T’is the season of festive ornaments. I have so many memories of a bright pine tree with a star on top, of the smell of fresh pine and sap in our living room (a bit of cold air lingering after my Dad brought the tree in through the front door), opening those special square white boxes of ornaments with careful (clumsy) child fingers, weaving new metal or string tree hooks into the ornament loops, setting out the wooden nativity scene (balancing them just right on the cotton base and pine needles under the tree), carefully hanging the tinsel strand by strand, and listening to the Anne Murray Christmas Album (record, not CD) and Boney M and their delightful blue and white album (Mary’s Boy Child, Let It Snow, Let It Be Christmas and many others that stir emotions in me every year like a small warm wind).
I have heard stories of how my mom’s Christmas tree in Switzerland had candles on it, and how when we were little, our Swiss-German tradition was that St. Nick brought not only our presents, but the whole trimmed Christmas tree. We would go to bed, and when our parents woke us up later that evening, we would get up and open our presents on Christmas eve (we thought it was the middle of the night, but my mom tells me now it was only late evening), finding them under the tree that was already all decorated. As we got older, we started bringing the tree home ourselves, just a few days before Christmas, and putting the decorations on ourselves. So many glass and wooden ornaments, some angels, white lights, and tinsel. And all the while, we would eat hazelnut star cookies, shortbread, oranges, nuts, Swiss chocolate, and many other goodies.
This afternoon I’ve been reading about how the tradition of ornaments started with Germany in the 16th Century and candlelit Christmas trees.. If they didn’t have a decorated tree, they sometimes built pyramids of wood and decorated them with tinsel and candles. In the 20th Century, German-Americans started decorating their trees with homemade ornaments such as apples, berries, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Once electric lights were invented, Christmas trees became a tradition in American homes.
Then this week I looked around my home, and realized how many ornaments I’ve purchased at Christmas or received as gifts that remain displayed in my home all year round. They have brought me peace in the summer, spring, fall AND winter. So last night I started looking up definitions of the word “ornament.” Here is my favourite so far: “something that lends grace, beauty, and festivity.” I like it because it fits with my own memorable items around my home, that I love all year in all seasons. This year it turns out I’m in love with traditional German decorations, as well as Scandinavian and Nordic. The German ones with coloured glass balls, tiny wooden carved winter scenes, and shimmering pine cones. The Scandinavian ones with their simple wooden bead decorations, paper stars, ceramic winter figurines, hand-painted balls, and more.
I really do love ornaments at Christmas. White, silver, elegant, colourful, glass, glittery, or shiny silver balls offering my memories back to me as an open gift in their small round reflections. But for the last few years, I have acquired several ornaments that seem to stick around all year long, bringing beauty in all the seasons. I have a red dove with a graceful glitter-lined neck made for me by a Library friend, an angel made with sheep’s wool from a fellow traveller in Iona, another red wooden angel from a Christmas Market of past years, and this year, yesterday in fact, I acquired two more ornaments that I dearly love–symbols of peace and simplicity for me.
My newest ornaments are hanging in my bedroom window, another hangs from a shelf near my desk, another on my wall across from my bed where I see it in pale yellow mornings. The ones on my window I picked it up a the Merry Market at 100 Kellogg Lane last weekend. Attending a friend’s holiday merry market booth, so cozy and filled with festivity where they were selling gorgeous Scandi and Boho ornaments by Tiny Hustle Co, I picked up two very pretty Scandinavian Leather ornaments. I love their soft beauty and simplicity. Circles of leather, with cream coloured wooden beads hanging in the centre. They remind me of a circle of peace, letting the light through. Looking at them centers me somehow. I know I won’t be able to put these away into a box. They are going to be bringing me joy in every season.
What are your remembered traditions? What are your favourite ornaments? Do you have any that you keep up in your home all year round, because they bring daily joy and a little Christmas into your life every day? If not, maybe this year, don’t put every single one away into storage. Maybe this year find one or two that fill your hear with peace and love and a sense of light and rightness, that symbolize something heartfelt to you, and keep them up all year round. Please share your own ornament stories in the comments below.
Maybe the whole year could be a season of ornaments and love. Goodness knows, we could really use a light-filled 2021.