked 25 cents; an elegant cream and gold metal penguin hanging from a thrift-store artificial tree limb (49 cents) and this hand-forged probably one-of-a-kind metal snowflake. These are three of the six I found this year.

My fruits and vegetables started predictably with an apple or two, and then a lemon, a peach, different colored pears, two darling carrots, an eggplant, and a pomegranate that's gone missing this year. Last Christmas, I was missing my sister (as I especially do around the holidays) when my friend Nancy asked, “Do you have any corn? You really need to find an ornament that’s an ear of corn…” and I smiled. Couldn’t remember ever seeing a corn cob ornament. About a week later I was in the attic searching for tissue paper and empty boxes and there was a small five-inch square red and gold patterned box. Great for a present.  But when I turned it over there was a Christmas tag stuck on the back (thoughtfully so it wouldn’t mess up the top) written to me in my sister’s artistic handwriting, and inside, in green tissue was a tin corn on the cob. My sister had been gone six years. Once in awhile, the ornaments find me.  


the flying dutchman
the kitchen hutch

the hatboxes

the diner


  1. Although I love the whole story, the corn on the cob from your sister was so touching. Funny how those things happen in life.

  2. She has a way of appearing to me...not frequently enough but every once in awhile, I get the gift of her sending something my way...

  3. That's great. I want my mom to do that. Today.

  4. I love this story. Was looking at my ornaments tonight and remembering stories from the 1970's.

  5. I love your tree story. I'm not a collector but your Christmas ornament collection gives so much meaning to the art of collecting to me.