Tall Victorian ceilings are the perfect space for 10-foot Christmas trees. How I did love those majestic, big trees until the sheer volume and tonnage of them took their toll on the back and legs. After more than two dozen years of putting up the monster tree and the 600 + ornaments that went on it, I moved to this Cape Cod style house with its standard 8-foot ceilings. Out went the big tree and in came a normal 7-footer, yet what to do with the ornaments? Well, in my book, too much of a good thing is almost enough . . . so all of them go on the smaller tree. At least I'm not teetering atop the ladder to attach the star . . . which is a good thing.
The family of course, thinks I'm crazy, but then again, they've thought that before, so I'm not too concerned. But give up using some of these carefully saved Christmas ornaments? Don't be ridiculous. In fact I already have parted with a chunk of the lovingly acquired collection, though that was by design.
When the kids were little I began gradually buying special ornaments, but always in multiples of three . . . three gingerbread houses, three rocking horses, three manger scenes, etc. Each year I added two or three new types with the idea being that when each child left home there would be a collection for them of the ornaments they grew up with. I dated each new purchase on the bottom, or behind the angel's wing or under the elf's hat. But when Alix graduated from college and wanted her set of ornaments, just as I had planned, I was upset. How dare she? The truth was I didn't want her to be old enough to claim them, it happened too soon. Eventually I got over it and now I really enjoy seeing the old favorites on her tree in Massachusetts.
Each Christmas as I decorate my tree, I'm delighted anew as the ornaments emerge from storage and I read on them - 1977, 1983, 1991. I had hoped as I bought them that they would evoke memories of Christmas past during future hours of decorating, and indeed, they have. Then this year, tree decorating created another very special memory, one I hadn't anticipated.
I had hoped to have everything done before the family arrived for Thanksgiving week. As the schedule got more crowded and the "to-do" list got longer, something had to slip. When my daughter and family arrived Sunday night from Massachusetts, the lighted Christmas tree stood naked sentry in the living room corner surrounded by stacks of large, plastic storage boxes. A few years ago I got sick of unpacking a few shattered ornaments each year. I broke down, and bought those big, fancy sectioned boxes with the many layers, like big egg cartons . . . you know the ones, like organized, grown-up people use, instead of crusty old moving boxes from 1968 missing half their flaps. I love these new boxes and feel very virtuous each January as I safely put away my precious, fragile little friends for another year. This year the organizer boxes reaped an additional reward.
On Thanksgiving eve afternoon, 2-year-old Mr. Smiles, occasionally known as Malcolm, was in his nap. Pies were baking and it was a prime opportunity for the Princess of Boston and me to decorate the tree together. Never having done this with an elf-sized person before, we quickly fell into an effective working pattern. I did the high branches and she did the low.
When I opened the first box of treasures, Keira peered in and her eyes grew to saucers. "Oh Gogo, LOOK at these. Wow!" The first layer of eighteen was filled with big fragile glass-blown orbs plus glass teddy bears, angels, drums and airplanes. I was thrilled at her reaction. Someone else, and not just any someone, also thought they were wonderful. My grandmother gene was bursting with happiness.
The second layer produced gasps as she checked out the glass Santas. There is the soccer Santa, the golfing Santa, the fireman Santa, the chef Santa . . . in fact there's a Santa for just about every interest of our family members, including a motorcycle Santa for when Uncle Bart owned a Harley. Then came the ancient glass Santas, the cross-stitched Santas and the stuffed ones. She was excited, the big oooohs continuing as each box, each layer, emerged. As we chatted I told her where many of the ornaments came from . . . trips to Williamsburg and Monticello, college ornaments, homemade childhood ornaments, gifts from friends, hand-tatted snowflakes, the list goes on.
Keira had great enthusiasm for the gold butterflies, dragonflies, angels and musical instruments. "Gogo, we have some gold notes and violins at home just like these." And I smiled. The dozens of gilded goodies all came from the year I thought I'd have two or three trees, one all gold and very designer-ish, like the magazines. That foolishness lasted one Christmas and now everything, whether primitive country, elegant glitzy, old or new, all share the crowded branches.
We stopped a while for some baking and then dinner, but by the time Keira went to bed that night I'm pretty sure some new family traditions were born. Afterwards I went in to the tree for some editing. At knee level and below, many branches bore 3 or 4 ornaments apiece. Three identical stuffed Wise Men huddled on one branch, four Naval Academy Midshipmen paraded in tight formation nearby. All the needlepoint hearts were clustered and a branch near the fireplace was strictly snowflake territory. That child was organized. After supper, she had taken her little brother by the hand and gave him a short tour of the ornaments, "Don't touch ANYTHING. Look with your eyes, not with your hands," she exhorted him in her mother's very words as we listened amused nearby.
When my son arrived Thanksgiving morning and walked into the living room, he looked at the tree for a long minute then commented, "Mom, it's Thanksgiving." I replied that I knew that, but if I didn't put the tree up for Turkey Day that none of the family would ever see our tree again. We now go to Boston every Christmas and I wasn't ready to close the tree chapter in my life.
I love hauling out those boxes each year and the flashbacks that play in my mind's eye as each ornament is hung . . . and it's always better with Bing Crosby singing White Christmas in the background. Next year's memories will surely include an awestruck little girl's reaction to Gogo's ornament collection. Who knows, by then, she'll probably be telling her little brother some of the stories while she teaches him how to hang a stuffed reindeer. Sometimes great Christmas presents come early.
Marcy O'Brien can be reached at MOBY.firstname.lastname@example.org