Despite the hectic pace of the holiday season — and the to-do lists that seem to grow with each passing day — there is one Christmas tradition that I eagerly anticipate: becoming re-acquainted with the decorations.
There’s a process to this yearly madness. Joe passes boxes to me from the attic and shed, and I place these in piles around the living room. It’s almost like Christmas morning as we open each box and say things like, “I forgot we had this!” or “Remember this one?”
From my small collection of my grandmother’s ornaments (at the top of this post) to Joe’s Wishnik Santa Claus, a childhood gift from his own grandmother, each decoration has a story to tell — and Christmas gives us a chance to visit with these old friends of ours.
No decoration, though, is as special to me as my nativity, which is stored in a cabinet in the house, away from heat and humidity. This is a friend I take very good care of — and this is the story of my nativity.
To begin, we must first travel back to 1960, when my parents were first married. Here is a photo of their first Christmas tree, decorated with ornaments and carefully placed tinsel. At the base, notice the crèche — and remember it.
That’s the same crèche they had when I was born, that traveled with them when they moved to a Long Island suburb, that they had when my sister was born, that they had through all of the ups and downs, sadnesses and happinesses that make a life.
While glass ornaments have broken over the years, this crèche has remained — and setting it up was a family event: unpacking the structure, unwrapping the figurines, and my sister and I taking turns placing all of the pieces in their places. Jesus was kept aside until Christmas morning.
It’s the crèche I left behind when I met Joe and moved in with him.
This brings us to Christmas 1989, when my parents presented me with a box, one that — once opened — would become the most special, most cherished, of all Christmas decorations.
Inside, a structure — identical in shape and size to the crèche that sat under my parent’s Christmas tree.
My father built this one using branches from the maple tree in the front yard of my childhood home, using their own crèche for all of the specific measurements and design.
Next came the figurines, each wrapped individually in soft tissue paper, each one hand-made, hand-painted, and antiqued by my mother in her ceramics class to match the figurines in their crèche.
Ever since receiving this priceless gift, I look forward to its unwrapping and placing it under the tree, and keeping Jesus hidden until Christmas morning. While glass ornaments have broken over the years, this crèche has remained — except for a shepherd. Our dog, Murphy, chewed him up when she was a puppy.
My mother, thankfully, made a new shepherd in her ceramics class. Now, the tale of Murphy and the shepherd has been added to my nativity story, and each year, when we unwrap the crèche, we get to say, “Remember when Murphy . . .”
Like I said at the start of this post: These decorations are just like old friends, and this year it seems especially comforting to hug our traditions to have them hug us in return.