When I was little, I believed that all of the Christmas decorations and ornaments slept in their boxes dreaming of the moment when they would be lovingly unpacked for the holiday. Deep in their sleep, they waited in anticipation for the motion of their boxes being lifted down, the light spilling in as the flaps were opened, the rustle of tissue paper being lifted out. Each had a face, each a personality, and I would greet each one as a beloved and dearly missed friend as they yawned and stretched and woke to the holiday.
Things haven’t changed much. There’s a part of me that still believes it, that always will. It can’t be only my anticipation I feel as I begin to unpack the trappings of Christmas. Surely the ornaments contribute their own measure of excitement. How could they not?
Such familiar faces. Our tree, in particular, carries a wildness, a free-spirited personality created by the varied ornaments. Theme trees are not my thing unless memory is a theme. Each of our ornaments has a story, a history. Some of the bulbs have been handed down to me from my parents and graced the trees of my childhood. Others were purchased new because of a particular look. Others came from antique stores, and a few very special ones came to me from a 73-year-old friend who inherited them from her great-aunts. There are ornaments that remind me of pets past and present; several in memory of a particularly sweet-natured Pony of the Americas I once knew named Applejack. There are many different birds, winged pigs, and Mouse Kings(my favorite character from “Nutcracker”). There are handmade ornaments made by friends and a wonderful Yeti purchased from a charity. There is my very first Christmas stocking, a fairy made of pink netting, and a Santa with a pine cone body — all of them given to me in 1957, the year I was born. And there is a pewter heart of Celtic knotwork given to me this year to commemorate a long-term friendship.
I enjoy sharing the joy of opening these boxes, setting out the decorations, hanging the ornaments. Usually, it’s just Ed and I who do this, although in the past my step-kids have joined in and once we were fortunate enough to be joined by Paul Alexander, one of our former Coast Guard sponsor cadets, who loves Christmas as much as I do (which is saying a lot).
But when it comes to winding things down, to bringing out the boxes and carefully laying the ornaments to sleep for another year, I prefer to do it by myself, all alone. I like quiet and to take my time, to say goodbye to each old friend as the tissue paper folds back around them for another year. Every ornament is carefully packed and gently stowed, layer upon layer. I can almost feel sleep descending upon them. There are those who complain, those who (like children on Christmas Eve) aren’t ready to lay down their heads for that long winter’s nap.
And when it’s done, when every last light and ribbon and sparkle is put away until next year, the house echoes with Christmas like the aftermath of a party. It’s a melancholy sound, but a hopeful one as well as they shift in their paper beds, snuggle down together, and dream of next year. I, too, will dream and look forward to that moment when the calendar shifts to December, the boxes emerge, and the lids raise on magic.