In many places one of the biggest holiday events, particularly for charitable foundations, is the "Festival of Trees". At these gatherings donated Christmas trees are auctioned off to help raise money for new cancer wings to a hospital, an addition to the animal shelter or to help a terminally ill's child's 'wish' come true. Each tree has a theme. I've seen "The Nutcracker Suite", with mice, ballerinas, snowflakes, flowers and a Nutcracker tree topper. I've adored the "Baker's Dozen"..a tree completely decorated with miniature baking implements; roller pins, tins, tiny tubs of flour aprons and recipe books. I thought, given that I live at the ocean, the always stunning "Beach Lovers Delight", embellished with shells in every shape and size, was magical. Each tree had another unique, carefully planned symphony. When I got home from attending these beautiful parties, I'd look over at my funny, goofy, random tree and see a cacophony of mismatched ornaments and cringe.
As tempting as it was for me to chuck my ridiculous, mismatched collection of Christmas decorations, I could never seem to part with them. I have a few stunning crystal ornaments that catch the light and reflect it throughout the room. I have the little gold colored church bauble, that my husband and I gave to our wedding attendants, as party favors. Mixed are the reminders of our children's births, a cable car from San Francisco, a Saguaro cactus from Arizona, a glass blown Eiffel tower, little hockey skates, tiny skis, ballet shoes and trains. We have a Darth Vader that, when plugged into a Christmas light bulb, says, in that raspy James Earl Jones voice, "The Force is with you young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet". That expression has greeted me each time I've turned the tree on for the past 15 years...because my oldest was a Star Wars fanatic when he was very young. There is the elegant Tiffany engraved ornament hanging next to my schlocky German Shepherd angel. A carefully glittered snowflake shimmers like diamonds, just above the incredibly tacky snowman bell.
If I were to continue to peruse my tree, mixed in with all of these tokens of my married life are the ornaments of my childhood. When I first got married, and moved to Germany, my mother gave me the box of these ornaments as a way to bring my past along with me. Knowing I wouldn't be home for the first Christmas of my life, she wanted me to have "home" wherever I was. So our moves to Wildflecken and Idar-Obersten, Germany, Lawton, OK and then back to Camden, Maine, all brought my treasures along for the ride. None of these are valuable in the monetary sense. But each one reminds me of being a little girl. I have bells with my parents and my names on them. and somewhat tasteless 70's ideas for Three Kings crowns. I have some 'once adorable' mementos of buying my 'yearly ornament' at Gervasoni's on State Street in Santa Barbara, following our annual trek to go see "The Nutcracker Suite". Going to Gervasoni's was a tradition my best friends, our mothers and I had. Figuring out which ornament to pick was nearly impossible, as the usual flower shop was transformed into a winter wonderland. And yet, each year we managed to find the perfect one. And I still have all of them hanging on my tree.
The most raggedy of all of ornaments (and that's saying something) is a half bald, woe begotten duck, made out of puff balls and wearing a ski hat. This is the oldest ornament I have, and it made the long journey of my childhood from San Francisco to New York to Santa Barbara and then on to Maine. It wouldn't even suffice as a decent dog toy. Still, it's my favorite. For reasons I can't fathom, when I was tiny I named him "The Chickie" and the Chickie he's remained to this day. I still pull him out from the boxes each year and greet him as I would an old friend who has been on this long journey with me. He's seen it all: the year I turned 5 and had chicken pox and ended up lying in bed wearing my new ice skates and trying to hug my sled. He was present in the afterglow of my seeing my first Broadway show, my becoming a horse crazy tween, my cousins and I sleeping under the tree to "catch Santa", my falling in and out of crushes, and my first true heartbreak. When my then new husband was away for months at a time, and I'd get the ornaments out by myself, the Chickie would remind me that I could connect my Christmases of years past with my present.
Today I'll begin the process of de-Christmasing my house. I'll bring out the boxes in which to place the garland, fold up my burgundy tablecloth and remove the holiday paraphernalia. I will begin to take the ornaments off my tree, one by one. I will carefully look over each piece and decide if it's time has come to meet the rubbish bin. It's not an easy call. Some do actually break. With two exuberant, immense dogs, for whom the tree is nothing more than a fun object into which to crash, I've lost my share of glass balls. Others just looked worn and tired. I know that it's time for them to go...and in doing so, to make room for new pieces of new memories. Yet, it's tough to say goodbye even to the worst of the lot. By saying to them, "You look just awful. I can't have you on my tree any longer", it's as if I'm losing a part of my own Christmas memories. I'm the furthest thing from a pack rat. If anything, I tend to purge our house prematurely. When it comes to Christmas ornaments I've had for 40 years, however, I'm a hopeless nostalgia keeper.
I've resolved to let go of many of these ratty bits of fabric. The plaid covered bell, with places that are so bald Styrofoam can seen underneath is going to the trash. The assortment of Santa looking ornaments, that have always seemed a creepy to my daughter, will be donated, since they're in good repair. The snowman that I myself think looks a little demonic can bite the dust. The others, who resemble nothing in particular but just seem boring, dated and devoid of sentimentality, are out of here. Harder to release are the dodgy ones that evoke childhood memories. I know it's time. I know they don't add any character to our tree. But I think of my late father, whom I adored, when I put up the now shabby lobster boat. I remember my Grandma when I see the falling apart little doll she once sewed for me. And then there is The Chickie. My friend. My amigo. My traveling companion. I realize that I'm an adult and, to paraphrase St. Paul, it is time to put away childish things.
I'm just not quite ready yet.