More than 65 wonderful Christmases past can be remembered through the plethora of historic decorations at our house, some dating back to the 1940s, stored on overflowing attic, basement, garage and closet shelves, in dusty corners, cob-webbed nooks, shadowed crannies and even under beds.
Call it crazy-quilt layers of family and generational holiday junk that we love but are aggravated by at the same time. When my new wife and I discussed domestic downsizing in general and less glitzy future holidays in particular, we came to the conclusion that all that stuff took up space and needed to be culled.
I encouraged Karen to tackle the chore of digging into cardboard boxes, plastic storage tubs and voluminous bags packed with tree ornaments, tangled colored lights, ribbons, ancient Christmas cards, frowzy stuffed animals in Santa hats, tinsel, angel-and-star tree toppers, petrified candy canes and other forgotten holiday treasures.
My commander instead informed me this would be a joint operation. Neither of us would accept blame for unilaterally discarding a sentimental decoration from either side of the family – for example, a crocheted Christmas bell hand-sewn by Aunt Zula 60 years ago that now resembles a much-gnawed dog chew toy.
“But you wouldn’t put it on the tree, would you?” she asked, the beloved aunt in question having been dead and gone many years. She had watched a moth flutter from the crumpled bell and feared for her fabric.
“No, but what about that macaroni-and-toothpick reindeer that looks like something from a Godzilla movie?”
She objected to my choice of comparison: “One of the kids made that for me as a second-grade Christmas project!”
This, then, was the impossible task we set out to accomplish, ridding ourselves of unwanted memories of Christmases past while not trying to hurt the other’s feelings. Easier said than done.
Some of the stuff involved no-brainer decisions. Gift-wrapping paper carefully removed by my late wife’s mother, ironed to take out the wrinkles and rerolled on saved cardboard tubes did not crank my tractor.
Neither did her collection of skinny wooden snowmen made from doctor’s office tongue depressors.
“New or used?” I inquired, to which she replied: “Don’t recall.” Eeeww. The snowmen went in the trash.
Ornaments and decorations inherited from mothers, fathers and grandparents were harder to decide about. I had several delicate gee-jaws from Japan my father and uncles brought back from their overseas military service during WW II. Easily broken, the enamel-painted shells eventually became fragments hanging from rusty hooks.
But they meant a lot, even if it was long past time to let go of the special little treasures.
Holiday gifts that our children worked on in secret after collecting bits and pieces of cloth, feathers, buttons, used aluminum foil, thread spools (the wooden type), sweet gum seed pods (painted gold and dusted in sparkles), cardboard, colored paper and clothes pins were also difficult to discard.
I have a pencil holder made from a tin can covered in red felt with a fringe of Santa Claus beard for which I wouldn’t take $100. She is similarly possessive about anything printed in a child’s scrawl that says, “I Love You Mom… Merry Xmas!”
A cigar box decorated with jumping bass and trout, painstakingly cut with blunt scissors from outdoor magazine pages and glued on the sides and lid, brought back memories of my father saying, “That’s the best gift you ever made me. I use it every night to hold my keys, wallet and pocket change.” I was so proud.
When he died, the cigar box came back to me with a pocket knife and an old wristwatch inside. I cannot part with it.
So, we went though the boxes and tubs carefully, painstakingly.
When the pile to be discarded failed to grow much beyond shorted-out twinkle lights, a plastic outhouse in which Santa sat with his pants down, singing a ribald version of “Jingle Bells” (thanks, brother) and a large hanging ornament that blared “Grandma got run over by a reindeer…” when jiggled, we decided to let someone from a newer generation figure all of it out.
I am certain my late wife and Aunt Zula would have approved.
Christmas memories are what you make of them. No matter the age or uniqueness. It is hard to part with symbols of loving experience, plain or fancy, if they are part of the treasure stored in your heart. By these remembrances, you continue to honor of the Christ child’s holy birth and God’s eternal promise for the future.