I love Christmas. I love the warmth that fills a room when it's decorated in the spirit of the season. I love everything that is shiny and that appears snow-covered (because I've never, in my 53 years, had a white Christmas).
I love time spent with friends and loved ones and remembering the true reason for the season. And I love looking at our remodeled fireplace with all the stockings hung by the chimney with care.
And for as much as I love all of this, I love decorating our tree the most. It's nothing fancy. I'm just not that kind of girl. But the ornaments. That's where the magic is.
When my son Evan was born, I bought (what, in my opinion, was) the traditional "Baby's First Christmas" ornament. Actually, I bought two and was gifted one, the year 1988. Every year, I gifted him with an ornament that represented whatever he was into at the time or to mark a special occasion that we celebrated that year.
When he was 6, like any red-blooded 6-year old, he wanted to be a fireman, so his ornament that year was a Dalmation dressed in firefighter's gear. The year he got his first vehicle, a Ford F-150, I found a Ford F-150 ornament. A trip to Disney World always resulted in a Disney ornament. And when he graduated high school, a Mickey Mouse head (we went to Disney World that year too) with a graduation cap.
When he graduated college and got his "own place", I gifted him the bundle of "his" ornaments to get him started. But I kept one - from his first Christmas. It has a picture of him, about age seven months, smiling happily as he sits in his walker, arms out-stretched as if to say "Hey! Life is sweet!" And it is always placed on the front of our tree.
Severe allergies as a child (to cedar and pine and lots of other stuff) resulted in us always having an artificial tree. Except for that one year in college, when my sister wanted, just once, since the time of my birth, to have a real tree. And I survived.
That was the only year I've ever had a real tree. It just seemed easier to go artificial. Easier until I purchased my first pre-lit tree, affectionately know as "The Beast" due to it's stature and girth. And because it was heavy and hard as hell to get up into our attic.
Over the years, our tree had different color schemes. For many years, it was purple and green (Evan's favorite color when he was young and my favorite color, respectively); we really had not intended to celebrate Mardi Gras in December.
When it was time to empty the tree of Evan's ornaments, I went with something a little more "traditional", with red, blue, green and gold baubles dotting the branches.
Sometimes the tree had garland, sometimes ribbon, but always, always, there was a star on top.
When the third strand of lights went out on The Beast, and we tired of trying to find the one bulb out of 600 that caused the outage, we got a new one. This tree, aptly named "Beast Jr." has flourishes of white and silver, with a few touches of brushed gold. And pine cones. Little, artificial, snow-capped pine cones.
And the ornaments. Oh the ornaments.
As I carefully unpacked them last week, each one brought with it, a specific and special memory. And oh, what a beautiful way to begin the holiday season.
There are, of course, a plethora of Disney ornaments. Both those I've gotten during our trips to the various Disney parks, but also those offered up by the Hallmark store and those which were gifted to me. With 20 or so trips to the parks around the world, I don’t really remember the specific year each ornament was bought, but I remember the feeling of being in the park. The happiness. The friendships. The magic.
Years ago, my friends and I, being the good German girls that we are (and one who deep-down, we know wishes she were German) were in a 9-pin bowling league. (Don't know what that is? Google it and prepare to be intrigued! And yes! Like most teenagers in our area growing up, my first job was dodging pins as they slammed about following a direct hit with a 17-pound ball!) At Christmas time, we always exchanged Christmas ornaments. There was one year, when we had not yet opened our ornaments, and I commented on how ridiculous that year's "bowling ornament" sold by Hallmark was (I may have even used the term "ugly" to describe it).
You know what happened, don't you?
My friend Debbie, who had drawn my name, had gifted me that very ornament. I'm so glad she had the best sense of humor and we laughed about it for many years. We lost Debbie a couple of years ago and Christmas was her favorite holiday. Now, when I take out that ornament, and place it front and center on our tree, I can't help but still feel a little embarrassed, but having a giggle at the same time.
Of course there are ornaments adorned with my step-children's names, ornaments from their childhood. And one to mark mine and Keith's first Christmas together (as a couple) as well as one to celebrate our first Christmas as newlyweds. There's even a menorah ornament (I'm quite sure that's some sort of an oxymoron) to honor my step-daughter's religion and holiday celebration.
There are several ornaments which are 'Texas Orange' (yes, that's a real and official color) and one celebrating my beloved Longhorns' 2005 (football) National Championship. I remember the final seconds of the game. Evan and I perched on the edge of our sofa. And as Vince Young crossed the goal line for the win, we erupted in screams, raising the roof and waking all the dogs in the neighborhood.
There are ornaments with pictures of our granddaughter, my pumpkin girl. And hopefully, this year, we'll add one with pictures of our grandson, my man-cub, who will turn one in a few weeks.
And then, there are ornaments from around the world. (And even one that was given to me by one of my former staff that says "World Traveler".) As I unwrap each ornament, selected during each of our travels, I'm flooded with memories Keith and I have made together.
A sea turtle from the Turtle Farm in the Cayman Islands. Holding a baby sea turtle (it was perfectly okay and highly encouraged!), it's tiny flippers gently lapping against my hands. Oh, how it made me smile! I love sea turtles! Just ask my granddaughter - she'll tell you!
A laser-inscribed picture of Neuschweinstein Castle. Walking up the hill to the castle. Anticipation building as I'm about to see with my very eyes, the castle that inspired Walt Disney and his creation of Cinderella's castle in the Magic Kingdom (or was it Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland?)
An apple and a skyline scene from our two trips to NYC. Oh, how I LOVE NY! The buzz of the city, palpable as you hit the sidewalk. The overwhelming nature of the skyscrapers. The beauty of Central Park, tucked away amongst the concrete jungle; the brightly colored leaves littering the ground in fall and snowflakes falling from the sky as we walked hand-in-hand.
A hand-painted beauty from Greece. Where, amongst the beautiful white stucco and blue domed roofs, Keith's pocket was picked! Alas, he caught the thieves, slapping the wallet from the hand that nabbed it, the wallet falling to the ground, the thieves running from the scene.
The hangy-thingy from China, that's not really an ornament at all, but which we made into one (because I don't think Christmas is widely celebrated in China). Walking The Great Wall on my birthday was indescribable. And eating questionable things? Well … that's a memory I'd like to forget.
A seashell from Bora Bora. Where the turquoise water surrounded you for miles, the rays inviting you in for a swim, Mount Otemanu standing tall amongst the surrounding motus (mini islands) and the huts over the water with "fish in the floor".
And the golden pineapple from our most recent trip to Hawaii. Come to think of it, we didn't eat any pineapple during that trip. Unless you count the Dole Whip. And the real-fruit pineapple shaved ice. And the pineapple-infused sausage smothered in pulled pork. Okay … so we didn't eat any "fresh" pineapple.
In a little over a month, it'll all be over. All the meticulously-wrapped packages, opened, wrapping paper covering the floor. The goodies all eaten. The drinks all drank (drunken?). The ugly Christmas sweaters, worn. And we'll box up the ornaments and pack them away for another year.
But for now, I'll soak it all in. Reminiscing as the tree illuminates each ornament. All the memories in one seven-foot, five-inch space.
Reminding us how very blessed we are. And to always, always remain grateful.