What’s hanging on your tree, and why?


We also have a plethora of handmade ornaments, many of which have origins none of us can remember—we just know they’ve always been there. This one is cut out from a Christmas card, glued onto cardboard, and doused with glitter, most of which has fallen off by now.

It got an upgrade several years ago, when we switched out the paperclip it used to hang from for a real ornament wire. Where did it come from? We’re all pretty vague on that. But it’s always on the tree.


So is the cardboard toilet paper roll that’s wrapped in lavender tissue paper like a Christmas cracker. Mcmom made that one year after all her ornaments had been stolen, and she needed stuff to fill up the tree. It’s actually kind of elegant if you look at it right and squint a little.


Then there’s this one, this funny little foil leaf that has survived for decades and decades. It was in my grandmother’s ornaments when my parents married in the ‘50s. And grandma had been using it for years before that—I don’t think my father could ever identify where it came from and why it was saved.

We have very few of Grandma McCarter’s ornaments, but do have this leaf and a funny little old small, pink, clear glass ball. It hangs from a paper clip and always has because how that paper clip got put in it is a mystery, and getting it out now seems impossible. No one ever wanted to chance breaking the precious little thing that must be 100 years old by now. (If you haven’t guessed this by now, we’re a family of sentimental traditionalists.)


Which is why we have a tree full of very old, very mangled, and grungy birds. That’s supposed to be a dove. These were also some of Mcmom’s replacement ornaments, so they’re all older than me—those that have survived that is. And when you think about it that way, they’re actually looking pretty good! 


There are also my other grandmother’s red birds, not all of which have survived the many generations of cats. In fact, I found a red bird leg on the floor the other day. I’m not sure whether that’s a previous year’s casualty or came from one of the survivors. There’s been no sign of its owner, so we’re going to hope for the best. This one has gotten away relatively unscathed. That wing is a little iffy, and its cap feather is hanging by a thread, but it and its cohorts look pretty darned good from a distance. 


Finally, there’s these little guys, the kitchen clay snow people. (Santa was a fantastic antique store find that’s a relatively new favorite. The hands in his pockets part always tickles me.)  When we were kids out living in the middle of nowhere, there used to be two or three feet of snow on the ground from Thanksgiving through Easter, Mcmom had to find lots of things to keep us occupied. One was homemade kitchen clay

We resurrected the craft after the incredibly depressing election of 1994. We both worked on campaigns in Idaho that year, and the Democrats had the strongest slate of candidates for state offices we’d fielded in years. But it was 1994 and it was an absolute rout for Republicans. It couldn’t have been more grim. Making snow cowpeople was good—and necessary—therapy. Every year when we bring them out, we talk about that horrible, horrible election. But we also remember the fun we had making them, and they never fail to cheer things up.

What brings you joy and cheer every year when you unpack it, and what is the story behind it?

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