By Holly Lange, Visitor Center Ambassador
This time of year, the shops are brimming with shiny new decorations and gifts, and we all get a little tempted to “update” our holiday décor. The latest trend appears to be the “winter whites”, and even pastel colors. Although the latest and greatest can be a good thing, I’d like to take you back to a time when the holidays were about dusting off the heirlooms and being creative.
When I was a kid, I loved this time of year. My parents kept all of our decorations in these old leather trunks and suitcases that belonged to my grandfather. When I saw the old black suitcase with the airline stickers pasted all over it, it was officially Christmas. I liked to be the one to open the first case – to push those little brass latches, making them “pop” open. The case always smelled like old paper (one of my favorite smells – like an antique book), because, of course, we re-used the tissue packing material year after year (even though all of its protective qualities had long since been exhausted). Unwrapping the first ornament was always a thrill. Would it be one of the basic ones, or one of my favorites – like a beautiful glass bird with those filament tail feathers? Of course, I had to be very careful. I was always amazed that I was allowed to handle something so fragile, more fragile than anything else in the home I would not normally be allowed to touch, and yet, because it was Christmas, I was honored with this special permission. I took the responsibility seriously.
Of course, the Christmas tree was the star of the show. Dad would spend about an hour untangling the lights (trying not to swear too much in front of us as he was doing so), and then carefully place them in the innermost sections of the tree. We would do our part, too. For days, we would assemble the paper chains using construction paper. The tree was filled with beautiful antique ornaments, side-by-side with our home-made treasures (like a yarn “person” made with a Lifesaver packet – which my baby sister tried to eat back in the day – and by that point they were ten year old Lifesavers).
It never seemed strange to us, the random assortment of creatures, shapes and colors on our tree. Some were true treasures, valuable, fragile, special, and some were just fun. My favorite was a little plastic cylindrical ornament with a little gold “fan” on the inside. If you placed it over one of the twinkle lights, the heat would make the fan spin. I loved that if you studied the tree carefully, you would see some of the ornaments dance like that, throwing little fireflies of light around the room. We had a brass candle holder with the little pinwheel at the top, too. Little angels would dangle from the blades and as it spun, they would hit these tiny chimes, speeding up as the air below got warmer. That was another favorite.
The fire crackling in the fireplace, Vince Guaraldi on the record player, the chimes from the angels, the vintage velveteen Santa with black rubber boots and a music box that played “Jingle Bells”, and the sound of crumbled tissue paper being put back into the case, along with the sharp smell of the tree and the gingerbread men: these were the sounds and smells that I looked forward to all year long. At least for a few magical years, the best part of all was that we worked on it together. We had nowhere else to be, and nothing more important to do than to transform our living room into a sparkling, colorful, cacophonous tribute to the season.
A few new items were always welcome, however. Every year we would delight in the new ornament for that year, because we knew it was soon to be a part of the family of memories stored in that old leather suitcase with the airline stickers. The new would blend with the old, seamlessly. That is my wish for you this holiday season, to honor the old traditions and make new ones, and to remember that that joy for a child is not in just watching you buy the new stuff, but being a part of a tradition they’ll cherish for decades to come.