A friend and I were discussing Christmas trees recently. She asked if I have a theme tree, and I do. I started to collect cut-crystal ornaments from Nova Scotian Crystal Company around the time I met my husband. There are a dozen balls now, one for every year we’ve been together. A few Christmases ago, he surprised me with a new tree by our picture window upstairs, and we fill it with these beautiful works of art, blown glass icicles, accents of tiny red and gold bulbs, all hung with red ribbon. Though I usually work in my office, when the tree is up I spend mornings in the living room where my delight reflects his the day he presented it to me. I’m easily distracted from my work because I find myself mentally walking through the years of our life together. That tree causes me to quiet, reflect and listen.
Before that tree goes up, however, there are moments when I question the wisdom of decorating. It takes time and energy that frankly some days I’m convinced I don’t have. Perhaps like me, you’ve protested against the demands of the season, things to bake, shopping lists to make, gifts to find, events to attend, volunteer opportunities, all in addition to our jobs and the mundane tasks of a normal day.
All these things get in the way of being still and present. Advent is easily abandoned in the many things we think we are supposed to be doing (though who gets to decide that?).
Yet every year, when my husband gets down on his creaky all-fours to retrieve the ornament boxes and we pull out each treasure, I’m reminded of why we make the effort.
The ornaments we hang on our trees are snapshots of our lives.
Every year, the new crystal piece is given a place of honour at the top of the fragile tree. I imagine what it will look like in fifty years. I am blessed with that possibility. But if we only have 12 years together, the tree provides a tangible reminder of every one. The etchings on each 4-inch ball are as unique and precious as the year it represents together. They require thoughtful handling and protection from outside sources–much like our marriage does.
Downstairs in our family room, our more casual hodge-podge tree captures the gifts of friends who painted their hearts on tiny canvases. There are reminders of trips to Europe and across North America. Collectable castings from Amos Pewter, and ornaments hand crafted by local artisans often spark conversations of “remember when.”
There are also reminders of friends and family we no longer see, sparking grief at their loss but joy too in having had the privilege of knowing them. I struggle in expecting more loss soon, knowing I can’t hold on to loved ones who are wrestling with the whole business of living just because I want to hold them back from the business of dying.
Sometimes an ornament will remind me of friend-filled moments, during times that somehow seemed simpler but never really were. I even hang an ornament that reminds of the defining moment when I began the journey of making significant changes in my life. It’s good to realize how content I am now, even though getting there required more than a handful of heartbreaking decisions.
I guess that’s why we have traditions, really. Life is tempered with equal measures of joy and sorrow, though it feels like the balance is skewed sometimes. Where we’ve been, and who we were is just as important as where we’re going and who we are.
Maybe even more so.
Do you have favorite ornaments? Tell us about them in the comments.