Sunday, December 20, 2009
Thanks for the (Christmas) Memories
In all honesty, the Christmas holiday season is not my fave time of year. I don’t like crowds, traffic sends me over the edge, and I despise cold weather. (As you can imagine, the blizzard the Washington DC metro area received this weekend did nothing to help my holiday anxiety.) As a child, I tended to be sick every Christmas day. My former career was in retail management and buying. All combined, I do not do very well this time of year. And don’t get me started about Christmas carols….
Anyone who has read just one posting of this Blog knows that I love decorating and shopping. But not during the holidays. Just say “NO NO NO” to the “HO HO HO”. That’s not to say that I don’t have a section of the attic devoted to Christmas décor, just that everything tends to stay boxed up, year after year.
One of the few exceptions to this is the small collection of ornaments handed down to me by my maternal grandmother, Mary. I lived with my grandparents as a child, and one of the few family traditions was the yearly display of Christmas ornaments my grandmother had acquired when my mother and aunt were children. Each Christmas, my grandmother would assemble the silver aluminum pom-pom tree and decorate it with a set of glass balls of a single color, alternating between beautiful shiny blue and bright pink. Then there was the rotating color wheel, slowly projecting blue/yellow/red/green light on the metallic tree. Pure holiday FABULOCITY.
But the most treasured of treasures was the nativity set. Also purchased at the local five-and-dime for mere pennies, each piece was crafted of chalk and painted in vibrant colors. There was, of course, the baby Jesus, along with four livestock animals: cow, donkey, sheep, and camel. Even as a child, I found it fitting that only the animals were in attendance at our manger scene.
Purchased in the 1940s, only a handful of these treasures have successfully weathered the ensuing decades. Somehow many of the ornaments of my childhood were broken or lost. I consider myself fortunate to have several of the delicate solid blue glass balls, along with a red one with “Season’s Greetings” painted in white, and a blue globe with white stars. And, even two of the angel hair-filled pieces are among my collection. Except now, as I behold these globes many years after my grandmother’s passing, I recall the fine silver hair of my own guardian angel Mary.
The nativity set also survived, except the donkey is MIA and the cow lost an ear at some point. A few years ago, during one of my DC Big Flea excursions with BFF Diana, I came across a vendor who was offering a mishmash of similar nativity pieces. I learned that these chalkware items were very popular in the first half of the twentieth century, and were made by Italian and German immigrants. Apparently, some of the later pieces were also made in Japan. Carefully sifting through this vendor’s offerings, I selected several pieces that I thought would fit well into my treasured nativity: an angel to watch over the baby Jesus; three wisemen to accompany the camel; and a Mary and Joseph pair. These pieces of unknown history have now melded seamlessly into the nativity of my childhood, and the entire set is among the few holiday decorations I faithfully display each and every year.
So enamored was I of my grandmother’s set, this collection of the most modest of nativities, that I recall once telling her that it was the only thing I wished for her to bequeath to me. I am blessed that I have these precious items to commemorate the childhood spent with my loving and caring grandparents. However, as treasured as these ornaments are to me, I am most grateful for all the memories they invoke, for that past is my forever Christmas present. And each year, at the close of the holiday season, I carefully wrap each jewel so that it might survive to be displayed another season.
A few Christmases ago, I labeled the boxes containing this treasure with the names of my godsons. Inside the boxes were notes addressed to the boys, explaining the heritage of these items, and instructing them to remember me and my family as the boys might someday display the ornaments as part of their own families’ holiday traditions. Let this be my forever Christmas present to them.