“Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room. All those presents under it, all that anticipation. Just a way of saying there’s always light and hope in the world.” —Nora Roberts
It was the first weekend of December 2021, and my husband, Jeff, and I were babysitting our granddaughter, Vivienne (Vivi) King, for the first time as her mommy and daddy were going on their first weekend getaway alone since she was born.
We decided we would be spending most of our time with Vivi in our downstairs family room as it’s carpeted and far more toddler-friendly, except for my Christmas tree. Yes, I said MY Christmas Tree. Each year, my husband and I decorate our own trees. His is always in our upstairs living room and decorated with colorful lights, tinsel garland and a variety of decorative balls. My tree is always in our family room and is decorated with white lights and an abundance of ornaments that were either passed down or gifted to me. The only thing I purchased for my tree were decorative red bows.
Vivi had a variety of toys to play with along with movies to watch. She was most intrigued with my tree as she was so captivated with all the colors, sparkles, and lights. This would be Vivi’s first Christmas and a magical one for her to embrace.
While rocking my precious granddaughter to sleep, I gazed at my tree and it struck me just how many memories a Christmas tree holds, from the tree topper to the ornaments, down to the tree skirt. I was taking a trip down memory lane.
Many years ago, when I was around 7 years old or so, my mom, Bev (Quiser) Bizal, owned and operated The Green Fern Beauty Salon out of my childhood home on Little Sturgeon Lake. A customer of hers, Millie Lange, made a variety of beaded bell ornaments and gave them as a gift to my mom. My favorite beaded ornament was a copper bell. Each year, as a child through to my teens, that would always be the first ornament that I would place on the tree. In my later adult years, my mom gifted me the beaded ornaments. I continued my tradition of placing the copper bell ornament on the tree first.
In 1992, when I was 21 years old, I had my first child, Nina. At that time, we lived in Cook and I owned and operated the Comet Theater along with Nina’s dad. We lived in the tiny apartment above the theater. I remember our first Christmas there. Nina was just shy of turning 4 months old. We were as poor as church mice. I remember feeling so sad that we didn’t even have a Christmas tree. I had hung a few tiny red ball ornaments on my cactus plant that sat on a stereo speaker in our living room.
I will never forget when our neighbor and close friend Kathi Savela came over with a special gift for us. She made the most beautiful quilted Christmas tree skirt. I was so touched and grateful. I remember draping it over the stereo speaker and placing my cactus plant on top of it. I have wrapped that beautiful tree skirt around many trees for the past 29 years. There is so much truth in the phrase “you may forget what someone said to you, but you will never forget how they made you feel.”
Another Christmas season in the early ‘90s that I remember very well was when my dad’s former girlfriend, Corrine Spector, paid me a visit. She complimented my tree that had strings of lights and a beautiful tree skirt below. At that time, I had a handful of ornaments. She smiled and told me that every girl deserves a string of pearls. At that moment, she handed me a gift bag full of many strings of pearls for my Christmas tree along with a variety of ornaments. Corrine was in her early 50s at that time and told me it was time that she had a grown-up tree and decided to gift ornaments to me and her own adult children. Again, I have strung the pearls and hung the ornaments every year since. Corrine, sadly, passed away some years ago.
A unique treasure on my tree is my old-fashioned Santa tree topper given to me by my aunt Ardell Stimson, who is one of the loveliest ladies I have ever known. He sits proudly atop, overseeing the tree rather than the traditional star or angel. This was given to me in the early ‘90s as well. I have never had another tree topper since.
I can’t forget about my whimsical icicle snowman gifted to my three daughters Nina, Anjelica and Mia when they were quite young, by Molly Bizal. She was a very sweet lady that was fond of my girls.
Most near and dear to me are the variety of ornaments that were hand-made by my children. Most ornaments were made by Nina and Anjelica during their preschool years at Little Beginnings in Cook.
As I rocked Vivi and reminisced of the many Christmases past, I decided this would be my last year decorating my tree with all these special ornaments. Maybe it is a rite of passage that I am now 50 years old and ready to simplify and, as Corrine would say, have a grownup tree. This will be a huge step for me as I have a hard time parting with possessions that are special and meaningful to me. However, I decided that I wanted to pass these special treasures on to my children that I love so dearly. Why wait until I am gone? That would be just one more thing for them to fight over! It will give new meaning to see the treasured decorations on or around their trees capturing new memories.
As for the strings of pearls and ornaments from Corrine, I was able to get in touch with her daughter, Cassandra (Cass) Spector. I shared with Cass the story of her mom giving me the pearls and ornaments and how I have decorated my Christmas trees with them ever since. It was so great reconnecting with Cass as we shared laughter and tears reminiscing. Corrine passed away when Cass’s daughter, Reghan, was only eighteen months old. Cass’s daughter, Abbie, wasn’t even a thought at the time. I told Cass that I am now ready for a grown-up tree. I asked if she would like the many strings of pearls and ornaments. Cass was touched and loved the idea of passing on the nostalgic keepsakes to her daughters. We both felt that this would make Corrine happy.
Another Christmas has passed, and we are now into a new year. It is a bittersweet feeling this year as I pack away Christmas, knowing some items are not being stored but rather wrapped to be gifted. I keep reminding myself that change is good along with giving, and in a sense, I am gifting a part of myself that will be captured and treasured on many beautiful Christmas trees to come.
Happy New Year!
Dana Sanders lives on the outskirts of the Sax-Zim Bog with her husband, Jeff. She is a frequent contributor to Hometown Focus and newly published author of the children’s book The Hidden Treasure of the Sax-Zim Bog.