“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
― Gustav Mahler
“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”
― L.M. Montgomery
Each year it’s always the same.
As the musty dusty boxes are brought down from the attic, a grand anticipation, filled with the buzzing of electricity, sweeps throughout the house. And despite the fact that I am the only one usually around bringing the boxes down from the dark recesses of the attic, praying I don’t fall down the stairs breaking anything vital to life and mobility, as that is now not merely a remote possibility but a more plausible concern, the anticipation is still just as grand.
The decorating of Christmas, or any holiday for that matter, has never been the great family affair as I suspect it is for other households. No helping hands or delegating of assignments here. The trimming of trees and the placing of festive garlands and boughs of holly was first the responsibility of my mother, and now the task has fallen to me. Of which is just fine and dandy by me as I enjoy the oohs and ahhs of family once they venture homeward feasting their eyes on my handiwork.
Yet I should confess that often there can be heard a bit of fussing and cussing on my part as I labor to “make merry”—all the while mumbling “what is the point of this. . .why do we do this every year. . .I’m getting too old for this. . .yada, yada, yada—the litany of complaints goes on and on. . . that is, until I finally plug everything in and flip every switch, standing back to bask in the glittery, sparkly, twinkly wonderment known as holiday magic.
I suspect a very big part of the reason as to why we, you and I, continue on with traditions such as tree trimming and decorating has a lot to do with a much deeper and more intrinsic reason than merely the marking of a particular day on a calendar.
For me there are three tiny important pieces to the holiday decorating puzzle, otherwise known as ornaments, which must always be the first to be pulled out from their tomb–otherwise known as their storage box. There had once been a few more of these “puzzle” pieces but the ravages of time, heat, cold and humidity have all taken their toll.
Each of these remaining treasured ornaments are handled as if by a curator who might be cradling some ancient manuscript or long past treasure merely minus the white gloves. Delicately unwrapping each sacred piece from the tissue paper, which has tightly protected these heirlooms for the past 11.5 months of the year, lovingly removing and now freeing each one.
The first precious treasure is a fragile tattered yellowing piece of paper which had been “colored” orange by a certain Crayola toting 3 year old sunday schooler from very long ago. It is marked with the printed words “Christmas is Jesus’ Birthday”. This is the first ornament which must don the tree each and every year as it proclaims the very reason as to why there is a tree for decorating in the first place.
The second treasure is a tiny broken plastic manger complete with a little bitty teeny tiny Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus joined by a couple tiny sheep thrown in for good measure. The manger is accented with a small gold shooting star which is now haphazardly reattached with wire. It is the first “gift” I can recall receiving outside of family gifts. A small token of a long ago and far away preschool sunday school Christmas party.
And lastly there is a small pink clay heart, complete with the prints of tiny fingers and thumbs now frozen for all eternity, topped off with a makeshift copper wire hanger.
My mother, in her inestimable wisdom, wrote my name across the heart along with the year, 1965 in a ball point pen. I was all of either 5 or 6 and we had made the clay ornaments at school as part of our Christmas festivities. It is a simple air dried old school brown piece of clay and therefore very fragile. As to why I would make a heart, painting it pink as a Christmas ornament, is beyond my soul, but the fact that it still survives is testament enough.
After I had moved away, married and started my own holiday traditions, I asked Mother if I could take those couple of ornaments with me as they were my link to all of my Christmases past. The life line connecting what was, what I was and to the now growing present and future of who I am and who I was to become.
That’s what Christmas is. . .it is a tie that binds.
It is the link to our past–it is our heritage as well as our inheritance—as adopted children, adopted through and by Grace, Christmas joins us, unites us, binds us to and with the birth of our only hope, our future, our salvation. And because we are an often forgetful lot, we need reminding of this, year after year as the joy becomes overwhelmingly new, refreshingly clear and abundantly miraculous.
And so, as I continue placing these dear treasures and precious pieces of my holiday puzzle on our tree after tree, year after year, I continue by adding new links to this puzzle of my life, pieces both past and future. One of my favorites being the dorito chip shaped reindeer made by my once 4 year old son. Each year, as I gingerly place this happy little reindeer on our tree, I feel the presence of a little boy, now grown man, excited, proud and awed to have his little pieces added to our puzzle of life’s continuum.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.