When it’s Christmas tree time, the living room’s a mess. Even when we have a small tree like we do this year, it still becomes a mess. Furniture is moved. The tree is set up. Plastic tubs of ornaments are dug out of the closet and hauled into the room. Each ornament is unwrapped or un-boxed. Some of the ornaments are heavy, some light. Some are big. Some small. The right branch has to be found on which to hang each one so it has its moment of glory. Decisions, decisions ….
The ornaments have been collected over time. I usually know each one’s history. Together, they make a bigger story … some of my story, each ornament a short scene or a longer one. Or maybe even a chapter.
Ornaments for a tree are only part of the story-makers. So are other holiday traditions. I like to set out a Christmas dish given to me by my sister (a chocoholic) and fill it with chocolates. We’ve done a lot of chocolate munching together. Every year we receive a holiday wreath from my nephew and his wife. It always decorates the front door, surviving winds, rain, a delivery man who accidentally knocked it down and stepped on it. When we go to the home of one of my nieces, she has silly gifts for everyone, part of the fun, part of the tradition. Part of the stories.
Ornaments, decorations, and traditions definitely bring back special memories. They also can inspire the story-teller and writer in us.
For example, here’s a story generated by this ornament I bought at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival held in Ashland, Oregon.
Ashland is home to one of the finest Shakespearean, traditional, and experimental theater centers in the country. My parents retired to the small town and each year when I visited them I’d see as many plays as I could. One year my sister and I were there, and we invited our parents to see a production of Hamlet, uncut. My mother opted out and said, laughingly, she could sleep cheaper at home. But Dad who was in his late eighties by then wanted to go. I felt he’d probably fall asleep, but we’d have this theater-going experience to remember.
It was a beautiful production. However, after a day of exploring the Ashland area wineries and antique shops with my sister, and then sitting in that comfortable theater seat, I found myself fighting sleep big time. I looked over at my sister. She was yawning. I glanced at my dad who sat between us. His eyes were wide open and his lips were moving. Quietly, he recited the lines with the actor playing Polonius, the famous speech given to Laertes, the “to thine own self be true” speech. What’s this? He knows these lines by heart?
I kept moving around in the seat and managed to stay awake. I’m glad I did because I saw my dad recite lines and passages to himself for the remainder of the play. I was touched. Every time I hang this ornament, it reminds me of that night, the night I learned two things about my dad. First, that he knew so many lines from Hamlet. And second, how much he loved Shakespeare’s plays. It also reminds my sister and me of being so smug about who would fall asleep.
Below is a little red schoolhouse ornament given to me by my niece. It brings back events and students and people from my teaching career. Lots of stories here.
This “dessert” ornament reminds me of the time we met family members at the Cheesecake Factory for brunch and then shopping. We were at a packed mall just before Christmas. More stories. (The ornament was sold at the restaurant.)
The sewing machine ornament draws memories about working as a costumer for a production of Guys and Dolls. Among other things, I made fake fur stoles for the number “Take Back Your Mink.” Good, juicy backstage stories here.
The list goes on and on. What’s important here though are the stories generated by holiday decorations and traditions. They’re precious, unique, and special. Stories can always be passed down while everyone is sitting around the dining room table. Oral tradition is a wonderful thing. But written? They just might have a better chance of surviving.
Wishing you Happy Holidays! And happy writing!