This weekend we finally took down our Christmas tree and decorations. No, we weren’t still lighting the tree—at least not after New Year’s Day—but I have to admit we weren’t in any big hurry to put things away, either. After all, we didn’t decorate until the week of Christmas, when our son drove out from Indiana to join us for the holidays. I figured it wouldn’t hurt anyone to enjoy the decorations a little longer after the effort it took to put them up. Please excuse the bluish tint to the photo below; the room was not well lit when I took the photo with my iPhone.
As I wrapped tree ornaments and put them away, it was a last chance to remember when we had acquired them, and whether there was a special occasion or person associated with them. There is an ornament one of my elementary German students gave me one year, the ornaments marked with our son’s birth year, the ones he made in preschool, the brass ornaments engraved with my parents’ names that became mine once they passed away, the ornament a California friend’s mother gave me when we relocated to Iowa . . . and the list goes on. We have both a tree that stands in front of the living room window, and a table tree on which are hung the wooden ornaments from Germany that my mother hung similarly. Besides being a religious holiday, Christmas is a time to relive memories, and there’s no reason to pack away in haste either the ornaments or the memories.
Most years we acquire at least one new ornament, and this year there were four. When we attended a local craft fair in November, we were fascinated by the process of Minnesota artist Albert Tanko of Creative Nutworks, who fashions ornaments out of nuts. “Each life begins with a single seed,” reads his business card. “God’s light and rain are all it needs. It starts out small and with love it grows. However tall—God only knows. From seed to nut in the artist’s hand, it’s polished and cut to be something grand.” Albert, who is originally from Transylvania, crossed the Iron Curtain at age 22 and made Minnesota his new home. He is fascinated with nature, and uses black walnuts, butternuts, apricots and peach pits to create sun catchers.
Then there were the leather ornaments that were designed and hand tooled by our son, David, who specializes in leather crafts. I appreciate Celtic art, music and literature, so I really enjoyed the Celtic Christmas tree ornament he made for me.
For my husband, with whom David shares an interest in space simulation games, especially the currently in development online game, Star Citizen, David drew one of the game’s spaceships and transferred it to leather with his tools.
Finally, we hid a German-made glass pickle ornament among the branches of our Christmas tree. There is a tradition associated with this that some people say is a German one, but in general Germans neither recognize nor acknowledge the practice. The tradition—probably an American one—involves a pickle as the last ornament to be hung on the Christmas tree. The first child in the family to discover it is supposed to get an extra present. According to a Web site called WhyChristmas.com, back in the 1880s Woolworth’s stores began importing glass ornaments from Germany in various fruit and vegetable shapes. One of them was likely a pickle, and a story was born that probably helped to sell the ornament, which is admittedly a pretty strange thing to hang on a tree. There are other stories as well, even more fanciful, so if you’re interested, visit The Christmas Pickle to learn more.
I suppose every family has its own traditions that make Christmas memorable. When my father grew up in central Germany, live candles lighted the family tree. Gifts were opened on Christmas Eve, but not until the children stood in front of the tree and recited long, memorized poems. My German cousins from that same side of the family also had live candles on their tree. Instead of reciting a poem, they had to play a melody on a wooden flute called a Blockflöte, which you can see in the photo below.
After gifts were opened, the family walked to midnight Mass. There was one Christmas during junior high school that I spent in Germany with my cousins, when we traipsed through snow-covered streets and icy sidewalks to get to church. Because both of my parents were born in Germany, we always celebrated Christmas as my relatives did, on Christmas Eve. My parents didn’t require a special performance, however, before we opened our gifts! We’ve carried that Christmas Eve tradition forward within our own immediate family. But our own tradition involves opening gifts while we graze on open-faced pumpernickel sandwiches, fruits and raw vegetables, cheese and crackers, and cookies, candies and nuts—all laid out on a food-laden table. We play music and board games, and on Christmas Day—usually during late afternoon—we see a movie together. This year it just happened to be Star Wars’ “The Force Awakens,” which we really enjoyed.
As you can see, our son is generally the board game champion.
I started this post off by saying that we took down our Christmas tree and decorations just this past weekend, but in reality this is not a late date to do so, depending on which version of Christmas you celebrate. In Germany and many other European countries, Catholics consider the end of the Christmas season to be Epiphany, the first Sunday in January after New Year’s Day. If you’re an Orthodox Christian, you might celebrate Christmas on January 7th. Just recently I heard about Little Christmas, or Nollaig na mBan, which for the Irish is their version of the Feast of the Epiphany, or January 6th. Many Americans take down their decorations right after Christmas, but I suspect this practice has more to do with coordinating with city services that remove dried-out, discarded trees and wreaths, in addition to lots of crumpled wrapping paper, than it does with the official end of the Christmas season.
If you celebrate Christmas, when do you take down your decorations, and why?
©2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.