Last night, we had the opportunity to have dinner with our now married daughter and her husband at their new home. This is Rebecca and Anthony’s first Christmas living together and the first time they decorated their own Christmas tree. I stood for several minutes and looked at the ornaments from their combined childhoods and thought about all the years we’ve collected ornaments for our girls. It felt odd to see Rebecca’s ornaments on a tree other than our family tree, but it was a beautiful, comforting feeling to know that a big part of her childhood hangs on the tree in her new home. We are still tethered together by tradition even when miles apart.
When my brothers and I were little, my parents began the tradition of giving each of us a new ornament each year that represented something special that took place in our lives that year. It’s a tradition that Ken and I continued with our own daughters. On Rebecca’s tree hung the ornament she received the year she attended Girls State and one from and the year she took up field hockey, a sport she still loves. Other ornaments reminded me of the year she joined the band as a clarinet player, the year she first became an altar server, and when she climbed her first mountain. Hanging beside them were Anthony’s childhood ornaments–a handprint, an airplane, and school Christmas picture. All memories of two lives now blended as one.
Every ornament holds a special memory–the speech my father made on my wedding day (the wreath of keys), my first ornament from when I was just a baby (Raggedy Anne), and Katie’s first theater production (drama masks). Every year, as we decorate the tree, memories come flooding back of trips we’ve taken, milestones we’ve crossed, and special days that will live on in our hearts and minds.
Over the years, our ornament collection has grown large enough to require multiple trees. We’ve moved our travel ornaments to their own tree as well as our faith and nativity ornaments, my White House ornament collection, and our Eastern Shore collection.
We know that someday soon, Katie and Morgan will take their ornaments to their homes and begin their own family traditions of collecting special ornaments. Ken and I will be left with the ornaments and memories we’ve gathered over the years. And each time we visit one of the girls, we will get to see trees filled with the story of their lives mingled with their husbands and their young families and know that their children will relive happy times every year when they hang their ornaments on the tree.
After we finished decorating our family tree this year, the girls stood back and looked at the display. It brought a tear to my eye when I heard their words. Morgan said, “I like our tree with ornaments that have meaning instead of a tree with just colored balls and lights. It’s more special.” Katie agreed, and I feel the same sentiment. The trees you see in magazines and on Pinterest with color themes and ribbons and balls are beautiful. I love to look at them and see how perfectly they flow with their combination of lights and colors. But there’s something to be said for a tree with an eclectic mix of memories rather than just balls or crafts or ribbons.
I like to think our trees truly reflect our lives. They’re a mx of ups and downs–falling glitter, a mountain climber with missing feet, and pets we’ve loved and lost, all hanging beside brides and grooms, graduation caps, and scales of justice.
Our Christmas trees provide a way to look back at the past and have hope for the future. They’re collections of memories, special moments, great accomplishments, as well as ties to loved ones we’ve lost, friends we used to know, things we tried, and places we went. Our Christmas trees portray lives lived, family loved, and tradition cherished.
I hope that everyone who reads this can look at their holiday decorations or traditions, be they Christmas or Hanukkah or another tradition you hold dear, and see a beautiful blending of the past and the present. I hope your holiday is about more than twinkling lights and packages wrapped with bows. I hope it’s about family and love and peace and joy and happiness and cherished memories. And if you do celebrate Christmas, I hope it’s about more than trees and candles and reindeer and elves. I hope it’s about magic and blessings and a bright shining star that led the way, angels singing hosannas on high, and a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. I hope that under your tree, there’s something other than presents and that in your hearts and on your lips is something more than a day off or a dinner with family.
For, “I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Hang your ornaments, fill your stockings, and plan your meals, but remember that these traditions have meanings far beyond the ribbons and bows, balls and lights, and turkey and cranberry sauce. Hug your loved ones tight, sing Christmas Carrols, attended a Christmas church service, and gaze upon your decorations and remember all that you have experienced this year–the good and the bad, and all that you’ve done in years past, and know that, through it all, you are blessed.
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain (2020).