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The Memories of Christmas

Our Christmas decor has evolved over the years.

We used to go out and cut our own tree. That meant every Christmas tree was different. Some trees were short and fat, some tall and skinny. Each tree required its own unique arrangement of decorations.

We also created our own decorations, back then. During our struggling years, we made hanging balls out of walnuts, sprayed gold. And window decorations out of tissue paper, cut into snowflake patterns.

Somewhere along the way, we switched to artificial trees. Partly because we were growing older and less able to tramp around in deep snow. And partly because we reasoned that recycling the same petroleum product for 30 years or more might harm the environment less than cutting down all those living trees. Still, decorating the tree each year becomes an exercise in nostalgia. We don’t have those gilded walnuts any more. But almost everything else we hang on the tree has a memory attached to it.

Joan made a lot of the decorations – delicate embroidery we’re proud of. There are a set of glass balls I picked up during a work assignment in Michigan one summer. The spire on the very top came from Joan’s childhood. There’s an Irish setter, in memory of two much loved dogs. And a handful of little brass ornaments, bought during an unforgettable holiday through Europe. As we hang each one, we remember where it came from, who made it, who gave it to us. Obviously, I’m not a fan of pre-decorated store-bought Christmas trees.

Handmade Creche

Early handmade Creche

Our first Christmas crèche was a handmade affair, too. I used hazelnuts for heads, glued onto little cardboard cones. Joan’s fabric scraps provided ornate gowns for the wise men, coarse burlap cloaks for the shepherds. A carton thatched with grass from the hillsides outside our apartment made a stable.

That too has changed, over the years. Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus now come from the wood carvers of Oberammergau, in the Bavarian Alps, a little town renowned for putting on its Passion Play every ten years. The wise men are one of my own carvings. The camels, though, come from Jerusalem. So does the donkey. But the ox comes from Equador, and the hippopotamus from Africa. There wasn’t a hippo in Bethlehem, you say? There is now.

Our Christmas may differ from yours in detail. But I suspect it’s similar in principle – every item you put out has a story that goes with it. We are all museum curators, in a sense. We keep, we treasure, those things that remind us of who we are, and how we got here. Once a year, at least, we bring them out and put them on display. And we’re delighted when visitors ask about them. When they show interest, that gives us a chance to tell those stories, to live them once again. Happy days, sad days, difficult days – in the golden glow of memory, they blend together, and define us. Sometimes we just need the incentive of a special day to bring them out.

Photo Source: Joan and Jim Taylor

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