Decorations Most Dear

By The Stream Published on December 22, 2017

Grab the Advil and pull down the boxes of Christmas decorations. It’s that treasured time of the year. For many of us, we know that tucked away in those boxes — or tucked away in memory — is one ornament, one decoration that means more than all others. Perhaps it is a priceless family heirloom, perhaps a dingy, chewed up ornament purchased from a five-and-dime. The Christmas stocking you had as a seven-year-old. The plate given to commemorate your first Christmas as man-and-wife. 

We’ve asked some Stream writers and contributors for their one decoration they hold most dear.

Liberty McArtor

Every holiday season, my parents would let me buy one new ornament for my bird collection. I’d pick the prettiest bird ornament I could find — one year I got rebellious and picked a butterfly — and proudly add it to our tree. When I got married, Mom sent the birds.

The cardinal has always been my favorite. Puffy with soft feathers and feet that attach to the branch, he’s very realistic. This year, I placed him toward the top of the tree, not paying much attention. Then he surprised me.

Face buried in the branches as I tried to secure another ornament, I looked up, and jumped! Glaring at me was a grouchy old bird with one beady black eye. The — er — socket where the other eye used to be told a tale of painful extraction. What had done this to him, I couldn’t know. Perhaps it was one too many years in a shoe box. Perhaps it was the butterfly, who never really fit in.

My first impulse was to toss him. What place did a one-eyed ornament have on our tree? But my husband laughed. “He looks like a pirate!” He said. “I love it.”

I looked again. The cardinal was worse for the years, but who isn’t? Every year, we enter Christmas season with a few new scars. It doesn’t make us trash. It makes us human, and even more aware of our need for Christ.

Now, the cardinal looks realistic in a new way. He shows that we all have troubles overtime. But that’s OK. In fact, it’s why Jesus came.

Al Perrotta

My favorite ornament has to be a little felt-covered drum. It was red and blue, with gold drumsticks glued on the top. When I was young the drum held special meaning because my big brother was a professional drummer. Gus had moved out already to avoid sharing a room with a certain “punk,”  so having the drum was a way of having him around. (Sure, he only lived up the street, but when you’re five years old it might as well be Mars.) Also, my favorite Christmas song was “Little Drummer Boy.”

One year I got to be my own little drummer boy. I was given a small drum kit that matched my one of my brothers. (I believe the one I had earlier decorated with orange crayon.) I remember banging away in the living room at our Christmas Eve gathering, then turning the set around when people fled to the dining room. Needless to say, there’d be only one professional percussionist in the family. (Though Gus’ granddaughter shows promise.)

Years went by. The ornament took on graver meaning. My Dad died on Christmas when I was 16. Afterwards, my mom wanted nothing to do with Christmas. Our biggest fights were over my desire (desperate need) to decorate. Where other kids my age might sneak booze into the house, I snuck in a Christmas tree. The little drum, now missing one of its drumsticks, would always be the last ornament up. A symbol, a reminder, of how sweet Christmas had been. For a few brief seconds, I could reclaim my innocence, be free of grief. I could claim a triumph. “Take THAT, Darkness!”

Today, the little drum has taken on another meaning. It reminds me of not just the “Little Drummer Boy,” but of the true experience of those ordinary people in Bethlehem who played host to the extraordinary birth of Christ.  The Bible doesn’t record a little drummer boy. But it does talk about using our gifts unto the Lord. It talks about welcoming the Lord.

The little drum ornament reminds me not only where my gifts come from, but who those gifts should honor.

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Tom Gilson

It’s a simple 3-inch disk of shiny with a little thread attached for hanging on the tree. I doubt anyone else has one like it, outside of my family. It wouldn’t mean much to anyone else. 

My dad, who’s 94 years old now, worked virtually his whole career as production superintendent at a plant in Hemlock, Michigan, producing hyper-pure silicon for use in electronics. He along with maybe one other person are the last surviving members of the small team that took produced their first silicon in an old farmhouse on that site. Now the plant he helped plan and build covers most of a square mile. One year at Christmastime he brought home little ornaments of silicon wafers for all of his kids.

And darn it all, I’m proud of my dad. That little circle of very pure silicon speaks a lot more to me than just the work he did. It says “Dad” without having any words written on it.

Our family has been through a lot — lifelong serious medical problems for one of my sisters, for one thing. And Dad has always been the family’s leader through it all. He’s shown what it means that you follow Christ, you do what needs doing, you stay humble, you keep a sense of humor, you don’t let down and you don’t let your family down.

The day after Mom died he wrote thank you notes to the hospital staff who’d been taking care of her.

Was this supposed to be about Christmas? Well, it’s about family, which I think fits pretty well. 

Nancy Flory

I wrote about my favorite blue ornaments here. For me, the deep blue ornaments meant something special. I always associated that blue with Christmas and the beautiful blue of a pre-dawn sky.

I have several favorite ornaments now, but most of them belong to my children. For years, my mother bought ornaments for my boys each Christmas. Like the “Baby’s First Christmas” that belongs to my son Julian, now 16. Or the crotcheted angel that she bought for Aiden, now 14. 

My sons are growing up so fast. One is already grown.

Each Christmas ornament symbolizes a year in their lives. Each one reminds me that the boys won’t be children forever. Each one reminds me that the oh-so-frustrating three-year-old tantrums will one day stop and that my children’s young voices will no longer grace my house. I will have a houseful of men.

For now, they remind me to slow down and hold my babies while they’re young. To treasure them for who they are. And to give hugs and kisses while they’re there to be had. 

But even when they’re grown up and moved away, these ornaments will be memories of my boys as children. They will be memories of our time together. They will be memories that I will cherish forever. 

John Zmirak

(Excerpt from his exceptional, beautiful new article “The Battered Angel Atop Our Christmas Tree“)

It was meant to be gold, I guess. The little silk and tarnished brown angel, that dad always insisted we put on top of the tree. I wanted a big blue and gold glassy tree top, which they sold at the 5 & 10. But dad had this very old angel, which he said came from Bavaria. I doubt it came down in our family, but it had been passed along in someone’s. It spread its battered wings, and its arms reached out in prayer. A tiny brown halo floated behind its head. I thought it was ugly, because it was old. He told me that I was wrong, that old things could be more beautiful than new ones. They carried something with them, he said. They pointed us to our grandparents, and their grandparents before them. Just like the song I loved so much (which I still can’t sing all the way through), “Faith of Our Fathers.”

As the years went by, and I began to be older, and now middle-aged, that angel means more to me than it ever did before. It bears on its fragile back so many years — the very years that Jesus came to sanctify. The time that is the water in which we mortals swim. That water was cold once, dark and desperate. But He came down to warm it. To drive away the monsters  of winter and hatred and death. An angel came to announce Him:

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

 

Please tell us about your most memorable ornament or decoration! If you’ve got a picture, share them on our Facebook page!

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