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Cheryl Kollander: Christmas ornaments tell the story of my life

The holiday season is upon on us and the hustle and bustle has begun for most people. But to many families, it is also the season of family traditions and memories. One tradition for me is putting up my Christmas tree and decorating it entirely myself.

While most families make this a group effort, I have always decorated my tree without help. Not from my son when he was growing up, or from my granddaughters, who are now young ladies. My family always said it was because I was such a perfectionist. I let them think that. It is, however, because each ornament has a special meaning and memory for me.

There is the named “mud” ornament that my son made in kindergarten. In his effort to put every color of the rainbow on it, the colors ran together and turned to mud. As I place this on the tree, I am reminded of him as a little boy.

There is the tin Christmas tree ornament that my husband, John, bought at Seneca Mall in 1980 for our first Christmas together. It is engraved with our names and the date. Now, a year after his passing, when I put it on the tree it reminds me of our wonderful life together.

I have not counted how many of the ornaments are his, but there is a Dodge Hemi engine, a tribute to his love of cars, and numerous Jeff Gordon ornaments, a tribute to his love of NASCAR.

There are many ornaments from our vacations – Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona. They all remind me of the great trips that my husband and I took.

My mom stopped putting up a Christmas tree years ago. She allowed me to come and pick which ornaments I wanted before she distributed them to the rest of the family. My husband cringed when I told him where I was going, because we already had almost 200 ornaments. But I wasn’t greedy; I only took about a dozen.

Mom used to work the Christmas season in the mid-1960s at Woolworth’s on Main Street in downtown Buffalo. She bought many of the ornaments there. There was one – a big, blue bulb – that my brother and I took turns putting on the tree as the first ornament each year. I’m not sure what happened to it, but sadly, it was not in the boxes she had.

The most special one was the one my aunt made out of the pearl necklace Mom wore when she and Dad got married. Now, as I put those ornaments on the tree, I am reminded of my childhood.

Then there are the ornaments from friends. This year, as I placed Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus on the tree, it reminded me of the dear friend who made them specially for me and who passed away but a month ago. Other friends took the time to get a special ornament to show how much they cared.

When my son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters come over at Christmas, I point out the special ornaments and tell them the story behind each one. I sometimes get the feeling that they are saying, “I know, I know. You tell us each year.” But I smile and they indulge me.

I buy each of my granddaughters an ornament every year – one that means something special to them. It would be nice to think that one day, they will be telling their grandchildren the history of these ornaments. I’m just not sure if they realize that the history of “my life” is on my Christmas tree.