It happens once a year – the unboxing of Christmas. It’s more of a ritual than a tradition and the more time passes, the more I appreciate the historical value of the contents inside each box.
Growing up, my brother and I picked out one new ornament every year. My mom’s plan was to send us off into our own homes with a collection of ornaments to start our own traditions. I’ve come full circle and now my ornaments have co-mingled with some of my brother’s, my parent’s, and some from my own children. I dig a little deeper and realize there are also ornaments that once belonged to my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and now I even have a few announcing the arrival of my own grandchildren.
The unboxing somehow connects my past to my future. It connects the dots of my memory. The antiquated glass balls from the 1940s and ’50s take me back to my grandparent’s traditions where we all gathered. One year we would gather for the noon meal on Christmas, the next for the evening meal in order to accommodate the “in-laws” of the family. 1960’s dancing pixies and plastic reindeer accent my home reminding me of my beginnings, when my parents were young, and life was so magical.
A ceramic Santa with his pack graces the shelf of the curio cabinet. A tiny strip of masking tape on the bottom indicates it came from the Wilson side of the family—from my great grandparent’s Christmas collection. A set of birthday angels represent December, November, March, and April – one for me, my mother, and both of my grandmothers. A set of Santa Mouse Knick knacks sit beside a set of ceramic elves, both from an Interior Decorator’s party from the 1970s. Once set was my grandmother’s the other my mother’s, now they both find a Christmas home in the curio cabinet.
My tree is adorned with hand-painted wooden ornaments from “aunt” Patty, crocheted bells and tatted snowflakes from Aunt Amy, and pipe cleaner ornaments my daughter made when she was five years old. Over time, I’ve added strands of glass beads to accent the nursery school photos of my brother and me, ornaments my mother treasured until her last day.
Last year I added tiny opaque Christmas balls with gold, glittered dots that match my mom’s teapot from the 1960s. They give shimmer in the lights next to our family name balls dated from 1942 through 1968. This year I completed a collection of ceramic Snoopy and Woodstock ornaments to preserve my brother’s love for the Peanuts gang. Someday those ornaments will pass on to his son. Newer ornaments mark newer memories: “Our First Christmas Together”, a bear from Yellowstone National Park, and a seashell to remember a trip to the beach.
The unboxing includes nativity sets from various time periods, my favorite being the more contemporary Willow Tree collection. I like it best simply because my children helped me complete the set and my husband built the stable it sits upon. A lighted Christmas village display is a collection that makes an appearance every so often, but not every year. When I do put it out, it paints a picture of Norman Rockwell winters complete with all the scenery of another time.
Small stuffed animals affectionately named “Moose” and “Moosella” have been in the family since my children were small. They started out as a game of hide and seek. The dad would hide “Moose” so the children could help “Moosella” find him. The next day, “Moosella” would “hide” for “Moose” to discover. At some point in time, a stuffed cat joined the fun. As I sit writing, I see the cat’s paw sticking out from the edge of the sofa. My assumption is the real cat played her own game of hide and seek.
There is one ornament in memory of each pet that wielded its way into our hearts including four miniature Dachshunds, a yellow Lab that was our forever friend, a gray calico cat who never really grew up, and a tuxedo cat known for his grumpy disposition. In another box is a stocking for every child, grandchild, pet, and guest that ever attended a Christmas in this house.
A snow globe portrays Santa visiting the baby in the manger, and a whimsical pixie elf from 1962 sits straight-legged on the shelf. Tiny wooden ice skaters were gifts from my friend from Germany in 1982, and a Hallmark ornament of two women shopping was a gift from a girlfriend in 2006. From the same friend, a single Christmas bulb lights a ceramic manger scene hanging on the tree while a set of eight-inch, pastel-colored icicles act as fillers in the depth of the branches. My kitchen window boasts a stained glass rendition of the nativity while another window is the perfect display for wax paper crafts from my Sunday School children.
A children’s nativity set graces my coffee table. Two little girls recently visited my home and arranged the entire set to gaze upon the baby Jesus. While it might sound romantic and picturesque, the reality is the whole scene is quite crowded and intense, with everyone elbow to elbow fighting their way to a glimpse of the holy baby. The best part about that whole scene is Thumper. Right alongside the donkey, the cow, and the sheep is Thumper, the rabbit from Bambi. Thumper has been a part of this nativity set since my youngest was three and I have no intention of returning him to his Disney World family. He fits right in at the stable in my world.
“The Elves and the Shoemaker” and “Baby’s First Christmas” storybooks stack right along with “A Christmas Carol” and “A Cup of Christmas Tea.” Old cassette tapes of Christmas carols gave way to CDs long ago, and now we stream the songs we like the best on our smart speakers. The vinyl from days of old has made a comeback for those who held on to their record players. Frank Sinatra sings his way into our living rooms no matter the method of delivery.
Pixies of the modern age include two Tinkerbell ornaments my son gave to his sisters in 2005, bringing a new kind of magic to the holiday spirit hanging on my tree. Wooden beads and beaded wreaths are reminders of the ornaments our Quaker church ladies gave out every Christmas Eve. Crystal angels were my mom’s favorite collection while I favored the colorful crystals of hard candy and blown candy canes.
From the Grinch to Rudolph, from our childhood to adulthood, there are things in those boxes that represent fragments of our lives. A visual, a reminder, a snippet of a memory here or there. Silver and gold, red and green, glitter and ribbons. Once a year they make an appearance to take us back, propel us forward, and remind us how quickly time passes.
Christmas left out all year would numb the magic of the season. The boxes serve to protect the memories in order to revive them again at the same time next year. Old memories are treasured and without fail, new memories are added each time Christmas is un-boxed. I will retrieve the stuffed cat from under the sofa and give baby Jesus some breathing room from the crowd pressed in against him on my coffee table. I will unplug the lights and undecorate the tree, putting each piece in its own box inside the bigger box that houses the memories throughout the next eleven months.
As the new year rounds the corner, I re-box Christmas. Everything has its place. There is an anticipation in the un-boxing and a sort of satisfaction in the re-boxing. Next year I will unbox Christmas and remember again. I will treasure that which has gone before me and celebrate that which is still here. I will ponder the memories of Christmas and be grateful for it all.