Sunday, December 14, 2008


My little ornamental tree


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around town. The tree lots are full of fresh-cut firs and pines. The malls are full of shoppers and families make special outings to pick this year’s tree. Around the city coloured lights shine heralding the Yuletide. In the line-up at the Supermarket, I browse through the display of magazines, their covers advertising the Christmas season. Family Circle, Better Homes showcase homes with ornate trees bedizened with extravagant decorations. Under dazzling branches are heaps of designer-decorated packages. I think of Christmas trees past. My Christmas trees. Although perhaps not so ornately decorated, they are distinctly memorable.

At home I open a box of photo albums and take a nostalgic trip to Christmases past. In a black-and-white photograph hand tinted by my mother is Tree Number One. My very first Christmas tree: spindly fir garlanded and hung with lots of tinsel and ornaments. Under its thin branches are the toys Santa has left. In front of the tree, on a little rocking chair, sits a large doll with a frilly bonnet and pink dress. Next to it is a doll crib filled with stuffed toys and more dolls. Two stockings hand on the red-brick fireplace behind it, one lumpy with fruit and candy, the other a store-bought stocking full of surprises. There are Christmas cards on the mantle.

In another photograph, taken several years later, there are two dolls in high chairs under the tree. Those must have been the dolls for my little sister and me that our mother lovingly sewed entire wardrobes for. Mine was a boy doll named Tommy. That year we also got a new sled with bright red runners.

Christmas display at Van Dusen Gardens

Every Christmas was magic when I was a child, a splendid family affair with a house full of visiting relatives and good cheer. Even when we grew older, each year at tree decorating time, it was s family get-together with Mom’s delicious Christmas cookies, ginger ale and popcorn which sometimes we stung for the tree. We dipped into the boxes of decorations and drew out the baubles. It was a time of nostalgia, because each ornament had its own little memory attached.

When I had children of my own the tree always had some of the decorations they had made: toilet-roll angels with cotton-batting hair and gold wings; egg-carton bells painted red and green, glued with sparkles; cut0out trees with sticker decorations. One year, when we lived in a house full of friends, we had a cookie-decorating contest. We baked sugar cookies, decorated them and hung them on the tree. The most elaborately decorated cookie won a prize. We saved the best ones. They lasted a year or two until the mice discovered them. Another year we set out a box of ribbons, glue, paper and sparkles and invited each guest to make a special decoration for our tree.

I still have a few of the old treasured ornaments, so every Christmas as I unpack the decoration box to trim my own tree I am filled with nostalgia, remembering Christmases past; the chenille wreaths from my childhood Christmas trees, the expensive silver and gold globes bought to decorate the first tree shared by my husband and I; our children’s special ornaments -- the little ceramic bells stamped “Woodwards” collected on their visits to Santa Claus; special little gift ornaments made by friends; little starched snow-flakes crocheted by my daughter; ethnic decorations from Mexico and China given to me by newcomers to this country.

Tree in the Art Gallery plaza, Vancouver

I always look forward to Christmas, especially to the tree decorating time, because of these special memories. Some of the old ornaments are getting tattered and tarnished. I usually have to part with a few. but each year I buy one new decoration so that when I trim the tree the following year there will be a new memory to add to the box of Christmas treasures. And while I’m trimming the tree I’ll be singing the old familiar song:
“Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches...”

Tree in Santiago Chile

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