Christmas Ornaments, Memories, and Me.

I often feel like I’m experiencing teenage angst these days…at the age of 52. I’m trying to figure out who I am, what I like, and what I’m like. As a photographer, I’ve been trying to find my voice, my style, my “brand”.  And like most teenagers, more often than not, I fall into comparison which usually ends up making me feel like I should just quit.

Most of my life for the past 21 years has been devoted to being a full-time mom…which I’ve loved, but recently I’ve been switching gears, and it’s taking a long time to get going. My gear-shifting has been marked by questioning and second-guessing myself and by feeling a bit stuck.

Some clarity has come from an unlikely source–my Christmas decorations.

My daughter, Kerri, was recently asked what she likes most about the holidays. She replied, “I love that my mom always decorates the same way every year. As I “undecorated” my home after Christmas this week, I thought about Kerri’s comment and about how I decorate for holidays and how I decorate my home in general. The answer to both questions is always the same–I choose my decorations because they mean something to me; they remind me of someone, someplace, or something I hold dear. All of the artwork in my living room was painted by artist-friends, and I think of them every time I look at my art. I like pretty things, but I like pretty, memory-packed things more. At Christmas I’d rather decorate with something that ushers me back in time, that makes me feel something, than with whatever is new and in.  I’m sentimental, nostalgic, and driven by meaning, and I love the feeling of comfort and security that familiar things and traditions bring.

That one little comment Kerri made was a huge game-changer for me. It was as if a lens in my life came into focus and allowed me to see myself a little more clearly. I can’t really tell you how much looking at my Christmas decorations has helped me to figure out “me,” so I’ll show you instead.

I found the advent box below at a TJ Maxx about ten or twelve years ago. I got it to use with  a poster I got from World Magazine which pictures twenty-five events from creation through the birth of Jesus. The idea is to talk about one event per day beginning on December 1. My daughters and I searched the house for items that could represent the scriptures and event for each of the 25 days leading up to Christmas. One of our favorite items is behind door number seven. It’s Jacob’s “ladder” which my husband constructed with toothpicks and glue. Though my  daughters don’t argue over who gets to open the door each morning, and though we don’t do a big production each day when we open the door, we still like our December tradition. It helps us remember why we celebrate Christmas.

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We have a collection of cobalt blue ornaments that we put on our tree every December 7. When we hang them, we each share a memory of our sister-like friend, Libby, who is now in Heaven. It’s a bittersweet time filled with tears and laughter. I love the way the blue stands out on our tree, just like sweet Libby stands out in all of our memories.

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I got our stockings when we only had one child, and I bought extras for those we hoped would come along. They always hang in front of the fireplace under the lighted garland my grandmother handed down to me when I moved into my first apartment after I graduated from college…in 1985.

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Several years ago I came across old family photos and decided to restore them and create Christmas ornaments as a gift for my parents. While I was at it, I made some for me. In addition to the tree we have in our living room, I have a small “Family Tree” in my office adorned with pictures of my children, parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. It’s my favorite tree because when I look at it I know I belong to someone. I’m reminded that I’m loved, and that I have a history.

This is my mom when she was about five. Isn’t she adorable? You should see her now; she’s just as cute.

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These are my mom’s parents on their wedding day. My grandfather was a practical, organized, and conservative man who had a twinkle in his eye and loved to be a bit mischievous. My grandmother was the life of the party. She WAS the party. She knew how to make everyone feel loved and she made some DELICIOUS sticky buns, too.

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See that ADORABLE three-year-old on the left? YEP, that’s me. I’m on my grandmother’s back porch with my great-grandmother and my younger sister, Becky. How I loved my Bubba. I loved drinking hot tea with milk and sugar with her as we folded laundry. Bubbba had a thick Hungarian accent and the longest, silkiest hair. I loved when she took it down and let me brush it. I still have one of the decorative combs she used to put it up.

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That handsome guy in the car…that’s my dad when he was about five. My dad is the most dependable and caring guy I know, and yes, like my mom, he’s still that cute.

