Ornaments for a New Generation

I don’t know if it was the custom for my whole town, but in our extended family, we thought Santa Clause decorated the Christmas tree. Our whole family would pile in the car on a cold December Saturday morning in Western Pennsylvania and traipse around the Christmas tree farm to find the perfectly shaped tree. My mom liked them short and squat and full and inexpensive. Once home it stayed outside against the side of the garage until Christmas Eve. That’s when dad trimmed the lower branches, built the platform with crepe paper brick around the edges and placed the tree in the center. I can still remember the fragrance of the pine and the cold radiating from the branches. We carefully placed a plate of cookies and glass of milk nearby.

We weren’t wealthy and there were not extravagant gifts under the tree when we woke Christmas morning. But one of the miracles of Christmas for us kids was that while we slept, Santa decorated the tree with shining lights, colorful bulbs and sparkling tinsel. What a glorious sight! The track and fully functional train set under the tree each year brought hours of fun for the 2 weeks until January 6 when the tree came down each year. I was ten years old when I was allowed to stay up late and find out the secret, helping mom decorate the tree while dad assembled the train for my little brothers.

I decided long before I had a family of my own that this was not a tradition I would continue. I loved decorating the tree, loved sitting in the warm colorful glow of the lights, wanted to make the experience last much longer! So from our first married Christmas in 1978, we started decorating our Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend. That first Christmas we didn’t have a single ornament! So we went to a thrift store and bought a box of bulbs for fifty cents and spread them out around the tree and I cut up all of Cowboy Rick’s red and green super wide 1970s ties and made ornaments! As our family grew we either purchased or made our kids an ornament each year that meant something special to them so that they would have a tree full of ornaments when they moved out on their own. Decorating the tree was an event in our house. We created a party atmosphere with hot chocolate, cookies and snacks and everyone participated. And on the night we decorated the tree, each child received their ornament for the year—a special early Christmas gift. Sometimes they were all the same, like the year we visited the planetarium on the day we decorated the tree and bought crèche ornaments there or when they all got caged bird ornaments when we got our pet cockatiel. Joel got a car ornament the year he got his driver’s license and a drummer boy when he started playing drums; Debi got a blown glass cat the year she got her kitten and a German bumble ornament (her name means bee) when she was stationed in Germany. Ben’s was almost always sports related and he started a collection at 8 years old of the Hallmark basketball stars ornaments. I made book ornaments from the pages of their great-grandfather’s bible the year he passed away and dangling gilt pine cone ornaments from the pine cones we collected in Sequoia National Forest.

Even as they became older teenagers and adults, the tree decorating and ornaments continued and when spouses were added to the family, they got ornaments too. After thirty-four years of marriage I can say that all of the Christmas trees in the Brown family are unique and well decorated.

2012 has been a year of a lot of changes for our family as Cowboy Rick has battled cancer and we moved in together with our son and his family to have the support and care we felt were necessary. One of the blessings of this arrangement is being able to live in the same house with our first grandchild born earlier this year. What a pleasure it was to see the wonder on her face as she sat on the floor watching her parents decorate her first Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend. I watched Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson go onto the tree like so many years before. I saw the bird cage, the basketballs and footballs, the little crèche, a Steeler’s logo, several pianos, the pine cones, and the “Just Married” Lenox car that I had given my new daughter in law last year. Then out came a shopping bag and her parents presented little Sienna, just 7 months old, with her very own first ornament for the tree. “Sienna, where should we put this ornament?” her mom said, holding her close to the colorful tree. Her little fat fingers reached out for the shimmering lights that were reflecting in her eyes and this Grandma smiled. It’s a good tradition.

Written by Cindy Brown

Cinsababe’s on Ruby Lane