I suppose it is time someone heard our story. It does not have glory, nobody flies, works miracles or makes a lost soul appreciate life. No, ours is a tale involving far more ordinary things. Steadfast companionship, pride of place, being a small but vital part of something bigger and grander. Loving without caring about being loved back.
And patience, let’s not forget about that.
Our story is no harder to believe than any other you’ve been told I expect. I am one of a silent but fiercely loyal breed, created by hand or machine to be a part of this joyful holiday. Year after year we take our familiar places around homes and hospitals, offices and restaurants, shopping malls and cemeteries. Our appearance heralds the season. We are the backdrop to every holiday photo or precious memory.
We watch from our places for only a short time each year, but with interest as children grow and surroundings change. We have seen many chaotic Christmas mornings and riotous New Years Eve’s — along with the more ordinary cozy winter twilights where snow falls and the outside world becomes a living Christmas card.
We mark the changes in the faces we know so well, privileged to watch the passage of the years — the growth and changes in our family. Like you, we mourn when beloved faces appear no more. We are especially beloved by babies, and we make a special effort for them as they alone see us as we truly are. You doubt me? Watch an infant or young baby near a decoration of any kind and you will see how intently they look, how readily they laugh. We take pride in our ability to do this, as well as how we alone add something special to the season.
Our purpose, made by adult hand, machine or child, is to add the festive touches to these most wonderful of days, when the world slows down, grows softer to celebrate the most holy of births. What? Does it surprise you to think such a thing — that we who decorate your home season after joyful season have awareness and feeling? That we can love you back? Well we can, believe it or not. And these few glorious days as part of the world and your holiday is what sustains us during the long, lonely months, eleven in all, in the boxes, packed away and forgotten.
But let’s not talk about the boxes, instead let me tell you about the pure glee we feel as we watch your joy on these days. We make no sound (except for the mechanicals, that is) but we are joyful just the same. These thirty odd days and nights with you, watching you and being a part of your holiday are what we live for, and the times are glorious ones. We soak up the life and love all around us, feeling the joy of giving, the excitement of preparation for visits with family and friends. We smell the treats baking just as you do, even though, unlike you, tasting them is impossible for us.
Though we cannot taste, we can see, hear and have a most refined sense of touch. It is everything to us. To be taken in hand and held, caressed and admired perhaps, is what every decoration desires most of all — that and not to be broken, of course. Sadly more of us are broken than admired, though we are lucky in my home. They take good care of us, and I myself have been repaired and retain my place in the kitchen these many seasons. My cracks are hard to see, and no one notices them anymore.
The thing we all, large or small, hand-made or store-bought — long for is the touch of your hands as you pick us up from our resting place, hold and exclaim over us. For a brief but beautiful moment we are the sole focus of those we love, in the time we love — there is nothing better for us. The home I decorate has three children, a man and woman, while also serving as shelter for a dog and not one, but two, cats. Ornaments and cats are longtime foes, as everyone knows. This most terrible of failings is balanced by the care the family takes In packing us away.
The tree decorations are hung on boughs that are sturdy and green. Premier spots are on the front, up high enough to be safe from the cats living here. Nobody likes to face the window, but they will take this space gladly over being put back in the box. The disappointment of being so close, but not making the tree is a fear we all know well. In a house like ours, with lots of beautiful decorations and limited space, there are only places for so many. Every year someone is put back, devastated, living on the hope of being gifted in the future to one of the children, to take a place on a new tree in a new home. There is comfort in that, profound relief too that they do not find themselves marked as trash.
Our manger scene is the holiest, most revered decoration of the house, one of the first to be set up and last to be taken down. It holds, as is right, a place of high honor in the formal room of the house. It was a gift one season from one who took much joy in giving such things, and as such has been highly praised. Though the figures are beautifully gilded and smooth, no one touches any of them for fear of showing disrespect.
Angels, in all their shapes and sizes, are next in terms of importance. Our tree top angel is soft and smiling, attired in rich, red velvet trimmed in white fur. She runs a just and welcoming household. The others, all beautiful messengers of peace, some soft, others of smooth, delicate porcelain, claim spaces around our home. Only one angel, another gift from one they loved who appreciated us; made of the finest cream porcelain, perfectly fashioned and accented in gold, remains out all year, her place set and safe.
On Christmas Eve they light her candle.
