Christmas Ornaments

Ready for a sappy post about Christmas trees? (Yup. We’re starting off with a bad pun.)

Our tree, which is artificial and therefore not sappy at all, had a short run this year. We’re always late getting the tree out — there was a rule in my home, growing up, that the Christmas decorations couldn’t appear until all of the December birthdays had been celebrated. But this year, thanks to a combination of renovations and deadlines, it didn’t make an appearance until just a few days before Christmas — close to the wire, even for us. And today I took the decorations off.

All Christmas trees are pretty. Some are even tasteful. Ours is not. I don’t colour coordinate. I do anthropomorphize, which is why all of the ornaments have to come out, every year. All of them. Otherwise their feelings might get hurt. So we end up with a tree that looks, as my twelve-year-old daughter put it, “like Christmas vomited all over it.”

Just the way it should look.

Some of those decorations are old. There’s a little paper star with a Barbie sticker on it. Sarah made that one in nursery school, which means Barbie has been doing Christmas duty for almost a decade. There’s an egg-shaped Santa that Mom painted, back when she was doing folk art, and there are several macaroni- or pinecone-based angels that my younger cousins made. Some could use the attention of a glue gun.

There are ornaments that hung on our tree when my brother and I were young, so I flash back to Christmas in the 80s, to oranges in our stockings and Dad with a beard. Every year, Michael would be given some kind of G.I. Joe vehicle as a toy, and every year, as the older sibling (and the one most likely to work through an instruction booklet), I would have the honour of putting it together for him. I think I liked doing that just about as much as he liked playing with it.

There are ornaments that belonged to the grandmother I never knew, little plastic birds and snowmen witnessing their third generation of Christmases. When I hang them on the tree, I think about her. I know her only by her imprint, by who my mother and her siblings grew up to be, but for a moment every year, I touch the things she touched, and I remember her as best I can. There’s usually some kind of thank you wrapped up in that.

My memory, which can’t be trusted to tell me to get eggs at the grocery store or to hold onto a thought for the time it takes to walk down to the basement, latches on to Christmas ornaments. I know that the glass pirate chest filled with iridescent bubbles was a gift from C, the same friend who taught me to fold origami birds and stars in chemistry class. The plastic seal on an iceberg came from G, who played first clarinet and made me laugh at least once every band practice, and who loved music as much as anyone I’ve ever met. J gave me the unicorn, and thanks to a series of what my husband calls “co-Whitby-dences,” at least I know she’s doing well. She’s a teacher now, happily married to her high school sweetheart and raising two beautiful girls. I don’t know where C is now, or G, or any of the other friends who rise up like ghosts when I unwrap a piece of crumpled tissue paper to find their ornaments.

But I think of them every year, and I wish them well.

The ornaments are tucked away now, and my plan for this afternoon is to make a couple Christmas-tree-inspired phone calls. My friend H is living in Ohio now, and J (a different J) is just outside Vancouver, and I haven’t spoken to either one in far too long, given that we were inseparable for most of high school. It might take a moment for us to brush the rust off the years in between, but I think we’ll manage. We usually do.

It’ll be a good way to finish out the year.



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