ornaments: a minimalist story

I don’t know about your family, but it seems that as far back as I can remember, my family has been exceedingly sentimental about Christmas ornaments. Every year when we pulled the Christmas decorations out at the Wilson house – after bringing home a freshly cut tree from Cherry Grove Tree Farm – the adorning of the tree was a momentous occasion. Mom told the same stories about each ornament while lifting each one from the box, and we kids rolled our eyes and Dad watched misty-eyed from the couch and Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Music of Christmas” played.

Along with retelling the same stories and laughing at the same homemade snowflake or popsicle stick ornaments, purchasing new ones for the tree was likewise a big deal. Not every year but most, my grandmother would hand-select ornaments for each of her grandchildren according to what the grandchild was in love with at the time. My sister’s were all ballet-related while I had quite a variety including a camera, an owl, a softball-related one, a bear dressed like a cheerleader because at one time I wanted to be a cheerleader (HAH!), a guitar, and other random objects.

Every now and again my family would make the drive to Valley View Farms to view the thousands of ornaments and dozens of twinkling Christmas trees, and no doubt pick out new tree decor to take home. Eventually my sister and I had too many of our “own” to fit on the family tree with all the other ornaments, so we each got our own mini trees to decorate in our respective bedrooms. It was a sacred time, even alone in my room, to put up my little tree and pull out the tiny cactus or pineapple or piano ornaments. And then of course leave the tree up until mid-March. These ornaments represented who I was – what I had been obsessed with, tried out, liked, or continued to enjoy.

Christmas Ornaments have always been a big deal.

After Joshua and I got married, for our first Christmas we got a live tree. I couldn’t wait to make new memories with my now-husband, to decorate the tree with all the ornaments I had shown him during the previous Christmas when we were just engaged, and retell the stories —

But we couldn’t find them.

We looked in every corner of our 800-square-foot apartment, every closet and every shelf, and could not find the box of ornaments that I had so joyfully and dutifully collected and protected year after year. I started to panic but I called my mom because moms know everything. Surely she had seen my box of precious ornaments in our storage room downstairs with all the other Christmas decorations. She had not seen them, but would keep looking.

She didn’t find them that Christmas. We went over multiple times during the holiday season and always looked. The box was nowhere to be found. I was devastated and cried a few times. Those ornaments were so dear to me. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t just go out and buy the exact same replicas of every one.

After moving from the apartment into our new house, the following Christmas came and went with no sign of the ornaments. This past year, my parents moved from my childhood home back to my mom’s hometown. They went through every part of that house, and could not find the box of my ornaments. This was my third Christmas without them.

We just took our tree down tonight. (Oops, confession.) As I took down each ornament and placed it in the peanut-filled box, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the new memories I’ve made since getting all of these ornaments. Many of them are gifts from my mom, grandmother, mother-in-law, or other family members who showered us for our first Christmas together. Others are from places we’ve been, like Gatlinburg, New York City, The Wilds, and Williamsburg. There are two owl ornaments: one that looks a bit gray-headed and bearded, which of course belongs to Josh; and the other is very cross and small, which of course is mine. We picked those out together when we went to Valley View Farms the Christmas before we got married. There is one from friends of ours who are missionaries to Africa, and the wooden shape of the continent reminds us of them every time we see it.

More important than the sentiment and memories attached to each decoration, though, are the memories themselves. The Minimalists say, “Our memories are within us, not within our things.” I have found that to be true in many areas; but, for the sake of this blog post, especially with this specific box of possessions that is lost forever. It is strange to wonder where in the world it went, who moved it, why did they move it, and what has happened/will happen to it. But it truly doesn’t matter. My memories and all the things that I’ve been “into” and everything that has shaped who I am today have not dissolved because I lost some Christmas ornaments. I am still me. I still smile when I think about twirling batons and learning cheers in my backyard with neighborhood friends. I still snort when I remember that I thought I would be a professional photographer someday. Someday, when the ornaments I have now get lost or broken, I will still remember when Josh and I slid into a taxi in NYC and we were terrified. I will still remember our first Christmas in our new house even if something happens to the cute little green door ornament.

Sometimes I need to be reminded that stuff is just stuff. In this case, I needed to lose a box I had been filling for twenty-three years.

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