First among the hand-mades in our house is a ceramic Mrs. Santa, her mate broken by accident years before, who sits proudly on the kitchen counter, unchipped and still boldly colored, the carvings on her foot examined anew every year. Another of the most highly prized, a Santa head of yarn and red velvet covering a bleach bottle that hangs in the house. He was a gift, prized more for the giver than its own charm, it remains a fixture of the house, it’s place highly visible, secure and out of reach of those cats.
Of course the tree ornaments made by children — no matter how faded or tattered — are always highly prized as well. They capture a moment long gone and more poignant with each passing year. When they emerge from their box there is laughter and the warmth of memory. These ornaments, though perhaps not as pretty or with the sparkle of some I’ll admit, are always given prime places on our tree.
Another of our most venerable hand-mades is a glossy green ceramic tree with glued in multicolored lights and a golden star that stands in the living room. With easy setup and warm memories of the day it was made, this tree will last many years. Already it has claimed a place in the hearts of this family. As the children move out and the man and woman get older, this will continue to be displayed. It will see many, many holiday seasons.
New this year is a Santa of muted blues and greens, carved stars and swirls of gold leaf the woman carried home with special care. It has been a while since we welcomed anyone new to our display — there are so many of us now. It’s hard not to be intimidated by fresh glitter and paint that has yet to fade, but I make my best effort. He is curt with his answers, unsettled after his journey from his former home and worried about reaching a new spot in one piece. Besides, I know we will have plenty of time to get to know each other in the long, motionless time we spend packed away.
The patience required to make it through the long wait between seasons is hard for new ornaments, store-boughts have an especially difficult time lying silent and motionless for so long. It is no easy thing, I can tell you that from experience. Not many can do it — the long days in the hot, airless boxes, packed away and forgotten, overwhelms many and they struggle to escape, ruining themselves in the process.
Only the snowmen appear immune to the effects of long storage. But then they are a unique and unpredictable breed, coming in all sizes, colors and poses, often impish, prideful and irreverent, these winter-themed decorations are impossible to manage. They seem to take more pleasure than they ought in how long they get to remain with the family. They too have a set number of days before being packed away, with glee I am sure, on the first day of spring. The fools don’t seem to notice… or care.
Once in our places we stand proudly for the thirty odd days that follow as well-loved symbols of the season. There is festive music playing and people are in a happy mood. They laugh and sing and hug each other. There are boxes under the tree, all shapes and sizes wrapped in shiny papers and adorned with bows — a tempting distraction for the cats. The air outside is cold and fresh, the nights long so there is ample time for all to admire the display we make. The lights sparkle in excitement as they shine and twinkle on the ornaments around them on the tree, playfully trying to outdo each other. It’s a friendly rivalry, and nobody takes it seriously, all of us are just blissfully, unabashedly happy to be here with you, celebrating with you.
It is what we live for.
The day we emerge from our storage boxes is the highlight of the year, what we dream about all those long, silent days we spend packed away and forgotten. You feel it too, the excitement and anticipation as you take us from our places and examine us. We emerge to decorate the home we love for the holidays once more, welcoming the season we love with joy. Of course in those first few hours we can be moved about quite a bit, and the risk of being broken is dangerously high. But then we settle in our places, I have owned mine, unchallenged, for eighteen seasons now.
Christmas Eve is my personal favorite of all. There is anticipation in the air. All is ready and waiting for the big day. We have no young children here anymore, but we did once, and the echoes of those voices can still be heard, if you listen carefully. A lack of children does not take away from the feelings of joy one bit — these moments are few, but as joyous and warm as ever you could wish.
Our time in your world is terribly brief. Once we stayed out until Epiphany, but in today’s busy, over-scheduled world, most years we do not make it to this date. Once the holiday is done we represent a task to be completed rather than a part of a joyous celebration. Nobody likes that, and though the time in the boxes is long, we accept its coming with good grace.
Packing away is, as you might imagine, a dangerous and conflicted day for us. You feel this too, so many hesitate to take us from our places — hanging on to the holiday for as long as possible. Packing day, whenever it comes, can be terribly difficult. For some, deemed not worth hanging onto, it is the end of the line. The trash can, the place we all fear most. No one has ever come back to tell us what happens once you go inside, but we suspect it cannot be good.
In the end, most of us find a place, usually familiar but sometimes not, in the boxes that end up in the attic. In this house the boxes are labelled, which makes things easier for the family and more comfortable for us. We pass the long, forgotten days with the ones we know best. We wait as the days slowly pass, cold eases and daylight lingers. Day after day we wait here, silent and waiting until it is our time to shine once again.