Making A Family Tree—Christmas Tree, That Is

For a year or two before my boyfriend (now husband) moved in to my apartment, I had complete autonomy over holiday decorating. One year I covered my tree with teal lights and real peacock feathers, inspired by some hybrid of Simon Doonan and Deyrolle, I think. Another tree was lit up pink and flocked with felted wool snowflakes. Girly, silly, festive and fun–that was my M.O., coming from a home where our tree was always decorated at the whim of my uber-stylish mom’s on-trend tastes. My dad dubbed one iteration from the early ’90’s an “Elvis Presley” Christmas tree, as it was daubed in velvet ornaments. There are photos of me as a toddler standing next to a tall vase of white-painted branches hung abstractly with spare ornaments–this was waaaay before West Elm and the MoMa store, people. She was ahead of her time, really, but also bucked tradition so openly that I didn’t grow up with any ties to ornaments or special décor. I think she actually gave away the entire set of woodland creature ornaments I’d grown up with to friends to make space for those Presley-esque ones…with no regard to whether as an adult I’d feel a sense of loss about it.

Flash forward to 2008, when my husband and I decorated our first ever Christmas tree together. His mother had passed away the previous year, so it was an especially hard holiday for him. He’d returned from North Dakota the previous spring with a mixed bag of sentimental objects of hers: a rolling pin, a roasting pan I used to make our Christmas turkey, a taxidermied raccoon positioned in full pounce (that’s another story all together) and a box of ornaments that had trimmed their family trees every year for his entire life. There was a huge, gorgeous mercury glass orb that read “Merry Christmas” in handwriting from another time, and two sweet ball ornaments with his parents’ names written in white pen. Also in the mix were beautiful ornaments he’d bought for his mother over the years at ABC Carpet & Home– flocked blue and pink oversize balls, a glittered, sequined globe in a silvery gray. They were all gorgeous, and special, and they did NOT match with my dime-store snowflakes, hippie peacock feathers, and the lone ballerina ornament that had survived my mother’s serious edits. Also, he liked colorful lights. The more colors, the better. I preferred (and still do) simple white twinkle lights. He had a quilted tree skirt that his mom had made (she was an incredible quilter) that was red and green and very…Christmas-y. I ususally wrapped a natural-colored linen tablecloth around the base of the tree. To say we had different tree styles is an understatement. We had basically come from different planets–my whims and fancies hitting his traditions head-on, and I remember feeling frustrated that when we were done trimming the tree it looked lovely, but didn’t feel anything like me.

That weekend, I wandered into ABC Carpet & Home myself (if you don’t know it, it’s a gorgeous home store near NYC’s Union Square that has a display of holiday decor that could stop your heart with it’s beauty), and browsed around, looking for ornaments that were special, and spoke to me–ornaments I’d want to hang on our tree ten, twenty, thirty years from now. I zeroed in on two blown-glass spirals in a periwinkle purple. They reminded me of Dale Chihuly sculptures, and I had to have them. Not cheap, but not outrageously priced, either, I bought them and brought them home to add to our tree–they glinted in the colored lights, and looked so beautiful. That year for Christmas my husband gave me a gorgeous silver filigree leaf ornament on a lush satin ribbon-an heirloom piece in the making. Each year since he’s gifted me another lovely trinket for the tree, and our collection has grown into something that feels just right. It’s sentimental and cozy, and full of memories both old and new. Last year, for our daughter’s first Christmas, he bought her a sweet little ornament with a reindeer mom, dad and baby personalized with her name. This year she’s nearly two and filled with the Christmas spirit. “Let’s decorate, Mama,” she’s said nearly every morning since we brought our tree home. While all those pretty ornaments are taking the year off (I fear that her overzealous toddler decorating would harm them), I can’t wait for her to grow as attached to them as we are, and anticipate the day when she can pick out some of her own to add to our collection.