Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Tonight, a special guest blog post from my friend Chris. Tell me about an ornament from your tree in the comments!

My Life As a Christmas Tree

Tonight my nine year old son B and I decorated the Christmas tree together. His sixteen year old brother K chose not to help, perhaps thinking he had outgrown such activities (which has never been true for me when it comes to the Christmas tree). As I unpacked the ornaments for B to hang on the tree, I was reminded of how much of my life history is reflected in the ornaments I hang on the tree.

I have a few tarnished glass ball ornaments that I think my parents had before I was born. They look their age--the colors are faded, the paint cracking. Yet what is most amazing is that for all their delicacy they have survived for more than forty years and the fingers of children and children's children and thousands of miles of traveling as well as making an annual migration from their cardboard boxes to the Christmas tree and back again.

There's an orange wooden duck from Mexico from when I was a child. It's wings are broken off--either one of the dogs or the kids got to it back then, which actually makes it unique and special to me and different from any other ones that were made.

I have a felt Santa face that I made when I was B's age. I can still remember tracing around the bottom of a tin can to make the face and cutting out the felt.

There's a clip-on Koala Bear that looks similar to one I used to carry around with me as a teen, clipped to the collar of my jacket.

There's a homemade clear plastic bow tie filled with little trinkets that evoke a Texan theme, made by my ex-wife before we were married. She made one for each person in my family as a Christmas gift (I think this one might have been an extra one not made for anyone in particular). It was a brief venture into arts and crafts that she didn't pursue again.

There are other ornaments that she and I bought for each other or together as reminders of special times: a stained glass leaf from our trip to Victoria, a shell heart that was a gift to me from her early in our relationship, a gold wire heart that was originally filled with chocolate kisses.

There are a few kid ornaments given to K when he was a child, such as a wooden dinosaur. There's an ornament of a little mouse asleep in an acorn to commemorate B's first Christmas. There are handmade ornaments from when B was younger, such as a red glass ball that he decorated with beads and paint.

There's a set of beautiful deep red glass balls I bought for myself my first Christmas after I had separated--a way of affirming that I could have a happy Christmas on my own.

From my years with C there's a clear glass ball filled with multi-colored string that I purchased when I accompanied her to a Christmas Bazaar our first Christmas together. I also have a few handmade wooden stars and Santa ornaments from some other country in Asia or South America that are companions to ones I gave C the second Christmas we shared.

There are a few more recent ornaments that I got as a gift to myself--a glass ornament shaped like a beautiful green pine cone, a Homer Simpson one with him sucking on a candy cane. And there's a new one this year--another Homer Simpson one--one of those prismatic motion ones that was on the cover of TV Guide that I bought last week with B, who had to find just the right spot to hang it.

When you look at this tree, filled with all of these ornaments of various colors, materials, ages, and styles, it's probably quite the clashing picture. There's no single theme or motif or aesthetic constant. Or rather, there is no apparent theme or motif. The common thread is that nearly all of them reflect aspects of my life and various people I have loved over the years. And, just as my life has followed many different paths and hardly been a single or simple journey, so, too, are the ornaments. Perhaps more than any other thing I own, my Christmas tree reflects a compendium of my life--from before I was born, through my childhood, my marriage, relationships since then and the childhoods of my children--K's past and B's present. Each year a few more ornaments are added and one or two might be lost. But, for the most part, each year there are the same ornaments, arranged in a different pattern. It's not a single theme or aesthetic, but in all of it's diversity and garishness, it's all special to me, and perhaps only to me. I imagine that if I could see a photo of my Christmas tree ten or twenty years from now, I would see a mix of ornaments quite familiar and others new to my eyes. Each has a story behind it and is from a different moment and connection in my life.

As I helped my son decorate our tree this evening, I actually realized two things. The first is how much this Christmas tree reflects my life. The second is how much my life reflects a Christmas Tree. What makes me special is the unique mixture of friends and experiences I have had in my life. With each passing year some are lost even as new ones are added. It is these friends and experiences that brighten and adorn my life, making it distinct from any other and a reminder of how beautiful and special life can be.

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