3 December 2000

O Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree in our apartment is almost completely my own work. Knowing the stories of the things on it is knowing me. Little things (the lights, tinsel, and bead garlands are all purple, so my favorite color should be obvious) and deeper ones.

One thing that would be seen after some inspection is that I value handmade work, the more intricate the better. There are at least a dozen ornaments I made myself, from the clothespin-and-paper angel from kindergarten, 22 years ago, to knitted bells of several colors to hugely detailed creations of sequins, beads, and ribbons, painstakingly pinned to a styrofoam ball. My mother does those also, and I have two of her constructions, as well as a pinecone painted silver that she or my aunt did as a child. A detailed snowflake of white drinking straws, which I bought from its Eastern European maker at a craft fair, and plastic canvas snowflakes made by some North Carolina crafter my grandmother encountered. And probably some of the others were assembled by unknown Asians or other laborers who got the same back pain I did.

Then there are the hand-me-downs -- at least four ornaments that used to be my great-aunt Bernardine's before she entered the nursing home; four that belonged to my Grandparents Lonon (given up because they have more than twice as many ornaments as could go on any tree that fits in their house); five or so from my late Grandmother Saunders; four that used to be on Mom's tree (as well as many she's bought for me). The ones from my childhood trees are especially important -- they include the tree-topper, a brown-haired, gold-winged angel in a red dress, holding her harp. Tree-toppers in the stores now are much flashier, but I like the angel who stands calmly where a person couldn't, ready with music.

But I'm a pop-culture junkie too, and the tree shows it -- glass balls with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and South Park's Kenny. Figurings of the Powerpuff Girls' Buttercup opening a present, her face lit up with joy, or the Brain standing on Pinky's shoulders trying to wrap a Santa robe around them both. Gold cardboard cutouts of Peanuts characters -- my favorite depicts Charlie Brown's head with an ornament hanger at its top.

And then there are the others: miniature ballet slippers and a tiny model chandelier; sequined hearts and a flying saucer; garlands made of Mardi Gras beads (actually from Tampa's Guavaween) looped together. Putting it all up feels like an accomplishment, my own work of art. In a month it will be commonplace, but this night I finished decorating, with the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas in the background, is probably more special than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day themselves. This is my celebration.

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