Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home. ~ Carol Nelson
Thanksgiving is the weekend we put up our Christmas tree and decorate for the holidays.
The boys would get excited as my husband pulled the storage bins marked “Christmas” from the attic and stack them neatly in the living room. They’ve always helped me decorate the tree, but “decorating” in their eyes was pulling out the ornaments exclaiming “I remember this ornament!” or “I love this one, it’s my favorite!” as Christmas music played in the background. I’ve always been on tree decorating duty while my husband is in charge of hanging lights on the outside of the house. “We live in a gingerbread house!” my youngest always said once darkness fell and the lights came on.
After putting the garland on the tree, the silver bells are next. My mom had started the tradition of giving each of my brothers and me a silver-plated Reed and Barton bell on Christmas; the tradition was started the same year I entered high school and would continue for a span of 35 years. The bell was engraved with “Christmas” followed by the year; it was always the last gift to be opened.
“Wait! There’s one more gift!” my mom would exclaim as she handed each of my brothers and me a small box. I loved opening it: the bell was always shiny, had a red velvet ribbon loop for hanging, and had a wonderful chime.
Sitting on the living room floor, my boys would pull out the bells and ring them, filling the room with the sound of merriment until the ringing became overwhelming. “Please organize them” I’d tell them, in order to stop the noise. They would line them up in chronological order on the floor: starting with “Christmas 1980” through the very last one: “Christmas 2016”, the year my mom passed.
Thirty-five bells had hung from the tree in 2017 until I discovered a small box wrapped in Christmas paper with a “To: Karen” label on it. I found it as I was helping my dad decorate his tree that first Christmas without her; she had ordered it a few months before she died. I remember hanging it on the tree two years ago; my heart caught as I placed the 2016 bell it at eye-level. Thirty-six silver bells gleamed from the tree.
The rest of our tree has ornaments that also stir up memories, emotions, and a yearning for Christmases past. My boys laugh and joke about the ornaments my husband and I made when we were kids, my LifeSavers man and my husband’s “tuna can.”
The LifeSavers ornament was a craft project I did during Sunday school when I was five or six years old. The body is made of a roll of Peppermint Lifesavers; his head, a small Styrofoam ball head with glitter eyes and mouth. His round, green, flat hat was carefully cut from construction paper and his arms and legs, made from red yarn, dangle over the branches of the Christmas tree.
The “tuna can” is my husband’s ornament: a diorama ornament that consists of a plastic deer, snow formed from cotton, and a plastic holly leaf – all strategically placed inside a tuna can, the outside covered in red velvet material.
Both ornaments are sweet and endearing – and the kids always tease us about which ornament is cooler. I usually point out the fact that the price – 10 cents – is printed on the tube of LifeSavers – makes it cool.
This year, it’s just my younger son and me decorating the tree as my older son recently got a weekend job as a host at California Pizza Kitchen; he is focused on earning money before heading off for college.
My younger son doesn’t want music or eggnog, he just wants to decorate. As he places the Polonaise glass ornaments, Christopher Radko ornaments, and two “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments on the tree, I can see my husband’s legs on the ladder outside the window, carefully stringing up the strand of C9 bulbs, making sure every bulb is lit and that the color pattern is consistent across all the strings.
I turn my attention back to my son, who smiles at me as he holds up two of his favorite glass ornaments: Big Ben and a Chinese Take Out container. Each year, since they were born, I’ve tucked an ornament into my kid’s stockings. From “Baby’s First Christmas” to sparkling nutcrackers and toy soldiers – I skipped the bell tradition, instead, I chose to select ornaments that reflected each of my son’s hobbies and interests in their lives. By the time they’re of on their own, they will have ornaments to decorate their own trees.
As I tell my son how I remember selecting those ornaments – his overwhelming desire to visit London and his penchant for Chinese food – an odd feeling comes over me. I look at my son; he is no longer the precocious child decorating alongside me but a 13-year old who still doesn’t mind decorating the tree. Next year he may not be interested in decorating, instead choosing to hang out with friends.
I let out a small sigh.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” he asks.
“Nothing, just enjoying the moment” I reply.
He looks at me and smiles. This time of year, the traditions, and being together, make me realize how much I enjoyed, and miss, the Christmases of my youth.
I am holding on to our traditions as long as I can because I know that one day my boys will be creating their own.