My sister Beth is an unashamed Christmas nut–she pulls out all the Christmas decorations every year, is thrilled with any gift pertaining to Christmas, and simply sparkles with enthusiasm about all things Christmas-y. I, on the other hand, can be almost Grinch-like about wrapping presents, about feeling obligated to reciprocate when given a present. So yeah, the two of us sisters are not that alike.
But we have many things we both enjoy. We spent Christmas day together, my sister and her family with my husband and I. We had a wonderful walk in a nearby nature preserve, a true gift to me–getting outdoors to a new, scenic spot on a stunningly warm December morning.
When we returned to Beth’s house, I got talking about our mom and her quest for new “crafty” Christmas ornaments for us to make each year. Pretty soon, Beth started bringing over samples of each Christmas ornament the moment I mentioned it!
When we were kids, right after Thanksgiving Mom set up a card table in our dining room that was installed with all the ingredients needed to make one of several types of ornaments she’d come up with that year. Any time we complained of boredom, we were directed to the ornament table.
On Mom’s ornament table might be glitter, glue, excelsior, cotton balls, a box of wooden matches, gold braid, ric-rac, loads of Christmas cards from past years, and more. Besides being a mom to five kids, Mom was also an ardent Girl Scout leader, so these ornament projects served double duty, helping Mom see which projects would work well with groups of 7-12 year old girls.
Mom enjoyed making fragile eggshell ornaments, created by cracking an egg very carefully, pouring the egg’s contents into a bowl (we ate a lot of pancakes and cookies around that time!) then carefully smoothing the shell’s opening so it created a sort of diorama, complete with cotton ball and tiny figures cut from Christmas cards. I never got the knack of doing this, but Beth has created some, and still has some Mom made.
As we grew older the ideas Mom suggested grew more complex. When I was in high school we started creating paper-folding projects. My favorites were Swedish stars. We made lots of those, some dipped in paraffin to keep them from getting squished. Better to hold the glitter on the stars, too!
Once we left home Mom did not stop creating ornaments, she simply started making more complex ornaments she could do herself. She created sewn and stuffed ornaments, fancy crocheted and starched ornaments, and cross-stitch ornaments too. Mom even created ornaments in which beloved grandchildren could be featured. Mom had eleven grandchildren all together, so she had lots of grands for which to create ornaments.
I wonder if Mom’s passion for Christmas decorations (which she clearly passed on to my sister Beth!) started when she was twelve. She bought a cardboard Christmas village and created a Christmas scene under her family’s Christmas tree, complete with a small mirror, tiny yarn doll skaters, and cotton batting for snow. Mom always said she realized from that experience that she could create a family tradition, and it meant a lot to her. She, the youngest in her own family, was able to provide something of value, a tradition, that was carried on with her own family. (Yes, Beth has Mom’s Christmas Village now–the perfect home for Mom’s Christmas tradition to continue.)
Mom died rather suddenly, sooner than any of us expected. We never got her to write down her stories, and so we work to remember her, and the gifts she gave us. Each Christmas, we bring out a few of the ornaments Mom helped us create, and others she created after we’d “flown the coop” as it were. All those years, those ornament ideas, the messes–it’s clear to me now that Mom had as much fun with them as we did–maybe more. But that was a pretty good deal. And now, we still have the stories, and a very few ornaments that tell a much larger story.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.