Friday, December 2, 2016

The Memory Tree

"Where's the glass fish from Chicago?" My daughter asked as we unpacked the Christmas ornaments Sunday. "And has anyone seen the tiny teapot from Chile?" I added. Each ornament carries a memory and so we search, find, reminisce and hang with purpose each year.

The family memory tree tradition, from my childhood, was featured in a 1970's  3/4 page news paper article. (My town was tiny enough for this to count as news). My parent's tradition of buying or finding an ornament on every trip, has now carried on to a third generation and it has been successful for several reasons.

You save money on souvenirs.

My family doesn't feel the need to buy $30 sweat shirts for everyone to prove we've been to Philadelphia. We buy our mini Liberty Bell for six or seven dollars, and treasure it, years after everyone would have grown out of the  shirts. We take lots of pictures and video, but in terms of tangible objects, it is usually just something that fits into one pocket. Spend less, travel light and see more sites.

The Search is Fun!

The quest for the perfect ornament on each trip feels like a treasure hunt. We look past most of the things in gift shops and focus on something that  would work as an ornament, like a small toy or a key chain. We may spend several weeks traveling to many states, but we are in search of thing that will represent our trip, something that we love. We've found  a tomahawk from the Smokeys, a tiny sock monkey from Vermont, and a celtic knot from Ireland.

Found objects are our often favorite things. My son found a piece of driftwood on a walk in Niagara Falls, NY that looks like a shepherd's crook. We collected a few sea shells from the beautiful shores of Tonga that now hang on our tree.

Happy memories bring more happiness.

We write the name of place and year on (the back or bottom of) each ornament and so as we decorate the tree we remember and discuss the trips we took. This is not a commercial tree to be admired once or twice for matching glass balls, but a meditative experience. During December, I often find myself staring and reflecting on the time I've spent with family, the amazing things I've experienced, and it brings me a great deal of gratitude and satisfaction.

Eclectic Tree give a home to odd-ball ornaments.

When I walk into someone's home and they have a tree decorated with nothing but pink balls ornaments and burgundy ribbon, I wonder what they've done with all the ornaments they've received from church and work ornament exchanges or gifts. What happened to all the homemade ornaments the children brought home from elementary school? Were they all tossed or put into indefinite storage because they didn't fit in?  Having a memory tree gives a home to all sorts of styles. Variety adds interest.

The Holidays are about People

My father-in-law died right before the holidays, last year, and we were overwhelmed at the number of collections he had, one of which was a wooden duck collection. Rather than feel the need to keep all of his things, we took a very small duck, put an eye screw on the back, and now each time we see it on the tree, we think of him and remember that "grandpa collected ducks."

My former teacher,and good friend, Jean, made homemade ornaments for my children for years. I think of her every time I look at the tree. Christmas should bring us closer to distant dear ones and their memories. Even if these aren't souvenir ornaments, they're still an important part of having a memory tree.

I create visual unity by by using red ribbon on most of the ornaments. And I use plenty of handmade, repeated ornaments too; (stay tuned for ideas on home made decorations.)

Decorating a memory tree brings more thought and meaning to the season and has become a favorite tradition of mine. In case of fire, I'm grabbing the ornaments.

1 comment:

  1. I just read a book, The Ornament Box, by Philip Done that I think you would love. It tells a beautiful, fairly short story about a man who goes to help his mother put up Christmas since she's been so busy caring for his sick father that she hasn't had time. As they remove each ornament, there is a story that always gets told. I loved it and hope to read it every Christmas!