Yak Attack

A place to unwind and spend some time yakking.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Oh Tannenbaum

Sunday night, we hauled out our Christmas decorations and trimmed our Douglas fir. Each member of the Lew household has his, or her, own ornament box (shoe boxes are the dominant vessels for ornament storage), each bauble lovingly wrapped in old paper towels or last year’s cast off gift wrap.

This part of the Lew holiday season, when we dig out these treasures and hang them on our tree, is what I enjoy the most. Ten years ago, our extended family started an ornament tradition. Each one of us makes an ornament, and on Christmas Eve we hold an exchange. You know, where you draw a number, and each person picks a package according to his number, or “steals” an opened package from an unsuspecting earlier contestant. So, each Christmas we add six more home made ornaments to our tree.

Over the years, each family member has honed his technique of ornament creation. My brother-in-law, for example, always uses golf supplies, like wooden tees and plastic golf balls, to create his ornament. Typically, it is snowman shaped, and a blowtorch is often involved—anyway, they are a hoot.

Grandpa’s ornaments have been the largest, historically. One Christmas, his ornament had a yard long pine tree branch as its base. He has a fondness for plastic fruit, fake birds and glitter, too. This spry gentleman shouldn’t be second-guessed, however. Last year’s ornament was a miniature basket of roses and greenery, with dew drops, tiny, wooden lady bugs and bees delicately glued to flower petals. Rosie triumphed in securing Grandpa’s lovely ornament (it was a fierce, but friendly competition ), and she placed it on her desk, so she could look at it all year long.

My brother always brings an ornament, but almost never creates it himself. His stepdaughters usually put it together for him when they make theirs. His family always creates their ornaments along a family theme, placed carefully in designer holiday gift bags. It’s like the Hallmark Collector’s Edition—they are always cute, always within the same theme and opened among comments from his wife and kids, “Oh, I’m sorry you picked mine. It turned out so ugly.” Of course, it isn’t.

The children of Lewville are partial to Sculpey® clay. They’ve created Santas, snowmen, marshmellow men, sports equipment, Nutcracker characters, the Grinch and animals out it. In typical Lew fashion, we’re often late in the game in the actual production of our ornament. We put most of our energy into the mental process, thinking of what to make, than the actual act of creation. So, rather than the pleasant, seasonal aroma of cinnamon and cardamom wafting through the house, the odor of almost burnt clay sets off the smoke detector a couple of days before the exchange.

My sister, Auntie L, is an artisan. Her ornaments are always beautiful, professional and unique. Grandma always disqualifies her ornaments, because “L is a crafty type.” Needless to say, this pissed off Auntie L to no end. By the conclusion of the exchange,though, she’s soothed, and Grandma’s comments are forgotten, because her ornament has been much sought after by the family at large, because it's so cool.

Each one of us in the Lew household has favorites among our ornament collection. There is cousin B’s beer can train engine, made from an MGD can, pipe cleaners and Christmas candy. Then there’s the rectangular ornament made by J, featuring Batman stickers on a field of green and Robin stickers on a field of red. The wooden snowman made by Tee, accented by a pea-sized glob of hot glue and the end of an orange colored pencil makes the list. Zander’s clay Santa, rucksack on his back; and Uncle M’s Styrofoam Christmas tree, decorated with wooden tee ornaments and a ball marker topper.

I think it’s so neat how, year after year, our ornaments says something about us, good or not so groovy. I can tell, at a glance, who’s made the ornament, without her identifying herself. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling that is quite chummy. I tried to describe it to Tee as we hung up our decorations.

“I love putting these up,” I told him, “It’s like getting together with old friends.”

He raised his left eyebrow and gave me a quick glance. “You need to make some new friends, Mom.”

Okay true, that’s beside the point. “You know, it’s like seeing a good friend you haven’t seen in a long, long time. Get it?”

He placed cousin B’s train at eye level on the tree and stood back to survey his work. He smiled. “Yeah, I get it.”


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