Great Christmas Ornaments I Have Known (or, Learning to Let Go)

There are four boxes of Christmas decorations in our cellar. Some came with us to Zurich from the U.S.; some were sent to the children as gifts; some I bought here in Switzerland, and some were handmade by the kids and by me. Unpacking these every December is, of course, a walk down memory lane. I suppose that I am destined to take this walk yearly from now until I die, unless I get rid of everything and start a new life elsewhere.

I hope that didn’t sound too negative: that last sentence was intended as pensive. For years I have been interested in what it means when we attach ourselves to objects, like baby items and holiday decorations. I am just one person, with my own particular psychology, so maybe I think about such things too much. And I am someone who, when I pragmatically march to a problematic cupboard (filled with old things from my childhood or those of my children, who are now 18 and 21), determined to at least halve the contents, sits down to look at everything and then can’t give or throw anything away. 

And yet, when I do finally close my eyes and send some beloved-but-no-longer-useful item on its way, it is a huge relief: physical and psychological space has been gained. If (big “if”?) I am a representative human, then we can conclude that humans are emotionally resilient when it comes to the loss of objects to which we’ve imparted a lot of meaning.

My oldest ornaments are personal, but they do not come from my childhood. Unfortunately, my two childhood Christmas decorations—a plastic 1940s (maybe?)-era Rudolph and a small plaster angel, both given to me by my grandmother, did not survive to my adulthood. I think that the angel—blonde (of course!) with light blue robes and gold-painted wings (I miss her)—broke, and the Rudolph somehow disappeared. They live on in my memory, and thinking of them reminds me of many things from my childhood. For example…

I am the oldest of four siblings, and three of us are sisters (myself, K, and H). We sisters were each given one of those plaster angel ornaments (they were small, maybe 2.5 inches high), and each ornament was the same, except for the color of the angel’s robes. My angel’s robes were light blue; K’s were pink, and H’s were white. This distribution reminds me a lot of the dynamic among us: the sister closest in age to me, K, was very passionate about her preferences and would insist on getting her way whenever possible.  Naturally, she insisted on having whatever was pink. Although I liked pink, I learned to settle for blue on most occasions, but I would sometimes speak up, to mixed success. Anyway, I had the blue angel. And H had the white one, which kind of suited her: as the youngest girl and third child, she was very sweet and accepted whatever she was given, while K and I squabbled at the “top.” I could elaborate on these dynamics, but that would really be a different article. And honestly, my perspective could be skewed, and I am anyway old enough not to worry about these things anymore (“Life is not fair,” said my dad, and someday, I’ll accept that). I’m trying to let these particular feelings go, as I also should release all nostalgic, cluttery objects from childhoods past. Ahem.

My very oldest ornament comes from my high school days: a flat, wooden, painted figure of a Japanese woman. I love her, and I love how she came to me: one autumn Saturday morning, my family woke to find Christmas decorations all over the front yard: garlands and ornaments hanging from bushes and trees, and other Yule miscellany strewn everywhere. Two good friends of mine had “Christmassed” our yard—a festive (though unseasonal) alternative to toilet-papering. I am still in awe of their creativity; they had bought bulk Christmas décor for pennies at a garage sale. Most of the items were more or less throw-away, but the Japanese woman was nice, and I kept her. 

There was a funny ornament that a friend and I found in the corner of one of our classrooms in high school. It was a flat metal rectangle with a picture of a “Kliban” cat on it, and it had “Dennis Smith 1984” etched onto it in sloppy, nondescript writing. Our adolescent brains found this hilarious, and we adopted the ornament and sent it back and forth at Christmases, until one year my friend confessed that she had lost it. So it was once the funniest thing ever, and now it is over, which is fine. And I remember it whenever I see a Kliban cat, of course, so that brings me joy.

Wait: breaking news! Apparently, decorating early for Christmas makes you happier. Articles on the subject have been popping up on social media now that Halloween is past. And this reminds me of another thing to let go of: stuffy attitudes regarding when one can decorate for Christmas. My family were traditionalists and would strictly wait until December to decorate. But time is flying by at breakneck speed, so decorating in early November now seems to be a good way to bring warmth and joy to the home, and to enjoy those nostalgic decoration feelings a little bit longer. Excuse me while I pop down to the cellar.

By Carol McGinty

Carol has been in Zurich for many Christmases and has only recently tried out real candles on the tree, which look magical with her assortment of ornaments. 

Illustration by Lemady Rochard

Lemady is an artist and illustrator who also runs Storycraft classes and parties for children at the mal_Raum art studio in Ruschlikon, ZH. She has a background in theatre arts and children’s literature. Lemady lives near Einsiedeln SZ with her family. Contact her:  Facebook:

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