Ornaments of Life

I must admit, I love Christmas ornaments.   I know  just when my admiration, or maybe obsession, began.  Every year, on Christmas Eve we would have our family Christmas gathering.  Each year it would be at a different family members home. a tradition we still hold.  I think I was about 14 the year my dad’s cousin hosted the party. I can still remember walking inside the house.  My grandmother and her sister in the kitchen readying the various dishes, the younger cousins in the living room  eyeing the packages under the tree.  And there, off to the side- the tree itself.

I made sure I greeted everyone, but that tree, for some reason seemed to draw me back.   It was about 7 feet tall, lush and green.  I can still recall the  smell of  the pine scent mingled with the spiced cider from the kitchen;  see the lights as they twinkled, but all the ornaments that adorned that tree were what truly drew me in.  I don’t think I had ever seen so many ornaments on one tree.

There were  balls of various colors, snowflakes and santa’s and christmas tree ornaments. There were glass and crystal and ceramic ornaments.  The lights sparkled and twinkled as they bounced from ornament to ornament. The tree seemed to be alive and dancing in its corner of the room.  I think the sheer number of ornaments that graced the tree was what was so special.  I remember thinking, someday I would like a tree as beautiful as that.

I started collecting ornaments after that year. I would buy the annual Wedgwood, or Lenox ornaments.  One or two, ok  sometimes 3 or four , each year.   One year, the pen pal I had, in what was still East Germany, sent me ornaments for my tree.  Three dozen ornaments!  One box had a dozen red balls, one had a dozen pastel balls and the third had a dozen pine cone shapes in red green and gold.  I still use those special ornaments each year.

As the years have gone on, I have collected my ornaments, always thinking of that special tree. Each place we travel to, I try to find a representative ornament.  Every year, as we bring out the containers of Christmas decorations, and begin to adorn the tree, we smile as we recall where the particular ornament came from.  The Statue of Liberty from New York, The cable car from San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, Dirty Sally’s in Ten sleep Wyoming.  Decorating the tree becomes more than just placing the ornaments, it brings us together and reminds us of family times and all we have gone through.

Our tree isn’t quite as full as the one I recall in my youth, although I continue to add to the collection each year.   Maybe the tree isn’t completely full, but my life is, and those small ornaments remind me every year of all that we have, and what a joy my family is to me.


I would venture to guess, most everyone has at least one holiday tradition in their family.  It may be as simple as a favorite recipe made each year, or a house where all gather.  That one event that we all look forward to, that seems to connect us together again.

Who can  forget Christmas morning as a kid? Waking early, rushing to the living room to see all the bright packages piled under the tree.  Searching carefully for one with my name on it, hoping it holds that magical item I just HAD to have.  And then, we wait.  Oh, the agony of waiting for the rest of the family to wake up.  Don’t they know it’s CHRISTMAS?!  Finally, after what seems forever, the others would come out, equally excited ready to get the day moving.  And then, we wait.  Our parents were not out yet.   Have they lost their Christmas spirit?  Arent’ they excited?

One year, I may  have been about 10 or so, things changed a little.   Lined up in front of the fireplace were 9 new, matching red stockings. Green and white trim bordered the top, our names embroidered  across the front.  Filled with treats and a small gift. Oh how exciting!  Just about that time, our parents made it into the living room, looking  in dire need of a cup of coffee.  As my mother made her way to the kitchen to get the coffee started, she informed us all that yes, we could have whatever is in the stocking while we she gets breakfast ready.   SWEET!  let’s see what treats and treasures we have.

We each found our stocking and commenced to dump its contents in front of us.  Inside we found,  an orange or an apple, a handful of mixed nuts in the shells,  a handful of Brachs candies and a small gift. It may be nail polish for the girls, or a yo-yo or some other small item. No matter what it was, it was something we could have right then. More important, I think, it gave time for my parents to get that much-needed cup of coffee.

That is but one fond tradition I had growing up.  There were plenty of  other traditions. For example: carefully decorating sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies to be used as ornaments on the tree; finding the bottom half of the tree empty in the morning, because the dog ate them.  Or having mini english muffin pizzas , eggs and moms cherry ring for breakfast. 

My husband’s family has their traditions as well. Notes in every package, kielbasa for breakfast, new pajamas from grandma.   Now that we have our own family, we have blended some of his, some of mine, to make ours.   I do hope one day that our boys will remember those traditions, remember  that what truly made them happy wasn’t all the “things” they got but the love and family .

I looked forward every year to that christmas stocking.  I don’t remember many of the “must have” items in the bright shiny packages, but that stocking was always there.  I may still have it, tucked away in a box somewhere.

What traditions do you cherish, or have passed on?