Reading a column by Margaret Renkl in the New York Times this week made me aware that we have a time capsule in our living room each holiday season — a Christmas tree and surrounding decorations just full of family memories.
Some of our ornaments and Christmas-related figures are artifacts from three generations of Schraders. My grandmother Ethel Schrader’s milk pitcher holding artificial poinsettias, a Hummel figurine from my mother’s collection depicting Baby Jesus in the manger, the HO-scale train running under the tree bought for our boys some 40 years ago, and a German nutcracker I bought for Kay while taking part in a NATO “broken arrow” training exercise in the mid-1980s.
Just scanning the ornaments on our tree, I find a Christmas ornament made from dough and painted by one son and two popsicle sticks forming a cross wrapped in red yarn by another. There are custom-made ornaments from our California home—Livermore, and one depicting Waterman where I was born.
Then there is the winged ear ornament representing DeKalb Ag, where my father once worked, and a school bell reminding me that my mother was a school teacher in three country schools around Waterman, and then four “town” schools in Somonauk, Hinckley, Kingston and Genoa.
Looking further up and down the tree, I find the Dallas Cowboys globe added when one son followed that team, and an Elvis photo globe, our sons’ favorite pop star in their early years (and mine too).
There are some hand-painted eggs beautifully decorated by Kay’s Aunt Daisy back in the 1960s, and a gift ornament from Kay’s PEO chapter in California. A Union Jack ornament reminds us of our trip to England. A hand-crocheted one was made by my mother, plus several more that I don’t remember who made or gave them to us. I should have kept a Christmas tree journal so our kids would know and cherish each one.
The most valuable Christmas decoration in our home is a foot-tall hand-carved angel with delicately-painted features, made by two brothers in a small Russian village north of St. Petersburg. This was given to me by a good friend in Livermore who was a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and traveled frequently to the Soviet Union to take part in scientific exchanges.
So many of our decorations and ornaments have special meaning to us and now I realize we have a family time capsule stored in our basement that we bring out once a year and have not really understood until now its part in telling our life stories.
In sharing this, I hope other families will record the memories surrounding their Christmas keepsakes with their children and grandchildren. Put them down on paper and store them with the boxes of holiday decorations so each year the story can be retold to the younger set. Then add a memory from that year and build on the tradition.
Maybe even record the voices of your grandparents or the oldest aunt or uncle, telling about their childhood Christmas memories and what toys and ornaments they cherished that have been lost or may still be stored in their attics. Don’t forget to have them talk about those big extended family holiday gatherings where relatives you only see once a year share good tidings and photos of their grandkids.