The Story of Our Christmas Ornaments
As an eager new bride, I wanted to do everything right for our first Christmas together, and this included bringing in new traditions we could share as an emerging family. I do not remember what I cooked, what I got from my husband, or what I received from others that first Christmas—but I am grateful we started our tradition of the Christmas ornaments.
The idea was to pick out or make a Christmas ornament that symbolized or represented something significant from that year.
The first year was easy. We marched to a noted ornament shop and after pouring over the many “Our First Christmas” ornaments, we stumbled upon one: a man and a woman sitting on a moon with a little star hanging underneath. We thought this represented our first year of marriage perfectly, since we were young and in love and felt like the moon and the stars were our own to conquer together. When the little star was pulled the man leaned forward and kissed the woman gently. The only problem was the woman had jet black hair. This did not match my coloring at all, and I did not want to watch my husband kiss a representation of another woman year after year, so it was decided her hair would be painted to match my own.
The second year we were still in the honeymoon phase, so we purchased a snow globe containing a miniature man and woman taking an old-fashioned sleigh ride together through piles of snow. We had plowed through a lot of firsts that year: classic arguments over toothpaste, expectations about time, who was to cook or wash dishes, and decorating differences. We were dwelling in a little one-bedroom apartment with a cracker-jack-sized kitchen owned by a chain-smoking landlord named Marge—who still sported a bee-hive hairdo and wore muu-muus.
The third year our ornament was an airplane. I had finished nursing school, passed my boards, and started my profession. It had always been our desire, birthed out of our deep faith, to serve the world and share the miracle of Christmas, the story of hope—not just in December but every day of the year. The airplane was a symbol of what lay ahead for us: an adventure riding on the wings of change.
In early autumn, we packed up as much as we could take in three large totes and moved to Central Asia along with our son—a cooing, crying, bundle of energy who had joined our family in June. In those totes, wrapped tightly so they would not break, were three ornaments: a couple sitting on the moon, a snow globe, and an airplane.
We had moved in late October. Deep in language school and caught up in the daily difficulties of trying to obtain food and get around in a world that we did not understand and that did not understand us, we almost forgot our fourth Christmas that year! We finally pulled out our three ornaments and hung them on the nearest thing representing a Christmas tree: a large fern-like plant. Then we realized we had no store to go to and pick out an ornament representing this year. So, we fashioned an ornament out of the back of a juice tin, glued on a picture of our smiling son, and encircled it with a teething toy.
During our fifth year, we grew as parents, and I began working with the nursing students at a government hospital. I experienced first-hand many injustices brought on by poverty and did my best to shine hope and to teach how to give good care to others regardless of their ability to pay for it. My husband taught English to eager young adults who hoped that by learning English they could help rebuild their country and give themselves a bright future. On our tree that year we hung a simple cross, representing the One who had been by our side through it all.
The sixth year we traveled home, and we thought ahead this time. Wanting something to represent our work with an international aid agency—an agency bringing hope, skills, and justice to the underserved—we purchased a UNICEF ornament. It was a circle of children dressed in native attire holding hands around a spinning globe. We returned to Central Asia later that year, and we hung it on a small plastic Christmas tree purchased in the bazaar.
For most of our seventh year, we were in America as our family grew, and a precious daughter, with her long curly eyelashes, joined our crew. We again returned to our home, and that December we fashioned an ornament out of popsicles, glitter, and a picture of a smiling family with a rambunctious three-year-old and a baby adorned in pink. This became my daughter’s favorite ornament. One year she was so upset about taking down our Christmas tree that I let her choose an ornament to hang in her room; she chose this one, and it spent the year hanging above her bed.
For our eighth year, we hung a dove, a symbol of hope and peace for not only the world, but for the peace we desired in our own hearts and for the country we were living in, a country that continued to try to obtain a fragile peace so children could attend school and women could shop in the bazaar. This ornament was fashioned out of felt, stitched by my own hands, and made in the shape of the province we were living in during our ninth year. It was a reminder of the place we had learned to call home.
Our ten-year ornament boasts a picture in a small frame taken during our family-vacation-of-a-life-time: we had stayed in a Thai-style house, eaten frog, and ridden elephants.
For our eleventh year, we have an ornament of a new home. It is a symbol of another move—a move that in the end was short-lived, because the country we had lived in for nine years had destabilized. We now find ourselves, unexpectedly, back in America; our international living has been cut short.
This Christmas, we unpacked our ornaments: the kissing couple, the snow globe, the airplane, the juice can bearing the image of our rambunctious son, the spinning globe encircled with the children of the world, the cross, the dove, the popsicle sticks framing our smiling young family, the image of the province we moved to, our Thailand vacation, and the little white house ornament that said, “new home” (a home we never fully settled into). As we placed them all on the first real Christmas tree we have had for years (the first Christmas spent in America in ten years), we told a simple story for each of them to our children as we remembered, and then we added another: a simple sea shell bearing the words, “Every life leaves something beautiful behind.”
Indeed, this tradition has helped us remember the joys and the sorrows, and the ways that we have walked and grown together over the years—most of them far away from the home of our birth.
I wonder what ornament we will pick next December.
Question to consider: What are some of your significant family Christmas traditions?