Untrimming the Christmas tree has always been one of the highlights of the season for me. Many people find it a depressing task, coming as it does after the holiday festivities are over. They dread the day the tree starts going “Plink! Plink!” when anyone bumps into it. For me, that plinking heralds a quiet evening of cherished memories.
I used to have annual trimming parties, each with a different theme. The guests really did decorate my tree. I was kept busy refilling punch bowls and chafing dishes. The untrimming became my special time to renew acquaintances with old friends—both ornamental and human.
Over the years my ornaments have come from many places and many guests. Some locations, like Cape Cod, are where I vacationed regularly and found instant relaxation each time I returned. Others are locales I visited but once, perhaps on a business trip. The giving guests, similarly, ranged from trimming “regulars” whom I saw off-season, to friends with whom I’ve since lost touch.
As I take each ornament off the tree, I think of the person or place it came from. These memories trigger others, often having nothing to do with Christmas. Not all are happy ones, but all are treasured.
Three small glass balls that hung on my family’s tree when I was young remind me of the year Santa brought me Zippy the Chimp. Anyone who can sing “It’s Howdy Doody Time” will remember Zippy. So will my nephew, Barry, who is a generation removed from Howdy. As a toddler visiting his grandparents, he became attached to Zippy, long abandoned in my old bedroom. The chimp was relocated to Vermont and was well-loved (and well-worn) before his second owner, too, outgrew him.
A chartreuse clay cow is among the ornaments I’ve had the longest. One of my Jewish classmates brought it to my first tree trim, my senior year in college. It was twenty-five years after graduation before I saw Myra again at a reunion, but I’d been with her in thought every Christmas in between.
Two eggs decorated with dried flowers are from Scranton, Pennsylvania where I was on assignment for several months. In the mall, I bought a small, artificial Christmas tree and selected trimmings to send to my cousin, who was fighting in Viet Nam. I set the tree up temporarily in my motel room until I could figure out how to ship it. It was early November, and I wondered if the cleaning staff thought I didn’t expect to live until Christmas. I prayed that my cousin would. He did, but he’s gone now.
A naked, anatomically correct angel made from cookie dough was a gift from my ex-husband (after we had separated but remained friends). He found it in Greenwich Village and we both thought it was hilarious. I still smile when I look at it. Thanks to Facebook, I know that he now has grandchildren to share his Christmases.
A Norman Rockwell ball reminds me of my coworker, Jo-Ann, who moved to California with her husband. In the cards we used to exchange, she wrote she thought of me when she hung the dough ornaments I’d made for her. We recently reconnected through Facebook, too, and are exchanging holiday letters again.
My long-term (but no longer) significant other was my lighting, star-on-the-top and tree disposal specialist. On one of our vacation trips, we drove from Switzerland to Austria and passed up lunch to avoid having to change currency in Liechtenstein. Upon arriving in Austria we discovered we’d lost an hour due to an unexpected time-zone change. I had just enough time to score a few purchases before the stores closed. So, the wax ornaments from Innsbruck are mine only because of a skipped lunch.
A tiny clay wreath with a bright red bow was a gift from my niece, Pam. She made it herself when she was a child. She’s married now, with a daughter and tree of her own. I’ll probably return the wreath to her someday, but I’m not ready to part with it yet.
I have nine silver snowflakes that my father ordered from the Metropolitan Museum, one for every year from 1976 thru 1984. They ended the Christmas after he died of cancer. It’s still painful to touch those snowflakes every January, but it’s as though I’m still touching a small piece of him, too.
As I carefully wrap each ornament in tissue, I savor these recollections. The happy and the sad. The recent and those from the dim past. I think ahead to next trim, wondering what theme I’ll decide upon and what memories will be created. But mostly I look forward to the next year’s untrimming and renewing the memories I already treasure.