Happy December! Today was the day my husband and I (and Max) put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. Now, if you’ve read Handmade Holidays, it’s likely this blog post will not surprise you, but there’s a story behind our tree.

Well, not the tree itself, though there’s a story behind that, too.


This year’s ornament, a handmade wooden sea turtle ornament we got in Hawai’i.

Many years ago, I was very much like Nick in Handmade Holidays. I was living on my own in a tiny bachelor apartment, and I was working retail, and I was facing yet another Christmas flying solo. Unlike Nick, it wasn’t the first time, but like Nick, it was the first time since I’d gotten an apartment of my own, so on my lunch break at work, I stopped by the Christmas store in the mall, on Christmas Eve, and got a floor-model tree on a deep discount. I took it home on the bus (that was exciting) and I dragged it into my apartment, and then I opened the box, set it up, and…

…realized I had no ornaments. What I did have was a box of candy canes. And so that’s what ended up on the tree that year. It was, in no uncertain terms, kind of pathetic looking. But a friend gave me a cross-stitched ornament that year at our gathering of friends with nowhere to go party (often called “Christmas for Losers” or “Christmas for Misfit Toys”—yep, there’s a lot of semi-biography in Handmade Holidays). So, by the time the season was over, I had a few candy canes left (I ate most of them) and one ornament.

The next year, just like Nick, I bought a box of plain white ornaments and ribbon to hang on the tree, and tinsel, and lights and a tree-topper. And as luck would have it, a friend gave me an ornament as a gift that year, too—a little mouse with a typewriter, commemorating how a creative writing prof had told me my sample pieces were “trite” and “common” and denying me entry into his class—and thus the tradition of nostalgia ornaments began.


Also? This Scarecrow a friend sent from Kansas.

Years went by. I picked up an ornament each year, and as friends learned of my tradition, often a few ornaments as gifts appeared, too. When I met my husband-to-be, and we moved in together, we had two trees to set up: a theme tree (how he always did Christmas) and my nostalgia tree (decidedly less thematic). But that year, I tucked a little glass frog ornament into his stocking, and we put it on my tree in the morning.

More years went by, and once we got Coach (rest in peace, buddy), we realized we didn’t have room for two trees, but by then, my husband had about as many ornaments that we’d gotten together as my ornaments from before that, and so we just put up the nostalgia tree.

More years. Somewhere in here came the year we decorated the tree together (often pausing to smile and say things like, ‘Oh, that’s the year we renovated the library!’ or ‘Our trip to New York!’) and realized the tree didn’t need any filler ornaments at all. We had a tree completely full of our own memories, and friends, and our chosen family, and it was so completely affirming it’s possible I wept a bit. (Not movie-hero crying, either, we’re talking sudden emotional snot-bubble blubbering crying, where you get all splotchy and you can’t catch your breath and then you’re laughing because happy crying is so confusing and who does that?)

That old tree? It’s still in the basement. It’s so ugly now, and it barely holds together. I’m not sure why I kept it even after we got a pre-lit tree, nor why I kept it after that pre-lit tree died and we got another pre-lit tree (which was also larger). I suppose it’s one of the few ways I’m sentimental.


This year’s tree, fully decorated.

This larger tree still has room, even when we put every ornament on it. But we don’t need tinsel, and we don’t need filler ornaments. There are handmade and thumbprint ornaments from the small people in our lives (handmade gifts have heart, as Ru would say), and some of the ornaments make us laugh out loud and others—like the ones we got each year we had Coach with us, or the ones given to us by friends no longer with us—made us sniffle.

But that tree is full. I think back to that younger version of myself dragging home that tree on the bus without realizing he had zero ornaments, and how he was trying so hard to make something new for himself, and how now, decades later, he succeeded.

I’m so lucky. We’re so lucky.

Happy Christmas.

6 thoughts on “Ornamental

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