Homespun Christmas Memories

Sarah Ritchie Family Celebrations, Holidays, Rituals

I’ve always appreciated the quotation from the writer Paul Pearsall—that family helps us understand what everything means and how to make everything meaningful.  For those of who embrace the Celebrant life, we try to imbue all of our traditions with meaning, and I find that especially so during holidays.

I do not have children, and as an adult I have recently moved more than I would like.  Perhaps the upshot of this transitory stage is a tending to the holidays with special care.  Although living in crowded mid-town Manhattan, I made sure to get a proper sized tree (admittedly I brought it home on the subway!) and filled it to the brim with meaningful ornaments.  I do believe that a well-curated tree is not about buying the most beautiful ornaments or creating some “theme” to its design, rather it is filled with objects representing important people, places, and ideas—and of course, objects of faith, for those who practice..

I filled my tree with good luck symbols—a bird’s nest, for instance, is considered good luck.   Certain Europeans believe pigs and chimney sweeps to bring luck in the New Year.    A new addition, this year, is a pickle!  Apparently in Germany, the pickle is the last ornament to be placed on the tree.  Given its green color, it is hard to see.  The child who finds the pickle receives a special present.

There are ornaments representing travels like a Harrod’s bear from London and a nativity scene I purchased in Panama.    Framed pictures of family members, including those no longer with us, accompany ornaments that pay tribute to my brides and grooms.  The artwork of children complement ornaments in remembrance of friends…the Hummingbird in honor of surrogate parents who’ve just passed, a ballet dancer representing my oldest friend Sara’s dancing daughter, and a quintessential NYC hotdog stand, which reminds me of my friend Osama, who has a food cart in Central Park—I see him every week during the wedding season!   Scissors recognize my deep affection for (and dependence on!) my favorite hairdresser.  My dear friend Janet gifted me with a treasured ornament, the bell from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to note my newfound interest in Christmas movies of all kind.  My Saint Lucia bobbles are a nod to my connection to a Swedish family, the Ebbessons, in my hometown in Oklahoma, as well as my first attendance of New York City’s Saint Lucia extravaganza in mid-December.

I love having a Christmas tree and wish that all would enjoy them as much as I do.  I even convinced a Jewish friend to give a “Hanukkah Bush” try.  We gathered up a tiny “Charlie Brown” tree and filled it with Jewish and secular ornaments—an adorable menorah, a dreidel, along with a Pride rainbow, a pineapple (a traditional sign of hospitality), a pink Cadillac (in homage to the passing of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin), and an ornament in honor of his favorite pooch.  My hope is that every tree, belonging to an individual, a family, Christian or not, is filled to the brim with rich and meaningful decorations, collected over time.