My Mother’s Christmas Decorations
Rich with meaning, while teaching a surprise lesson
Some mementoes retain a rich meaning for years. For Boomer reader Julia Nunnally Duncan, her mother’s Christmas decorations have become more valuable with age.
My mother stored her Christmas decorations in an upstairs bedroom corner. In cardboard boxes, she’d packed her newest decorations alongside those from decades before. Tangled strings of colored lights, their bulbs worn bare in spots, were packed with frosted snowball lights that no longer worked and bubble lights that hadn’t bubbled in years. Glass ornaments – balls, bells, grape clusters, and reflectors – lay piled in a box, some of them faded and chipped. A fluted tin tree topper with a plastic Santa Claus face, one we’d used throughout my 1960s childhood, rested here, too. Santa’s wavy angel hair beard was long gone.
One day I told my mother, “I need to go through the Christmas boxes and weed out what can’t be used anymore. A lot of the stuff’s worn out or broken.”
She didn’t care much for the idea, probably thinking she might salvage some of the decorations someday. But she relented.
“Don’t throw away anything good,” she said.
“I won’t,” I promised.
I discarded the old strings of lights and ornaments that were chipped and organized the intact vintage ornaments and the newer ones in updated boxes, so we could get to them more efficiently.
Remembering Christmases and Christmas decorations past
When I was a child, my family always had a fresh-cut white pine tree for Christmas, harvested by my father or older brother from neighboring woods. One Christmas when I was around 10, I cut a young cedar for our Christmas tree. Though the tree was spindly, my parents seemed satisfied, and I was proud to provide it. After my mother and I filled it with glittery ornaments and draped it with silver tinsel, it turned out to be a pretty tree after all.
A few years before my father passed away, my mother bought her first artificial tree, thinking it would be easier to handle. I was happy with that decision since it seemed less of a fire hazard than a live tree. After that she went from a snowy white tree to a green tree, using strings of miniature multicolor lights. In time, I helped her decorate her tree. We wrapped strands of shiny beads around it and covered it with sparkling glass ornaments, including some of her old ones. As a final flourish, she hung peppermint candy canes on the branches. In 2019, I helped her decorate her last tree, one as beautiful as ever.
After my mother’s death, my brother and I sorted through her things. When we came to the upstairs bedroom, I went to her Christmas boxes. As I looked through the ornaments, some so familiar from my childhood, I suddenly felt a deep attachment to them. Each ornament carried a memory that I didn’t want to lose.
“I’d like to have these Christmas decorations,” I told my brother, and he said he wanted me to have them.
Today I treasure my mother’s Christmas decorations, including the ragged Santa Claus tin topper that graced our Christmas trees when I was growing up. I’m so glad I didn’t discard it that day when I weeded out my mother’s Christmas boxes. I’m as reluctant now as she was then to let any of the decorations go.
These mementos mean the world to me and bring back memories of many happy holidays spent with the family I loved.
Wrap yourself up in more nostalgia from Julia Nunnally Duncan, including:
Julia Nunnally Duncan lives in her hometown Marion, North Carolina, where most of her personal essays and poems are set. Her 10 books of prose and poetry include an essay collection, A Place That Was Home (eLectio Publishing), and her essays often appear in Smoky Mountain Living Magazine. Julia is retired now from her profession as an English instructor, but she stays busy writing, gardening, and spending time with her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Annie.
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