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Vallombrosa 300x100 12.2017

Family history fills this Christmas tree

December 14, 2017
Lisa M. Petsche

In magazines and on television, Christmas trees are tall, symmetrical and tastefully decorated, using just the right amount of restraint. Sets of ornaments are distributed evenly and garland perfectly draped. Often there’s a color scheme – blue and white or red and gold, for example – with impeccably coordinated trimmings.

In contrast, our family Christmas tree (always a real one, and so intrinsically imperfect), contains an eclectic mix of embellishments accumulated over many years. All of them, though, have meaning, and so rather than one more holiday task to be completed, decorating the tree is a welcome walk down memory lane.

There are the ornaments from my childhood: a green, triangle-shaped angel made of felt, with a tangle of yellow, yarn-dyed hair; a pink, plastic angel sleeping soundly; and a red, felt-covered foam boot. My sisters and I each had our own versions, discretely labeled to avoid dispute. We took great care in finding the perfect spot for them on the tree after the tinsel and spray-on snow had been applied.

When we were teenagers, the tradition of giving ornaments began. My parents bought a set of wooden ones each year from the Sears catalog. Some were standard Christmas or winter fare, like a candy cane, a snowman and a skier, but others were whimsical, such as a holly-bearing mouse sitting in a deck chair.

Because each ornament was unique, mom and dad used a lottery system to fairly distribute them. The drawing took place on Christmas Eve and was great fun. After an ornament was claimed, it was passed around for all to admire. By the time we left home, my siblings and I each had a nice collection of decorations with associated memories.

My own kids each have a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament that includes a photo. They’re among the first trimmings to go on the tree. Every subsequent Christmas, we’ve bought the kids a decoration reflecting a current interest – from children’s cartoon characters to gymnastics and soccer – or an event from the past year, such as a trip to Florida commemorated with an alligator in a Santa hat lounging under a festively decorated palm tree. The kids can take these with them someday.

A special spot on our tree goes to the angel memorializing the baby we lost before birth some years ago. Our kids — two of whom weren’t born yet when the death occurred — are intrigued by the reminder that they have a sibling in heaven. The ornament is part of a collector series and features a young angel sitting on a cloud, rubbing its eyes sleepily. We attach it to a hanger with a miniature motor that plugs into the tree lights and makes the ornament slowly twirl.

Decorations made by the kids also rank high. They’ve had some pretty creative teachers, and so we have ornaments made from sugar dough, clothespins, paper clips, sewing spools, golf balls, Ping-Pong balls and Christmas light bulbs. Other handcrafted trimmings include snowflakes crocheted by my mother and various personalized ornaments my talented sister-in-law has made for the kids over the years.

Vintage ornaments dating back to my now deceased mother-in-law’s childhood are recent additions to our collection. These are made of metal, among them a church and a dove.

The trimmings wouldn’t be complete without a Nativity set – or two. One is made of cardboard, with cut-out scenes and stand-alone figures. An opening in the stable’s roof allows for insertion of a light.

The set is similar to one my parents have owned throughout their married life, only theirs is an impressive 26 inches long and 12 inches tall. Some years ago, mom and dad came across a smaller version and scooped up several sets. Until recently ours was displayed under the tree, but now it’s set up on our living room window seat. That’s because eventually the kids pleaded for a “real” (three-dimensional) Nativity scene, complete with wood stable and resin figures.

As much as I enjoy our decked-out tree, I have no illusions about its design merit. The branches are overloaded, ornaments vary in scale and there’s no unifying theme.

While far from a showpiece, our tree is something more noteworthy: a piece of family history.

Lisa Petsche is a freelance writer specializing in family life. lmepetsche@gmail.com.

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