My husband and I got married in October of 2005. Christmas arrived quickly that year and we decided we were going to go cut down a tree. Here’s something I didn’t know, a tree in the wilderness may appear smaller than it actually is. We were living in a two bedroom condo at the time and my husband wound up having to cut the tree on our tiny little deck in order to just fit it in the door. Fun times. The neighbors must have loved us.
Once we got the tree inside I realized I didn’t really have any ornaments to decorate it. So I did what anyone would do. I rushed out to Target and stocked up on a bunch of cheap, but pretty enough ornaments so that our poor, cut up tree would look like an actual Christmas tree. Once the lights were on, our tree looked great. Lights fix everything. I had three nice ornaments on the tree. Two of them we had bought on our honeymoon and one of them I had made at the local mall for our “first Christmas” together. I decided that by the following year I would have a real grownup tree. You know the type of tree I’m talking about. It’s the one in all the magazines. It’s the one that Martha did herself. It’s the one you pin for future reference. It’s usually color coordinated. Spoiler alert it is not the tree I have.
My plan had been to go out at the end of the Christmas season and stock up on the expensive ornaments that would surely all be on clearance. Only I didn’t do that, because well the best laid plans as they say. Before I knew it Christmas was over and winter turned to spring. Who thinks about their Christmas tree in the spring? Not this girl. Summer arrived and in a blink fall followed, as did our anniversary. We went away for the weekend and I decided to buy an ornament in a local shop. What I didn’t know then is that with that one ornament I would begin a tradition that would carry on for our family, making our tree what it is today.
In the years that followed, I began buying an ornament on every vacation or special trip we took together. I went back to the same place I had bought our “first Christmas” ornament and had one made when we got our dog, then again when our oldest son was born, and again when our youngest was born. They closed after that and I’m so happy I was able to get all of our special ornaments from them before they did.
When we go away somewhere my husband knows that I will not leave until I find a shop that sells local ornaments. I have an ornament from our first trip with our oldest. I have one from my husband’s fortieth birthday. I have one from our summers in Lake George. I always write the year on it before packing it away.
Every year when it comes time to decorate the house for Christmas I am completely stressed. All I can think about is my long list of things to get done. I imagine my family grows pretty tired of hearing me talk about how much I have left to do when we literally just finished our Thanksgiving turkey. I can’t help myself. I’m one of those people who complain when I feel overwhelmed. I will admit it’s not my best quality. I try to surround myself with people who are the “glass is half full” type because when my glass is empty I need someone to help fill it up a bit.
This year wasn’t any different. My list is long and my patience was running thin. I spent a good deal of time telling my husband it was never going to all get done. “I’m only one person. We don’t even have a tree yet. When I am getting all the shopping done? Do people really need a card from us?” He’s gotten pretty good about just nodding along and ignoring my Christmas induced insanity. We finally went to get our tree. He put it up the next day and got all the lights on it. He took all the boxes of ornaments down from the attic and suggested I decorate the tree in peace and quiet the next day while they were all out of the house. I agreed.
The next day I opened the first box and pulled out our “first Christmas together” ornament. Suddenly I was brought back in time, eleven years ago, before our kids when we were newlyweds cutting down a tree together that would wind up being way too big for our condo. I started laughing just thinking about it.
The next ornament was one from Hawaii and I remembered our blissful honeymoon and how eleven years has certainly aged us but I wouldn’t change a thing. Next it was an ornament from Lake George 2015 which was the last summer my grandmother was with us for that trip. I cried thinking about how much I miss her, but I smiled thinking about all the wonderful memories we have with her.
Ornament after ornament brought me somewhere back in time. They are all representations of a time that has passed, but each and every one of them mean more than I ever thought they would when I bought them. It is amazing how the sight of something as small as a Christmas ornament can bring up so many emotions. As I picked up each one I instantly had a picture in my mind of the trip. I saw my oldest at two playing in the sand of Cape Cod.
I saw my youngest at two beaming with excitement on his first steam boat in Lake George.
I saw my husband and me holding hands as we walked the Cliff walk together in Newport Rhode Island.
I moved on to all the homemade ornaments my kids have made over the years and I was reminded about just how fast time moves. My grandmother always used to say “Don’t blink Jen. It goes faster than people tell you.” I blinked. She was right. My oldest is eight now. Looking at his little face on a gingerbread man that he made when he was three reminded me just how fast time is moving. I remember him giving it to us. I remember laughing and telling him it was adorable.
My youngest is five and I remember the Santa face ornament he gave us for his last Christmas in preschool.
The ornaments with their faces on them are my favorite. They are frozen in time. I may never get another one of my eight year old at this point. So I cherish the ones I have. They are worth more to me than the most expensive ornament on the clearance shelf. The same can be said about the Popsicle stick ornaments and the toilet paper roll snowmen. They are priceless.
When I was done decorating the tree I realized just how lucky we are. My stress was gone. If nothing else gets done that’s okay because everything we need to celebrate Christmas is represented on our tree. I will never have a Martha tree and I’m good with that. I don’t need a tree meant for the magazines. I want a tree meant for our life. I will continue to buy an ornament everywhere we go and date it accordingly. One day when I blink and the kids are out of the house starting their own traditions, I will have the ornaments to bring me back in time, to bring me back to days that might not have seemed big at the time but will surely be worth remembering. I will always enjoy Christmas and I will forever cherish looking back onto Christmas pasts. After all Christmas is about making memories with those we love and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that than with a tree full of memories.