The title of this article names two of my favorite things. Julie Andrews didn’t sing about these, but she should have. Christmas trees and good stories are a part of an American tradition. Stories have been around as long as people have and Christmas trees have been sold in America since 1850. At our house, I have found a way to mesh these two things and I would not have it any other way.
As newlyweds in 2000, we were a one income family. I was in graduate school and my tastes in Christmas décor outweighed our budget, so we strung tons of lights on the tree and made cinnamon ornaments whose aroma filled the house. We started out with one “real” ornament that we bought commemorating Y2K and the year we married. Both of my grandmothers gave us an ornament for the tree that year. Per tradition, my mother bought us both ornaments and gave them to us on Christmas eve. So, when we dismantled the tree that year, we had a grand total of 5 real ornaments and a few dozen cinnamon ones.
I knew the meaning behind each ornament and where it had come from, so I decided to start my/ our own tradition of a Christmas ornament journal; however, if I depended on Mark to write them down, the tradition would end. I wrote down a description of those real ornaments and who gave them to us, along with the year. As the months sped toward Christmas 2001, I decided that it would be a slow process, but I wanted every ornament on our tree to be a meaningful one. That meant that the tree may look bare to the eyes, but it would be filled with memories and stories.
By the next Christmas, we had traveled and as keepsakes, we bought ornaments. Our family had grown to include a 5 year-old, so there were some handmade ornaments as well. I was teaching, so some of my gifts were ornaments. I wrote the descriptions and the names of the students who had gifted me with these. The stories were growing and the tree was not looking so bare.
Fast forward to Christmas 2018, there are barely enough branches to hold the wonderful ornaments that we have collected over the years! My grandmothers gifted me many of their ornaments, some of the same that my parents hung on their trees when they lived at home. They wanted new ornaments; I wanted their old ones. It was a fair trade.
As we unwrap our ornaments every year, we remember people and places. My daughter’s first trip to Washington, D.C. was commemorated by a ruby slipper ornament from the Smithsonian. She could not wait to see Judy Garland’s famous shoes. There is a Conastoga wagon that we bought in DeSmet, South Dakota when we visited Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead. There’s a football jersey emblazoned with our son’s football number. The Boyd’s Bear Barn in Gatlinburg may be gone, but we have proof that it existed. One of our daughter’s pacifiers is tied on the tree with ribbon. There are a few flower pics and some tulle from our wedding. We have black lab ornaments and basset hound ornaments. This year, we added a Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to the journal. There are several camera ornaments and one really cool typewriter given by a friend. It’s not a tree that you’ll ever find on the pages of Southern Living, but it tells the story of our lives perfectly.
Next year, I may have to start a second story tree, but the tradition will remain the same. Years ago, when we were packing to run from a hurricane, I made sure to pack a navy and white journal that listed my treasured ornaments, along with each child’s birthday party theme for every year and their “big” Christmas gifts. My husband makes fun of this nerdy trait frequently, but there is nothing sweeter to me than the combination of good stories and Christmas trees.
Cinnamon ornament recipe
· Insert ribbon through holes and tie to hang. Decorate with opaque paint markers, found in arts and crafts stores, if desired.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.