Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Of Ornamentation, Traditions and Finding Christmas

Some might say that I have an obsession about collecting Christmas ornaments. So be it. Mark realized several years ago that this is one of my passions, so he graciously supports me in my endeavors to pick up momentos from the places we visit on our travels. Bless him, he has also, over the years, warmed to the concept of actually celebrating the Christmas season, rather that just enduring it. That's one of the many reasons I love him, because I know - at least in part - that he goes along with my measured enthusiasm for the season.

This post features pictures of ornaments we have acquired this past year. The lead photo, above, centers on an ornament that is not really designed as an ornament. I purchased it on the Greek island of Samos this past fall when we were there. It had three things going for it: it is a broom (for some reason, I particularly like to collect "broom" ornaments); it is decorated with a lovely shade of blue (Mark's favorite color); and it features the easter Mediterranean "evil eye" (see picture below).

This is another ornament we purchased on Samos. It, too, features a tiny "evil eye, barely visible as the blue bead to the left of the bow knot.

Celebrating Christmas is different for me now than it used to be. My whole worldview and life situation has changed rather dramatically over the past five years. Christmas in my family as my children were growing up was full of traditions - ones that I largely instituted in order to make the whole Christmas season more fun for the kids. We celebrated St. Nicholas Day. Then added St. Lucia's Day. Then added Joseph Smith's birthday (on the 23rd). These activities became traditions, which the kids have told me they loved.

These three tapa angels with purchased at the gift shop at the Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. The day we visited was an extremely stressful one due to a crisis at home, but finding these angels was a bright spot in that day. We had purchased one several years ago at a roadside stand on Maui (which I wrote about here), then never saw another one until that day at Volcanoes. These angels now join the "mother angel" (pictured below) on the tree.

All of that went away when my marriage came to an end. As with Mormon fatherhood (about which I have written extensively), there was a bit of a vacuum with respect to Christmas as I began my new life. The old meanings had washed out to sea, presenting me with an opportunity to reevaluate all of the old traditions and the very meaning of Christmas. 

Speaking of traditions, I realized when we were up at my daughter's in Canada for Thanksgiving a few weeks ago that traditions can be meaningful, but they can also be dysfunctional and even destructive. Sometimes - perhaps a *lot* of times - traditions are used as a means to provide structure to a social situation. Everyone focuses on the traditions as a means of avoiding real (i.e., authentic) communication, real interaction and real relationships. The traditions become the reason for celebrating, rather than the people involved in the celebration.

We acquired this ornament, as well as those in the next two photographs, at the Vancouver Christmas Market a few weeks ago.

I couldn't resist this ornament when I saw it.

I have learned over the past few years that attachment to traditions can ruin the Christmas season, or at least act as a huge drag on it. It is this attachment that, in my view, causes people to make comments about "feeling the Christmas spirit" - or rather lack of it; or that causes people to lament that it's "just doesn't seem like Christmas this year"; or causes people in certain areas of the country to complain that "it's just not Christmas if it doesn't snow"; or, the worst, comments imploring people to return to the "simplicity" and/or "true meaning of Christmas" (i.e., that they think it should mean).

This ornament was purchased in Castellane, France while on our bike tour this past summer. The one pictured below was also purchased in Castellane, but it was not designed as an ornament. It is a "santon," which is a handcrafted and painted figurine used in Provencale creches. I decided to turn this one into an ornament by super-gluing a golden cord to her wimple.

Over the last couple of years, particularly, I have weaned myself from attachment (in the Buddhist sense) to Christmas and its "traditions." There is much about the season that I enjoy, including the (tasteful) music of Christmas, the colors of Christmas, the tastes and smells of Christmas and the enchantment of lights in a darkened room. I also love turning the act of decorating the tree into a creative endeavor. It took me hours to decorate the tree, but I loved it.

This "ornament" was designed as a key chain, but I saw other possibilities. It was purchased this past September in Rome, in a little shop not far from the Pantheon. I had been looking in vain for an ornament from Rome, then saw this. It was perfect. Befana, the Italian "Santa Clause."

The next day, we were at a tacky newspaper/souvenir stand across the street from the Colosseum, awaiting  the start of a group tour. Suddenly, I saw this horribly tacky (and dirty) Vespa scooter, and I realized how perfect it was as a remembrance of Rome, complete with scooters and dirt.

But what I enjoy most about the season now is the people. My children. My husband. Our friends. There are no "this is the way we have always done it" moments.  There is no "this is the way it is 'supposed' to be." It just is. There are no expectations. I just let it happen (albeit with the usual preparations re gifts and meals). In that, I guess it's "simple." And I've grown to love it.

We purchased this in Durham, NC last spring while there attending my sister's doctoral hooding ceremony at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It's really a "spirit ball" (see below), but it serves as an ornament, too.

My daughter Rachel bought this in London while there with her nanny family last summer

The cow bell pictured below was purchased on a rainy day in a small shop in Annecy, France on our bike tour last summer. The one above, I have to confess, was included in a box of Swiss chocolate.

A new "broom" ornament from the Granville Island Broom Company in Vancouver.

Purchased at the gift shop in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, home of Michelangelo's David.

New Hawaii ornaments, the one above from the big island, the one below from Maui, commemorating our marriage last April on Little Beach, Maui. The other side depicts a heterosexual couple. I just turn it so that faces into the tree.

This was one of my gifts to Mark on our very first Christmas together. It remains my favorite ornament.

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