Decorating our Christmas tree is somewhat of a bitter-sweet activity for me.
Don’t get me wrong… I love it. I love sitting in the glow of the lights, sipping a cup of tea or hot cider in the silence after the kids are in bed, or with some favourite Christmas music softly playing. I love the smell of the real tree, the fresh pine (okay, technically it’s spruce) scent that always surprises me when I awake the first morning after we put it up. Even the long trek to Gramma & Grampa’s house with the kids to pick out our tree from their grove has become a tradition (15 years now!) that I would miss.
And then there are the handy gadgets that my ever-practical husband has added – the siphon watering system (no more needle scratches!) and the oh-so-fun ornament that turns the lights on dim, brighter, and brightest. You can imagine the (mis)use it gets in the hands of children.
But the most magical part of it all is the decorating. I grew up in a family where it seemed every ornament on the Christmas tree told a story. The giant red balls that were the first ornaments my newly-wed parents had on their tree. The ornament with Mount Rundle on it, purchased during a family summer vacation to Banff. The ancient (or so it seemed) ones that once hung on my grandmother’s tree. The delicate, clear glass ones from my piano teacher. The satin-covered-plastic balls my brothers and I were allowed to hang… the kind that, once a thread came loose, were great fun to use as bowling balls. Just hold the end of the thread with one hand and toss the ball with the other. You could weave a multi-coloured web in the living room if you were lucky enough to find loose ends of varied colours.
Each year my mother purchased an ornament in our travels, near or far. It seemed a bit silly in July… this thinking about Christmas already. But it made for great memories when we pulled them out year after year to hang. “Hey, remember this one…” and “Oh yeah, I’d almost forgot…” would fill the room. It was particularly special the year we were old enough to hang one of those precious big red balls.
My mom has continued this tradition with my kids. They each have their own box of ornaments. Some are ones they’ve made at school, some are gifts, but most are from my mom. Sometimes I have remembered to write a note in the box describing memorable moments from that Christmas. Sometimes I have forgotten. But the kids love the ornaments just the same, and the room fills with “Oh yeah… !” and “I remember this one…” again.
It’s an angel… made from the end of one of my great-grandmother’s soup-spoons. Her initial is stamped into the handle. A very talented artisan made it at my mom’s request. It’s perfect.
But the most treasured ornaments, the ones no one else but me ever gets to hang, are the ones in memory of my brother and my son. This is where the bitter-sweet part comes in..
My brother, Steve, was a coffee drinker. When he came home for Christmas one year with a bag of freshly roasted beans from the little place down the road from his school, we all immediately fell in love. Pot of Gold Coffee … it’s the best. I still drink a cup of it every morning.
Put this together with the value Steve placed on relationships, and it’s a perfect match. Do you know the story of the prof who filled a big jar with large rocks, then filled in the spaces with smaller rocks, then pebbles, and then sand? It’s been around for a long time, and there are many versions. My favourite is where the prof finishes by dumping two cups of coffee into the jar. The moral? Fill your life with big rocks, the important things first. But no matter how full your life is, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a friend.
That was Steve.
And then there’s my little Nathan. If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll have met him here.
Today is his birthday. He would have been five years old.
I bought this ornament while he was still alive and kicking in my belly. It was (and still is) the most difficult and most beautiful ornament I’d ever bought… a baby in the arms of an angel. The image still gives me comfort, even if I do get teary-eyed when I hang it.
<deep breath> I still miss him.
I buy him a Christmas / birthday gift every year. One that I think he would enjoy receiving if he were here to hang his own ornaments on our tree. This year it was Lego – a rescue helicopter. Hey, with a dad and brother like he has, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Lego would have featured prominently for Nathan this Christmas.
The kids wrapped their gifts for each other a few days ago. (Toy drives don’t like it when you pre-wrap the gifts for them… so I was off the hook there)
I kinda hope Nathan gets to see where his gift ends up. I hope he gets to watch the child open it and see a smile on their face. And I pray it brings that child joy and blessings that are more than I can ask or imagine.
The boy I bought it for sure did.