When I was a very young girl, my first job was working for a German woman who lived around the corner from us. She owned an antique shop called Hollyhock Cottage and ran it from her home.
I would help her after school or on some Saturdays, dusting, polishing and organizing her collections of silver spoons, China cups and her kitchen decorated in all things strawberries and ivy.
I particularly enjoyed Christmas. Her husband would put up a small tree on top of an aging grand piano and out would come her collection of ancient glass ornaments â?? many of them birds with long feathered tails or soldiers. I could not begin to imagine how old some of them were, but they were given new life each December.
I had never seen anything like them before. They were magical to me, and I knew that there were many stories that could be told about each one.
My collections started with a lovely little doll dressed in burgundy velvet.
I opened the small box carefully and there she was â?? a sweet porcelain girl with an endearing face wearing a tiny bonnet and dress and looking as if she had fallen from a Victorian Christmas tree into my lap that particular December.
It was 1983, and Don and I were celebrating our first married Christmas together.
Early morning had us exchanging gifts, and this one, in particular, from my husband launched a holiday tradition.
This cherished present was to be the first of many special ornaments that have graced our tree throughout the years.
When our daughter Sophia was born, a ‘baby’s first’ tiny bear in a sleigh began her collection. Others followed, including fairies and other porcelain-faced dolls. As she grew older, she would point out ahead of time which special ornament that she’d particularly like that year.
When she was joined by a younger brother Douglas and another brother, Alexander, after that, their collections began and included tiny rocking horses, trains and small cars. Batman figures and Star Trek spaceships were fair game, all finding their way among the branches of our ever-growing collections.
Don’s idea was that each child would then have a starting set when they had their own homes and trees to decorate.
So far that hasn’t happened, so our tree gets fuller each year.
Jessie Mae, our Newfoundland, joined the family in 1996. Her collection began that Christmas. Sadly, she is no longer with us, but her 12 loyal years are remembered annually when her ornaments are hung with care on the family tree. In 2011, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, our son named John Rambo, joined the family. He has his collection. In that same year, Douglas married and his wife, Rose, got introduced to my penchant for bestowing ornaments.
Some years , I would wrap the small boxes with that year’s ornament and place them on the Thanksgiving table beside each plate.
The family always knew that an ornament was inside but never knew which one I had chosen. Opening the ornaments at Thanksgiving was a special way to herald the holiday season, igniting the anticipation of the weeks ahead.
When I didn’t have it together to have them all in place on Thanksgiving, they would appear on the table as we were decorating that year’s tree or even at Christmas breakfast as an extra little surprise.
One year, after the tree was decorated, I noticed that all of Sophia’s ornaments seemed to have gotten rehung and regrouped so that they shared the same section of the tree.
Admittedly the boys have always appeared less interested in their mother’s annual tradition, but nevertheless, they can always point to which ones are theirs.
When Hallmark launched its Mr. and Mrs. Claus series, I gravitated to them without hesitation, and so there are many of the jolly couple — stringing popcorn, dancing, wrapping gifts or sitting in front of a fire.
I’m always careful to save the boxes and mark them â?? Douglas’s 10th Christmas 1997, Alex’s first Christmas 1990, and so forth.
In the late 80s, we moved from Oregon to make Virginia our home. One of the first gifts that we were given was a White House ornament and that started another collection.
After acquiring several dozen of them, I purchased an artificial white tree that now gets put up, as well, displaying only the White House ornaments. It is accented with red and blue bows. They are stunning and a reminder of our eastward journey and proximity to Washington, D.C.
Other ornaments, as well as glass balls and crystal bells, join the assemblage of our children’s and our growing collection each year.
Every December as the ornaments are rediscovered, they unfold from their beds of tissue amid smiles and fond memories of Christmases past and Christmases yet to come.
Anita Sherman is the editor of the Culpeper Times. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org</em>