Recently, a friend described her biggest challenge of decorating their Christmas tree.
“You start going through ornaments, memories come flowing back, and it leads to eating chocolate, and then tears,” she said.
I know exactly what she means.
In our home, we’ve always collected ornaments to symbolize what is going on in our lives at the time. They could be handmade, store-bought or maybe even something we turned into an ornament. But in the end, our Christmas tree is about our family and the significant life experiences we’ve shared together. Consider our tree a biography with ribbons and blinking lights.
Earlier this week, my wife and I found ourselves standing in front of the Christmas tree, the only light in the room being the twinkling of bulbs, retelling stories from our life together based on whatever ornament caught our attention.
“Oh, do you remember when … ” is our familiar jumping-off point.
A favorite is a Styrofoam gingerbread man hanging from a high branch — as is tradition — because our then-toddler daughter kept trying to eat him. Scrawled across the back in my wife’s handwriting is a note “Please don’t eat me.” The tooth marks of a stubborn little girl are still visible on the top of the gingerbread man’s head.
We laugh and find our hands searching for each other every time we retell this story.
Others symbolize a significant point in time — a small white plate embossed with the 1996 Olympics logo representing living in Atlanta when the world showed up for a visit. Another, a small toy yellow submarine, reminds us of how our kids watched — and wore out — a VHS tape of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” movie.
The tree also displays ornaments made either in school classrooms or on a kitchen table. Small dates, some fading over time, are written on each as they represent important markers in time for us. Popsicle sticks, clay figurines, or art projects all help create an eclectic tale over time.
There is one, however, that always stops us in our tracks — a small circular cutout photo of us when were a pair of broke college students who lived for opportunities to drive a thousand miles to an ocean beach. Carrying a small stash of cash, sleeping bags and a musky tent, we’d rent surfboards, cook hot dogs on a small grill and walk endlessly along the water. We were clueless — the only things we knew for sure was both our heartbeats responded to the melodic sound of waves, life was a big unknown, and we were absolutely crazy about each other.
Little did we know what we were getting into as we looked into that camera lens — an adventure of a lifetime that would one day annually play out on the branches of a Christmas tree. Our wildest dreams could never have predicted the blessings life would provide to us as a family. And for this we are humbly thankful.
And the best news is we’re not done yet.