Ornaments or Decorations or Neither?

A few days ago a writing friend of mine blogged about Christmas Ornaments. She said she had been asked to bring a Christmas ornament to a party and tell the story of the ornament and why it was special to her. It wasn’t really her thing, she said, and she hadn’t planned to take part. Then a box arrived from her sister and inside were “five small prettily wrapped gifts—Christmas ornaments for [her] first tree and [her] first Christmas in [her] first house.” Each ornament was special.

(Click photo twice to enlarge detail)

It was a loving and meaningful gesture by her sister and as she displayed and explained the significance of each ornament, I was reminded of the ones our family has accumulated through the years … only I’m not sure what they should be called.

Ornament: a thing used to make something look more attractive but usually having no practical purpose, especially a small object such as a figurine.

Decoration: the process or art of decorating or adorning something.

Memento: an object kept as a reminder or souvenir of a person or event.

Just below the centre of this photo, nestled among the branches, you can see a small cross. (It looks like it’s comprised of little jingle bells strung together, but they don’t make noise.) My parents passed it along to me the year my first child was born, with the reminder that it had been on every tree since my first Christmas. Not shown is another small circle of well worn nylon bristles with the picture of an angel affixed to the centre.  It has also been on every tree since my birth.

Yes, it makes the tree more attractive but has no practical purpose. Yes, it helps adorn the tree. Yes, it’s a special reminder of my first Christmas. It’s all of the above and yet it’s more.

My parents weren’t religious. I’m sure they believed there was a god, but he played no role in their lives. We didn’t attend church or say grace before meals. Christmas wasn’t thought of as a holy holiday but was traditionally a celebration of friends and family…of visiting, eating, singing and gift giving. So I’m not sure what prompted them to choose a cross and an angel to commemorate the first Christmas of their only child.

I’m glad they did, because it’s meaningful to me, but I wish I’d asked them about their motivation when I had the opportunity. At this point in my life it waits out the months between Decembers well padded in a box labelled as ‘Heritage Ornaments’, along with others given to me from my grandmother’s tree–a fragile red teapot, two glass birds and a tiny brass bell. I treasure them for the memories they evoke of the people we celebrated with…my parents and grandparents.

The cross wasn’t a thing of beauty. At some point many years ago the wire holding the ‘bells’ together broke and the silvering began peeling off. My hubby thoughtfully restrung them and bought a can of silver paint so we could refurbish it. I sprinkled silver glitter on the wet paint, and, while it was an amateur job, to this day it continues to shimmer in the lights on my eightieth Christmas tree.

This same tree marks our sixtieth year together. That makes it pretty special, too, although earlier this year while on a cruise to Alaska I bought a little ornament to specifically mark that occasion. Looking at it, I’m inclined to say that these are neither ornaments nor decorations, but are mementos. What do you say?

Do you have holiday decorations / ornaments / mementos that are especially meaningful to you? I’d love to hear about them.

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Time, Christmas Traditions and Memories


What is it about Christmas that has us thumbing through old cookbooks searching for a particular recipe of Grandma’s? Why do we carefully unwrap ornaments that are old and dilapidated and take pleasure in displaying them in prominent locations on our decorated trees?

This little cross has been on every tree since I was born. And no, I’m not telling you how many years that’s been. At some point it moved from my parents’ home to ours, along with a few other treasures. I never knew what significance, if any, it had for them, but I cherish it.

Every family seems to have its own special traditions. A Facebook friend mentioned she’s making Polish stuffed cabbage … that it’s not Christmas without it. I make fruitcakes in November every year. When my mother was alive she made steamed carrot pudding and we always traded some so we each had both. It only happened at Christmas. Neither of us made those recipes at any other time of the year. I also remember every Christmas Eve the entire family gathered at my paternal grandparents’ home. We wouldn’t have dreamed of making other plans.

Christmas Eve 1953

There’s joy in these traditions and family celebrations, but when something happens to knock everything off kilter, their memories can make future Christmases a time of nostalgia and melancholy, even depression, as we recall with longing “how it use to be”.

We can turn the hands of our clocks backwards as much as we want, but there’s no way to turn back time in real life. I think that’s why time travel and historical fiction have such a wide appeal. As readers we can place ourselves into an earlier era, at least until we reach the last page.

I wonder if our families will recall this Christmas with fondness two or three decades from now. I wonder which of our traditions they will choose to continue or discard, and why. What makes traditions meaningful? As we approach the fourth Sunday in Advent, preparing ourselves for the celebration of Christ’s birth, what might we do to ensure the focus of our Christmas celebration stays on Him?

Do you have a favourite memory from a past Christmas? Why is it special to you?

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