A Christmas tree tells a hundred tales

    With the Christmas season in full swing, I will try again this year to resist its commercialization. There’s one temptation, though, that I never seem able to resist: my obsessive, consuming, year-round effort to purchase any and all Christmas tree ornaments.

    With the Christmas season in full swing, I will try again this year to resist its commercialization. I will try to focus on the spiritual. I’m a “Keep Christ in Christmas” kind of girl. If God so loves the world that He sent us His only Son, why bother with glow-in-the-dark, tap-dancing reindeer?

    There’s one temptation, though, that I seem to be powerless against. That is my obsessive, consuming, year-round effort to purchase any and all Christmas tree ornaments that, for reasons known only to me, appear utterly irresistible.

    As with any addiction, I have long been in denial. But when I realized that we could no longer fit all my ornaments on one tree, and that the box of leftover ornaments in the basement was twice as big as the box of every single ornament my husband and I owned when we were first married, I realized I had a problem.

    Every ornament tells a story

    But where to begin? Every ornament tells a story. There’s the handmade silver ball that my first secretary gave me. There’s the angel I got from an imposing alumnus I met while working at the Wharton School. He always intimidated me — until we learned that both our families had adopted our children. There’s the garland of dancing brown bears that my daughter will allow no one but herself to hang on the tree each year — even though she’s 25.

    I love the Boston terrier angel-dog with halo and wings. Dreadful, yes, but I can explain! We were on a family trip to Boston, and, as we walked into a gift shop, I admonished the children, “Don’t buy the first thing you see!” But the first thing I saw was a Christmas ornament that reminded me of the wonderful, irreplaceable Susie Dog, my childhood pet, and I simply had to have it.

    There are the ornaments my children made at Aunt Linda’s annual Christmas party. Linda is the world’s most perfect mother, but you can’t get mad at her, because she’s also the perfect friend. Linda would work 50, 60, 70 hours a week, travel the country, and still come home and throw a kids’ Christmas party that put us all to shame.

    While I would be stumbling through baby-induced sleep deprivation, Linda would enlist her brother to come down from New Jersey to play Santa. Then she would have the all the kids — 20 of them? 30? I can’t remember (“sleep deprivation”) — sit peacefully at the table, cutting out little red snowflakes that she had traced at 2 a.m. Still more: She would take individual photos of each child, and glue them in the center of their snowflakes. Voilà: a precious souvenir, like the photo of my son, marked “First year Patrick wasn’t afraid of Santa.” Who could possibly part with that?

    There are the crystal ornaments from an eccentric, fun-loving Chestnut Hill widow whom we met on family vacation. She took a shine to my children and asked me at the end of our vacation which years they were born. A week later, I was the surprised and delighted recipient of two Waterford Crystal ornaments, each carved with the year of my children’s births. It seemed my new friend had been collecting these ornaments for 50 years or so, and had decided it was time to share them with a new generation.

    And there are the old, weathered ornaments from our “First Married” Christmas, decorations that my dad would have described as, well, “cheesy.” My husband and I had been married for nine weeks. We were young, in love, and poor. We didn’t think we could afford the luxury of a tree. Then we took a walk one Saturday morning, and saw that our local florist was selling the sawed-off tops of trees for $4. We bought one, took home our “Charlie Brown Tree,” and decorated it for all it was worth. To us newlyweds, it looked as glorious as the tree at Rockefeller Center. Thirty-five years later, those dime store ornaments are more precious to me than my friend’s Waterford crystal.

    Not so holy, still miraculous

    So, what to say about my obsession with Christmas tree decorations? Am I a slave to materialism, or is something else at work here?

    I’d like to think that my purchases represent more than just the clinking of coins into corporate America’s cash registers. These decorations chronicle my family’s life together — from “Just Married” to “Baby’s First Christmas” to all the silly anecdotes and fond memories that make our house a home. And so, as we contemplate at Christmas the miracle of the Holy Family, we can reflect as well on the blessings of our own not-so-holy, but still miraculous, families. They are precious to us, at the holiday season and always. God bless us every one.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.