We all have our ways of decorating the Christmas tree. My way begins with bringing down the box that holds many of the decorations. It’s an old box. It once held a VCR made by RCA. At the time, it was an exciting gift for the family. I should retire the box. I know there are better ways to store the decorations but I’ve yet to make the move. You see, that old box has become a part of the tradition of trimming the tree. After all, it has the responsibility of holding the decorations all year long. And most of those decorations are priceless-not in the money sense of the word. Rather, in the memory sense. They each tell a story of a time or a place in our family history.
When I was first married, I bought a paint-by-number Christmas kit holding small wooden Christmas decorations complete with a small hole for the string to hang them on the tree and little plastic containers with the paint and two paint brushes. I started painting them late in the season. When Christmas came around some of the decorations were only painted on one side. That didn’t stop me from putting them on the tree. To this day, a few, like an elf and a teddy bear and reindeer are still only painted on one side. And that’s okay. They tell the story of a first Christmas of long ago. One of the wooden decorations is Mrs. Claus. We named her Giddy after my grandmother. They have the same, warm and happy smile. Their eyes are full of love and you get the sense they both share a passion for baking cookies.
The biggest item in the VCR box is the tree skirt. My mother made it for us years ago out of felt. In its younger days, it was bright red and the snowmen were pure white but the years have taken its toll. Some might have replaced it by now, trading it in for a new one. But I can’ do that. Every time that tree skirt is unfolded and put around the bottom of the tree, I envision my mother cutting out the pieces and putting them all together when we lived atop the funeral home.
There are elves in the VCR box. They look just like those elves on shelves but they aren’t. They’re just elves. They’ve never been hidden. They’ve never told Santa who has been good or bad. They’re just elves full of memories. They were my father’s; probably bought at Newberry’s or Grants. I know a few of the decorations came from Woolworths. My father told me he and my mother went shopping at that downtown store for decorations to put on their first Christmas tree. They are beautifully painted and their shapes are unique. I take extra care when I pack those decorations away in the VCR box. Each is wrapped in paper towels and newspapers as are the cookie dough Santas I purchased years back when I had a little store selling Hello Kitty and so much more. I couldn’t sell the Santas. I fell in love with them the minute I saw them. I did the same when it came to little horses and pigs made of cloth and placed inside half of a walnut shell, looking as if they’re in bed covered in a tiny little cloth blanket.
One decoration came straight from Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole. It wasn’t planned. It was an accident. Brian was maybe two or three. We didn’t notice him taking a red wooden heart off one of the decorated trees and putting it in the back of the stroller holding his youngest sister. Later, when we were leaving, we found the heart. We were way off in the parking lot and made the decision to keep the heart. I’m so glad we did. Every year when the red heart is on the tree, the story is told again about that day at Santa’s Workshop. I do believe Santa had lots to do with that memory.
So many decorations—so many memories like the decorations made in nursery schools where scribbles and colorings are considered Picassos and a handmade decoration with a reindeer drawn inscribed with “Gra-Gra Reindeer” extends the memory making to yet another generation. (My two grandchildren call me Gra-Gra).
There have been a few Christmases when I wasn’t in the mood for decorating the tree. To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for Christmas until I brought down the old VCR box and opened it up and found all those priceless, family stories waiting for me to get them out and hang them on the tree where they could be told and enjoyed again. The wooden ornaments painted years ago, some only on one side and one named after my grandmother, and a tree skirt made of felt that was showing its age and elves that were just your regular elves my father bought at Newberry’s or Grants and treasured ornaments my parents bought at Woolworths and cookie dough Santas and walnut shells turned into beds for miniature-sized horses and pigs and a red wooden heart direct from the North Pole selected by a little boy one summer day so very long ago and scribbles and colorings and so much more—they were all there waiting for me like they are every Christmas-like they were yesterday.
Soon there will be gifts under the tree. But there is no greater gift than the stories told by ornaments and treasures packed away in an old box that once held a shiny new RCA VCR.