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This dashing couple is my dad’s parents on the day they got engaged! My grandmother is still alive and doing well at 96. She’s a Yankees and Cowboys fan, but I still love her! She is quite a woman. When my grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, she cared for him in their home until he passed away. Her dining room became his bedroom, and she served him with amazing love and devotion mixed in with a good amount of feisty, too. If Nana wants you to do something, go ahead and do it, because you’ll end up doing it anyway. No use wasting time arguing with her.

Xmas_0049 My Nana made one of these bead ornaments for each of her grandchildren. She was crafty as well as feisty. I love seeing my girls baby pictures on my tree each year. Reminders of how quickly time passes.

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This is a picture of my aerobics class (family) that I teach at the country club. We’ve been together for almost twenty years. This ornament was created in memory of a dear member, Cassell, who lost his fight with cancer two years ago.

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When we were in college at UVA, my husband and I went to see It’s A Wonderful Life at Wilson Hall each year. There were always long lines and seeing that movie at UVA was an interactive experience. One of the first ornaments my parents gave us for our tree was this one.

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After my mom’s dad passed away, I was given this ceramic Christmas tree. It is my FAVORITE Christmas decoration; it reminds me of being in my grandparents house for holidays.

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When my girls were young, I got this plastic nativity scene for them. They spent significant time playing with these little people, and now my special little friends, who I sometimes get to babysit, like playing with it too.

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Tom Barnes is one of my favorite artists, but more importantly, he and his wife, Gail, are dear, dear friends. I was blessed to receive this framed Christmas painting one year. I always put it wherever I’m going to be the most. This year it was on my desk.

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Last, but not least, this is a nativity set that my feisty, crafty grandmother made for me. She took a ceramics class once and proceeded to produce one of these sets for each of her family members. The stable was handmade by my uncle, and I’ve never seen a nativity scene quite like this one. Crafted in love representing the birth of the Author of Love.

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What about you? Do you have special holiday decorations or traditions that really tell as much about who you are as they do about the holiday? I’d love to hear about some of them! Leave me a comment or post on this blog post thread on my Melanie Wasko Photography FB page.

5 thoughts on “Christmas Ornaments, Memories, and Me.

  1. This was wonderful! I feel like I know you a little bit better (something I’ve always hoped for) for having read it. I know it sounds silly, but I always divide our tree up into quarters. The front I devote to things about the Lord – little Nativity ornaments, angels, crosses, etc. The left side features things that highlight Jessica – ornaments with her picture or name on them, and the right side the same with Joshua which, of course, also includes Marine items or wooden soldiers. The back side gets filled with fictional decorations like Santas, snowmen, etc. Then all over I have snowflakes; small ones near the top and the biggest ones at the bottom. All ornaments at the bottom are also unbreakable because of the cats. Plus I have a myriad of JOY ornaments that I scatter throughout like the snowflakes. Some are cross-stitched, others painted or have a stained glass look, or are Hallmark ornaments with JOY as part of the design. I also like to decorate by placing beautiful or meaningful Christmas cards we’ve received around in various spots like on the fireplace mantel. I used to have stockings that an aunt had made for me as a child, and later for Jessica and Joshua. But she has long been gone and my ancient one had gotten quite worn, so Jessica decided she wanted to make stockings for each of us using counted cross-stitch patterns. She even made one for Joshua’s wife as her first Christmas present to Amy. One other thing I do is put up some of my advent calendars. I don’t put them all up as there are quite a few of them – my dad started giving me one from every country he visited on every Naval cruise/duty he was assigned. I have some really old ones from Germany, Italy Spain, and even one from Israel. Then when Kaynee’s mom found out I collected them, she would give me a new calendar every December. So, needless to say, I have quite a few. But with the kids gone, I don’t open them all up anymore.

    1. Thanks Joy. I loved hearing about your traditions. What a great idea to divide the tree into sections, and I LOVE idea of JOY ornaments, too. thanks so much for sharing. Those Advent calendars must be very special. What a meaningful gift from your dad!

  2. This was such a perfect tribute to family (with quite the fitting description of Nana!). I love how decorations have such special meaning. Glad you shared this!
    Love,
    Jacki

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