I’d just like to give an ode, a shout-out, a huzzah, if you will, to sunshine, and give thanks that November is nearly over, thank you very much. It is truly the most difficult month for me (and many others, I’d wager) and now we are on the eve of December and the general goodwill that it engenders in so many people for at least a few weeks.
I always loved Christmas as a child, because I got presents, vacation, and family time with my grandparents. It was all good. Although I was an extraordinarily anxious child, I still knew how to have fun. As a child, I would play with the ornaments on our Christmas tree. I would take the ornaments off their branches and have them interact. My sister would often join me in this. When we were done playing for the day, we’d return them all to their original dangling spots.
We had different animals, birds that clipped on, hanging angels, long, shiny, fragile orbs and balls. They all had names. They all had personalities. Having a Christmas tree was like having a mega dollhouse full of toys at your disposal for the entire season. It rocked.
I remember some of the characters; we had the Mayor of the Tree, George, a stately white felt and feathered bird operated by my stately and demure sister. I voiced the loud, gossipy, bossy Martha, the red bird who got into everyone on the tree’s business. (Our partial American heritage was clearly in effect with our name choices for these characters.)
We had Lowly the Worm, who might have been a Snail, but we’re not sure. He was named after the Richard Scarry character of the same name. He spoke slowly and was kind of shy. And there was some kind of mouse in a boot. I wish I could remember more. He didn’t get out much.
But my all time favorite ornament was Shirley, the Angel Receptionist, whose unbreakability guaranteed her a place at the bottom of the tree, where she could greet any visitor (including a dog’s treacherous, wagging tail) who flew up into the branches to visit. She was housed in a white felt bell. There used to be two Shirleys, one on each opening of the bell, but one of them probably got eaten by a dog or something so that left Lone Shirley. She knew more about Tree Town than even Martha the nosey Mayor’s wife, because she was truly the eyes, ears and wings of the tree. She always knew what was going on. Guess who voiced her.
What’s funny about it is that as adults, my sister and I have gotten into the habit of giving each other Shirley-type ornaments at Christmas. She sent me an incredible angel last year that was both tacky and ethereal, if that’s possible. She hangs in my closet. (The angel ornament, not my sister. She hangs in upstate New York, yo.) She is too fabulous to only be up for three weeks of the year. My daughter is desperate to touch her, but nobody touches the Shirleys, not these ones.
Besides, my kids are making their own stories with their own family Christmas ornaments and we haven’t even put up the tree yet. My daughter takes the angels we have collected so far that are fairly hardy and flies them all over the house. They have conversations, relationships; they sing. My son is into it as well. He prefers to hoard the ornaments and carry them around in his stocking. I can see that my family tradition of tree-storytelling is going to continue.
Another memory, we used to have the Nativity scene figures, only in Canada we called them the Crèche, (which funnily enough is the name for some form of child care in England) and I played with those characters as well. Mary and Joseph were sturdy plastic figures, but Baby Jesus was ceramic and had been broken and repaired numerous times. He was my favorite. Bear in mind that my family is/was not religious. They are about as secular humanist as they come. I would take a yardstick and place it between two chairs and have Jesus in his hay-bed be pushed slowly across, as if over a large chasm or body of water (the carpet). So I still somehow had the idea that Jesus was delicate yet hardy, and very interesting.
It took two kids and many years for me to convince my husband that we had to have a real tree, not a lead-infused piece of crap artificial one. We grew up with Scotch Pines and various other spruces with a real life arborist for a Grandfather, so nothing but real will do, especially now that we have kids with so many stories to tell. They need the true pine smell to make their stories authentic. And that they will.
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