The Grateful Tree


I put the decorations on our Christmas tree today. I almost didn’t put the tree up – or more accurately almost took it down before I had all the lights on. Getting the lights on last year was a nightmare, but this year it was only a bad dream. I persevered for a week and think I should write down some notes about how I could make the process easier for next year. JB thinks I’m a perfectionists, but I think I just like things to be really pleasing.

The fun part every year is opening the box of ornaments and unwrapping each one from its tissue. I remember as I re-discover each ornament – for the first time all over again. I forget what ornaments I have but once my memory is jogged I remember the significance it has to the fabric of my life.

This year there was another layer to the process of re-membering, using Parker Palmer’s phrase. The stress of our current political uncertainty has created in me a need to figure out once again who I am and what my life has been about. When the seams of our life feel like they are being ripped apart, maybe we need to pull the parts of ourselves back together – we need to re-member ourselves. I need to remember what I value, to strengthen the seams of my life by remembering.

Putting the ornaments on the tree this year (and making sense of it through my writing) is helping me do this. Each ornament represents a piece of the story of who I am. I have three ball ornaments that belonged to grandparents – and this year they are front and center. My grandparents were the foundation of who I am. They nurtured me strong.

I have hand-made ornaments from a neighbor who was my children’s second mother and my own hand-made ornaments demonstrating my creative side. I have German stars that I learned to make in high school, and I feel gratitude for all the teachers I’ve had that taught and molded me. They were guiding stars, although not all German.

I have some ornaments made by my sister, Peg – one being a crocheted angel. How appropriate. I don’t have any ornament from my other sister, who passed away. Linda made beautiful greeting cards, however, and I kept all that she sent. One of them now has a place on the tree along with Peg’s ornaments. Both sisters were very important to my life story in very different ways – both are cherished.

I don’t have an ornament from my parents’ tree but I made that okay – I have created my own treasured memory ornaments. My father’s favorite ornaments were artificial birds that clip on the tree’s branch. I bought a red cardinal, his favorite, and also a dove. I did feel some sadness because I have no ornament from my mother, but then I unwrapped a bell dated 1986. I don’t remember how I came to possess it but my mother collected bells and this is now her bell. It hangs below the dove, maybe representative of the peace and love that we shared after I came to terms with past transgressions.

As I was going through Linda’s home-made cards, I found a very special one, signed Mom & Dad. A two-fer. As I am writing this, I looked over at it and smiled big with tears in my eyes. I am very thankful for all my parents gave me, both genetically and through their caring. I am especially grateful for God’s saving grace that made it possible for me to appreciate their gifts of love. I miss Mom, Dad and Linda very much.

I made ornaments, 37 years ago, with my children’s pictures in them and once again I gave them a prominent place on the tree. The last ornaments I placed on the tree were ones my children made in their early elementary school years. I have a precious collection so I have to decide which ones to use each year. Seeing them floods me with beautiful memories of all those Christmases as they grew and matured – as they grew and matured me. All the excitement. And that special moment when I opened the treasure that each had made for us, as they expectantly waited for our squeals of joy and praises. My heart swells with gratitude for all they gave us on Christmas past with the precious ornaments that still grace our tree, but also the 364 days in between when they helped me grow up.

In more recent years, we have made room on our tree for ornaments made by grandchildren. I am saddened that I don’t have one from my second grandson, so maybe I’ll have to tell him that my tree has a big empty spot that he needs to fill. Ahhh, but I remember that I’ve added a daughter and two more grandchildren through my son’s second marriage. How grateful I am that our hearts can enlarge to take in new family because they, too, are helping me write my life story. And soon we will hopefully make room on our tree for ornaments made by great-grandchildren Caden and Eevee.

Many ornament on my tree were bought on my many trips. This year they have special meaning besides the memories of the foreign lands they came from. This year I am grateful for the growth that took place as I learned about new cultures and met people who have different world views than I do. These experiences have enriched my life, but more importantly have made me a better person. I am more of who I am because of who I met and what I learned. This year our Christmas celebration will include a mother and daughter I met when visiting my daughter in Kyrgyzstan. I have several wool ornaments that remind me of the time I spent with them in their home.

Yes, this year I have a grateful tree. I have ornaments that remind me of people who healed me, who shaped me, who brought joy to my life. Each ornament has special significance for who I am, for who I have become. Each ornament represents a special person or event in my life, a special thread in the fabric of my person.

For each I am grateful. Thank you.


12 thoughts on “The Grateful Tree

  1. I love putting my Christmas tree up because of the ornaments. Like you, each decoration is a memory. In my case, many of the ornaments were purchased during my travels and are a nice reminder of place and time.


  2. Hmm…you’re making me feel guilty about not putting up a tree this year…with just the two of us…it seems a bit overboard to do it…maybe an ornament here and there this year. 🙂


    • There have been years when I didn’t get one up, but one daughter wanted Scrabble under the tree again this year. Christmas rules – no keeping score and every word needs to somehow be related to the Christmas story. But it is so important to be flexible as we age – I give up a little every year. This year you can give up the tree and the guilt. 🙂


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