Saturday, December 16, 2006

Decorating for Christmas

Jeana's posts about Christmas got me to thinking about Christmas trees and decorating for Christmas. The trees I grew up with were real trees. My daddy nailed crossed pieces of wood to the bottom to make them stand up. We decorated with tinsel, glass balls, tons of icecicles, and lots of angel hair, which always made me itch but I loved adding it to the tree. The angel on top floated in a cloud of feathers and angel hair, and it was my favorite decoration.
The tree skirt was a layer of cotton wool sprinkled with glitter. Nearby, a block of styrofoam was the foundation for a tiny sleigh and reindeer, sliding along among a forest of miniature trees.

When Wick and I married, we started with a small tree, two boxes of blue glass balls, and blue and gold tinsel. It was the color coordinated tree pictured in store windows, and to frame it we outlined the front window of our apartment in blue lights. But somehow the tree looked sort of sad to me--sort of sterile and impersonal.

As the years passed, we added decorations we received as gifts, or found on clearance, and then came the decorations our children made. We also started the tradition of giving each child an ornament, so that when our kids married, they would have the beginnings of their own Christmas traditions.

One year I made an Advent calendar for the kids. I didn't have a pattern; I just started cutting out shapes from felt and gluing them together. I put a green tree shape on a piece of red for the background. The calendar part was outlined in gold rickrack. For each day from December first to December 25, there was a different ornament made of felt, gold paint, and glue for the tree: candy canes, fancy globes, a toy soldier, a teddy bear, a gold star, an angel. Each day we moved one ornament from the calendar at the bottom to the tree, and counted the days left until Christmas.

There were always Nativity figures, as ornaments on the tree, or sitting on a table, and always the one with the wooden stable and all the animals gathered around the manger containing the baby Jesus under the tree.

Another year I made stockings with bears on them, and a matching tree skirt. Jeana made a lap quilt from matching fabric, for my mother, and we made fabric ornaments for the tree.

One year we spent hours painting wooden cutout ornaments for the tree. I still have a few of those.

Once our kids were grown and married, I started making new stockings. For the girls, angels in crimson robes with gold sashes. For the boys, angels in red shirts and denim pants. Each one has a gold felt star with the appropriate name on it. I still fill each stocking, no matter where we have our family Christmas, with miniature candy bars, nuts, tiny toys, socks, and a small stocking gift.

When our kids were small and our pockets empty, we made most of our gifts. One year we saved pretty glass bottles and jars, soaked off the labels, spray painted the lids gold, and added some decals for decoration. I bought a big box of Epsom salts. We added a little food coloring, some perfume, stirred well, and poured the bath salts into the bottles and jars as gifts for Nanaw, Grandma, and all the aunts.

As our family grew, I started making a family calendar every year. Everyone's birthday, all the anniversaries, each new baby, the special days of our lives, laid out on the new year's calendar. One for each family unit. All year long, as I check my calendar for appointments, I also see the dates for each family member. I stop to say a prayer, try to remember to send a card, shop for a gift, or make a phone call. The family calendar keeps them always before me, always on my mind and in my heart and in my prayers.

After all, the tree, the decorations, the gifts, it's all about family. The family we came from, the family we created together, the family that has grown each year, the love we have for each other, and the blessings God has bestowed on us.

Merry Christmas. May God bless us, every one.