Many years ago, I owned a pair of super-tacky socks with a pattern of bells on them. Called “the Jingle Socks,” every year I’d pop them on, call it “donning my gay apparel” and then decorate my Christmas Tree. Alas, they died a few years ago—my husband would say something different than “alas,” probably something closer to “Oh thank the gods!”—and the sock part of the tradition fell by the wayside.
Until this year.
A wonderfully talented friend knitted new Jingle Socks for me, and they have real bells on them! So, I tugged them on this year before we started decorating the tree, and as you can see Max thought they were very, very interesting—this was worrisome, but he ended up behaving, thankfully. They go up to my calves, where they have points and even more bells, but it’s freezing so I’m still wearing jeans over them. Just trust me, they’re awesome.
Those of you who read “Handmade Holidays,” and those of you who’ve read my blogs over the years, will likely already know about my ornament tradition, but if you don’t know the story, I tend to re-tell it when the tree goes up, and today the tree went up, so here we go!
Unlike Nick in “Handmade Holidays,” I didn’t get a Christmas Tree of my own right away. I waited until I was twenty-one, but when I did, I made the same silly mistake Nick makes at the start of the story: I bought a tree, but no ornaments. Like Nick, I decorated with candy canes that first year, but also a friend who did cross-stitch included a cross-stitched ornament in all her Christmas Cards, so I had one ornament to pop onto the tree. The next year, I had my plain, boring dollar-store white ornaments to fill up the tree alongside candy canes and lights—I still have a few of those white ornaments left—and that year, I’d tried to get into a university creative writing course and…
Well. The prof told me my writing was “trite,” “common,” and a few other words I don’t remember as well, and I was kind of crushed. A friend bought me a little ornament of a mouse with a typewriter, just starting to type a letter to Santa, and inside the card he wrote the rest of the letter and the mouse was requesting a new creative writing professor. (Fun fact: that prof still only has one book published. I’ve published four novels, six novellas, one collection, and dozens of short stories. Just sayin’.) That ornament got the novella-treatment in “Handmade Holidays” as a the second ornament Haruto gives Nick, albeit in the fictional version, the mouse is ceramic and the paper has “Once Upon a Time” on it, rather than “Dear Santa.”
At that point, the tradition had begun. I collected an ornament every year—sometimes more—and every year, just like Nick, my tree had more reminders of how far I’d come. The tradition of it expanded—often I played the very same ornament game Nick and the rest of the Misfit Toys play in “Handmade Holidays”—and once I was in a position to go on holidays, I’d seek out ornaments whenever I traveled. After I met my future husband, I tucked a small glass frog ornament into his stocking on our first year together—prior to me, he’d only ever had themed trees—and we’d put up two trees: a themed tree for him, and my nostalgia tree. By the time we adopted our first Husky, Coach—that year we got a Husky ornament, naturally—there were so many ornaments about us that decorating the tree wasn’t a my nostalgia thing, but an our nostalgia thing, and given the dog’s bed took up the spot of a tree, we stopped putting up a themed tree all together.
Given the last two years, we haven’t added any vacation ornaments—hello, pandemic!—but we did get a lovely snowflake last year which, upon a longer glance, one realizes is made up of “Fuck 2020!” in cursive (cursing cursive!) rotated to make the pattern. This year, however, we donned our masks after being double-vaxxed and hit the Christmas Shop in Merrickville, and found something truly special. I think we can all agree it’s the best thing that ever happened to a Christmas tree.
It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the fictional “Rainbow Unicorn Kitten” ornament from “Handmade Holidays,” and when I saw it, I made a face that inspired my husband to just pick it off the shelf and walk to the counter with it. He’s a keeper, that guy.
So! That’s this year’s ornament, and the inspiration for where “Handmade Holidays” originally came from. If you put up a tree in your house, I’d love to know: is it a Nostalgia Tree, or a Themed Tree, or some other form (or combination thereof?) And if you haven’t checked out “Handmade Holidays” yet, I’m taking part in a “Canadian Christmas Romance Under $5” deal with a whole bunch of wonderful Canuck Authors, and you can see all the titles—”Handmade Holidays” included—at that link.
At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.“Handmade Holidays,” by ‘Nathan Burgoine
A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born.
As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.
Of course, Nick might have already missed his shot at the one, and it might be too late. Still, after fifteen Christmases, Nick is ready to risk it all for the best present yet.