For the first few Christmases Laurent and I were together I liked to do "theme" decorations for Christmastide - toy soldiers, story book, music, colonial, birds. Neiman-Marcus, Horchow and Bloomingdale catalogues and The Bay would be scanned for appropriate items; one year it was brass trumpets, carol books, music sheets, toy drums and mandolins; the next bright red cardinals and birds nestling amongst apples and cranberry strands. Garlands festooned the rooms and various paraphernalia of the season adorned mantel pieces, tables and almost every available space. When she came into our apartment in Mexico City one Christmas our Ambassador's wife said she thought she had stepped into Eaton's window. I would like to think she meant that in a nice way but I have a feeling it really meant she thought it was a bit OTT.
Our first Christmas in Mexico in 1986 our friends Sandra and John gave us the little kitten - or rather their cat did - it has been on every tree since. As has this gingerbread man that my mother gave me a year or two before. And that first Christmas in the apartment from hell in Chicago was brightened by Rick and John and a colonial motive with this wooden angel bringing us tidings that were indeed joyful.
I started collecting a few of the annual ornaments - our famous or infamous (pick your adjective) Silver Christmas Balls, Silver Christmas Flower Medallions from Towle and Wedgewood Jasper Ornaments. One year I picked up 250 hand twisted tin icicles at a Christmas Market in Ottawa - as with all that silver as I polish it I utter a curse as each icicle is hung on an individual branch. As we travelled - Christmas has been spent in Ottawa, Mexico City, Cairo, Chicago, Hong Kong, Warsaw, Montreal, Rome and Niagara-on-the-Lake - I began to pick up ornaments here and there. In Poland a wealth of blown glass ornaments began to adorn the tree - though I never did get that dill pickle that so many people thought was a must. And friends and family gave us ornaments as the years past - for some reason particular favourites seems to be dachshund related. And because Laurent is allergic to pine we have had any number of artificial trees - some big, some small - the current one is 9' high and thank god pre-lit.
One summer weekend in the 1990s my dear Ryan and I were in Cooperstown for the opera and a visit to the baseball museum. Like most small upstate towns it had a Christmas shop and I admired this Santa in the Moon. Later that evening I found it wrapped beside my dinner plate - it has since lost the heart that Santa was fishing for. Poland was the place to buy glass ornaments and this jolly snowman clown was a gift from Betty Jean and Steve our second Christmas there. I bought two of the London telephone booths and gave one to my darling Deb months before Christmas. She hung it in her kitchen window in Pointe Claire to remind her of home. Now it reminds me of her.
This weekend as my favourite Polish carols played in the background we began unpacking the boxes of ornaments and decorations and with the unpacking came a flood of memories. Themes have come and themes have gone but certain ornaments reappear whatever the theme. Now when I look at our tree I realize that over the past decade the theme has become "memories".
Many years ago when Neiman-Marcus was a place of wonders rather than just another store peddling designer items, they featured a series of felt mice in their Christmas Book. I bought one each year - the first was a Victorian Nanny with her charge; the next year Clara with her Nutcracker; the third was a Candy Cane Princess. Our first daschie Bundnie loved the little Nanny and would retrieve it from the tree and carry it around in her mouth. She never damaged it just trotted from room to room and occasionally hide it in the middle of the floor. Her look of surprise when we found it always gave us a laugh.
With almost each unwrapping a place or more importantly a person who has touched our lives came to mind. There are so many - thank god for the 9' tree: the cloth gingerbread man my mother gave us over 30 years ago; a kitten filled stocking from Sandra and John in Mexico in 1986; a wooden colonial angel from Rick and John from one of our many Christmases together, that one in Chicago; a Lyric Opera decoration from Cathy from the second year there; porcelain Chinese dolls from Dianne and Jean-Paul our first Christmas with them in Hong Kong; the old London Telephone Box - I bought one for our tree and another for my darling Deb; a besweatered daschie from Sophie and Andrew; the Santa in the Moon that my much missed Ryan gave me in Cooperstown now sadly minus the heart he had caught while fishing; the skaters frolicking on a silver pond from Laurent's mom and dad; from our Naomi the strange little man who each year climbs the tree in an attempt to reach the star. And that star! Its nothing grand just one of those old tinsel affairs I recall we had on our tree as a child. We picked it up in a dollar store 30 years ago and each year Laurent places it on top of the tree.
As I put the final icicles on the tree today I listened to Dylan Thomas reading his "A Child's Christmas in Wales". It is one of my Christmas favourites and several years ago Laurent found a miniature copy of one of the first editions - complete down to the wonderful Fritz Eichenberg woodblock illustrations. It has a special place in my heart and on the tree. And that little squat man has been climbing up the tree since our friend Naomi found him in a shop in London and decided he would be a fine addition to our Christmas decorations. In over twenty years he has never quite reached that old tinsel star.
After Laurent put the star up last night we stood back and just quietly looked at our 33rd Christmas tree - a tree that reminds us of people loved, places visited and moments shared. It seems to me that "memories" is not a bad theme for a Christmas tree.
20 decembre - San Domenico di Silos