In 1990, my wife and I celebrated our first Christmas together. We were broke.
We had enough to eat, but I balanced our checkbook to the penny and we carried an uncomfortable balance on our credit cards.
We tried to save money wherever possible, including paying $ 8 to “cut your own” Christmas tree and then making decorations by painting wooden clothes pins.
Some of it worked, some of it didn’t.
Using paint, pens, and paper, my wife turned the clothes pins into horses and cowboys, which was very fitting for our first holiday season in Texas. That was a win.
The tree, however, didn’t turn out so well.
To save money, I nailed two pieces of wood in an X shape into the trunk as a makeshift stand. We had two cats at the time, strays that had wandered up on a co-worker’s porch. In the middle of the night, we heard a loud crash and, upon investigation, found the cats had crawled up the tree, knocking it over and breaking the precarious stand.
As my wife reminds me, I used colorful language to address both the cats and the tree at 2 a.m. as I forcefully tried to get the thing back in place. It didn’t work. The wood broke into pieces and I more or less propped up the tree in the corner for the rest of the season.
I don’t try to make wooden tree stands anymore, but we still have a few of those caballeros and horses in our decorations box.
In subsequent years, we added ornaments, stockings, and decorations that have come to represent different people and times in our lives. The ones that are fleeting remain in the storage box, but those with a strong tie seem to make it onto the shelf or tree, no matter how dated or damaged they’ve become.
It’s the same thing with gifts.
I don’t remember anything my wife and I exchanged that first Christmas. I’m sure it’s all long since disappeared. But over time we’ve given things – jewelry, clothing, sports equipment, etc. – that have become special. Not for value’s sake, but because they were thoughtful and hold memories better than we can just in our minds.
These gifts, along with all the decorations, act as positive memory triggers, and bring back a flood of warmth that is dearly welcome each year. My association with these things allows me to relive and recall some of the best people and times in my life.
The notion of things, particularly Christmas things, holding memories and being dear was brought home recently by Hurricane Harvey. As we mucked out my sister’s house, removing mud, walls, insulation, etc., we also threw away items that were stored at ground level and had been damaged.
Her ornament boxes were 24 inches tall and all filled with water. Items that had been carefully stored year after year were now floating in dirty water.
In the craziness of 15 people trying to cut out walls, tear out insulation, and get ruined furniture to the curb, my first inclination was to simply throw out all the Christmas things.
Thank goodness I didn’t. Things matter.
And at the time, most of her things, along with those of hundreds of thousands of other people in our area, were being thrown away.
My sister and her husband have the wherewithal to rebound. They don’t worry about paying bills, and their home is almost back to normal. Their traditions remain alive, and of course they, like everyone else affected by the storm, recognize that their health and safety is the biggest blessing. But no one wants to lose the treasures of the past, precisely because they link us to our past.
The items she was able to save are now more precious… and I bet they’ll be stored on higher ground in the years to come.
May the rest of your Christmas be merry and bright, and may wonderful memories flow from your decorations and items you’ve shared, even as you create more.
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