We keep the holidays pretty simple around here as far as the gift-giving goes. Partly because I can't stand "stuff" and the "stuff" aspect of Christmas fills me with sadness, not to mention a fair share of disgust too. But also, frankly, because there's just not much wiggle room when it comes to monthly finances.
We do have a number of traditions, though. I've written several times before about the basket of Christmas books we get down from the attic at the start of every December. This isn't something I did as a kid, just an idea I co-opted from someone on the radio, but it's turned into one I love. This year, when we got the books down, the kids immediately set upon it and grabbed books they haven't seen in a year.
"I remember this one!"
"Oh man, I love this."
"This one's awesome."
Watching them stretch out on the floor and get comfortable with old stories? I'll keep that moment to call back on when they're arguing or shouting or otherwise driving me mad.
My other well of holiday happy is pulling the Christmas ornaments from the plastic bin to hang on the tree. Our tree is a mishmash of ornaments - a convoluted mess, really - that put all together somehow works. Maybe it just works for us. It's filled with expensive glass ornaments that smash to a zillion pieces when they fall. There are cheap gold balls from Target and plastic red ones too. Most of the ornaments tell stories. I bought the canoe the year we traveled to Alaska, the egg when we miscarried the first time, the Grinch when we saw the "Grinch on Ice."
My mom started the whole tradition of meaningful ornaments. I have a wooden airplane from 1992, when I studied in Sheffield, that she inscribed: "To the land of poets, this earth, this realm, this England." It's broken into three pieces now and awaiting repair.
At some point, my mother also started giving my sister and me a single Radko ornament at Christmas. They're glass and expensive and colorful and sometimes silly (like the Santa in pink candy-cane pajamas). They're not something I'd ever buy for myself but I cherish them as a reminder of her thoughtfulness, her style.
The year we got married she bought us a Radko car with a sign across the bumper that reads "Just Married." She also gave us a glass bride and groom (not by Radko). The groom shattered a year ago and now the bride hangs by herself. Don't read anything into that. I didn't.
The kids are old enough now that they decorated the tree this past week. But I sat at the bin to take each ornament out, to tell their stories. Since I'm such a sap, the ones that hit my gut most are the handmade pieces by the kids, especially the ones with their photos. My mother still has a plain white styrofoam ball with a hole dug out in the middle that holds a photo of my sister as a young girl. I imagine my kids looking at their own ornaments when they're big. They already look at the preschool photos and blush.
Me? I just clutch my chest and repeat, "aw."
We added one more ornament to the collection this year. One that tells a long story of love - and heartbreak. It's Uma's dog tag. Try not to clutch your chest.