When Joe and I carried the Christmas storage containers into the house from the attic and shed, it was like getting re-acquainted with some old friends. After all, it’s been two years since we’ve seen each other.
Without going into the details, let’s just say that Joe and I erased Christmas 2020 from the calendar. Between his father’s deteriorating health and COVID anxieties, all was not merry and bright. It was, in fact, dark and dreary. With the rest of the world on hyper-happy, our sadness felt heavier — and no amount of holiday decorations could lighten our moods.
Earlier this year, the Fates did not allow us all to be together once more. Joe’s father passed away in February. While we find comfort in knowing he’s no longer suffering, there’s also the need to reconnect with traditions that were placed on hiatus. In a move to not feel so bad, Joe and I unboxed and unwrapped a few of our favorite things.
My favorite tradition, by far, is the Christmas tree. When we lived in New York, we always had a real tree, and we did the same when we first arrived in Florida. There’s a big difference when buying a real tree in NY as compared to buying one in South Florida. Shopping for a tree in a tent in 80-plus degree weather, while wearing shorts and listening to “White Christmas” felt like wearing an ugly Christmas sweater that’s sewn incorrectly. It never really fits the way it’s supposed to — so it’s an artificial tree for us.
This is the 33rd Christmas Joe and I have celebrated — and I know this because of the lone white ornament on a tree of red ornaments. I purchased it to commemorate our first Christmas together and it has its place on a lower branch in the back of the tree. It’s our little secret — although, you now all know.
Our first Christmas decoration investment was this Weihnachtspyramide, which I have translated to mean the Flying Nativity. With enough heat rising through the propellers, this thing can really spin! We found it in a Long Island pool store that used to switch out its summer stock for a holiday hodgepodge of decorations, trees, and lights. (This was so long ago that customers could bring in strands of lights and have the bulbs tested and replaced.)
Besides all of the spinning parts and its Old Worldness, I love its smell. I’m not sure if the wood or packaging material was treated with incense, but as soon as I open the box, it’s as if the Christmas season has announced its arrival.
This is Grace Jones. Joe’s sister made this ceramic head long before I entered the picture. He referred to the head as Grace Jones. I continued it — and the Santa hat with the jingle bell on the end belongs to Grace — and no other ceramic head can claim it. Ever.
Nearby, is a small bowl holding a collection of my grandmother’s ornaments. I cherish these vintage glass ornaments. Like her, these are the things that can never be replaced.
The under-the-tree stuff is a game of “I Spy,” a collection of things that hold special meanings to us. . .
There’s the small Christmas book, The Magic of Christmas, my Aunt Pat gave me when I was kid. At the time, she worked at the Richmond Hill Savings Bank in Queens, NY — when banks actually gave things away! I’ve spent hours reading these classic Christmas stories and poems and staring at the illustrations.
When Joe was a boy living in Coney Island, he and his grandmother walked down the stairs of the final stop on the D-Line. At ground level, there were various shops under the elevated subway, one of which sold Christmas and novelty items. That’s when this Santa Claus (above, to the right of the book) — thanks to Nana — entered Joe’s life. . . and he’s been with Joe (and now us) ever since.
Speaking of Nana, a few years later she surprised Joe with a Wishnick Santa. He may not be the Clausiest of Santas, but he’s sort of adorable in his own big-eyed way.
Front and center, is the nativity. My mother made the figurines in ceramics and my father built the crèche using branches from a tree in their front yard, my childhood home, and modeled it after their own crèche.
Of course, a list of our favorite things would not be complete without mentioning whiskers on kittens — or in this case, Muffola the cat. She’s never made an attempt to climb into the branches or knock over anything. Instead, she’s content to lounge on a prime piece of tree skirt real estate, behind all the stuff and under the lights.
Once fully decorated, its difficult to not be reflective this holiday season. So much has happened to us in the past few years that it’s a little difficult to not feel battered and exhausted. Now, supply chain issues are the latest source of anxiety, stoking fears that the holidays will be ruined.
Maybe, just maybe, this is a chance to return to a simpler Christmas and to cherish what we have. One of the simplest Christmas treats I have is this musical matchbox, an impulse buy with a wind up key. Slide open the box and music plays and skaters spin around the pond. Just a few seconds of this and I’m content.
My wish for all of you is that you find peace and strength this holiday season, that you find comfort in your favorite things (let me know in the comments what they are), and that you and yours have a happy and very, very healthy 2022.
A quick aside… After writing this post, tornadoes tore through several states and I can’t help thinking of so many people who lost so much in a matter of minutes. My heart and thoughts are with all of you.