A History of Christmas Ornaments

October 29, 2020

I lived up until I was 12 years old in Berkeley, California, and I remember a parade we would always watch but I have no idea what it was anymore. And then we moved to El Sobrante, which is a suburb of Richmond. Anyway, it was pretty much a pit and there were no traditions. It was unincorporated at the time. So nothing. So, what came to me was Christmas. I was raised with the Christmas tree and the presents, vaguely Christian, but from the time I was 16, I always had Jewish boyfriends when I had them. And that was the first time I sort of felt part of a group was this Jewish group of students at UC Santa Barbara for a summer session. And after that, my whole life was mainly with, when I was with somebody, with Jewish men. And that was my husband, whom I met at age 35.

He was Jewish, but his parents didn’t want to be seen as Jewish. They suffered prejudice during World War II and they wanted to assimilate into the white Christian world. So, he was raised with Christmas trees and what was important to him, didn’t have any religious significance, but that was important to him, and it was important to me as a tradition. So, we always had Christmas trees with some of my ornaments that I had collected over the years and his that he’d collected, and then he had a star at the top. Christmas presents were fairly lavish, small in number, small in value, but lavish in number for the kids, his two kids. And Christmas decorating, it had a lot of significance in our family and eating the turkey, and, oh, there’s another story. Ask me about the turkey sometime.

So, one year we were living in Mill Valley at the time in a house that we had. I think, maybe it was before. Anyway, we had a Christmas tree one year, that was the year of construction. We were expanding the living room and building under it to create an office for Michael. So, we didn’t have space for a Christmas tree. We were living in our bedroom, which thank goodness was big enough to put the living room couch and a coffee table and the bed. And so, we were a one-room family at that point and didn’t have room for a Christmas tree. But it was an important tradition. So, I took two sheets of cardboard, green cardboard, and I cut out the shape of a Christmas tree and I found some central role that was the trunk and cut out a star at the top. And then I think I made little holes and hung a few arguments here and there. And that’s where we celebrated Christmas that year.

Michael had wanted a walking stick for a long time. So, I searched and I found what I thought he’d love, but I knew if I just wrapped it, he’d know what it was. So, I hid it in the trunk of this cardboard tree. And I also that year gave him a big frying pan, which he had wanted, and then I didn’t know how to hide it. So, I took a big garbage bag and pillows and wrapped it. I mean, this is a big frying pan and I wrapped it in pillows and put it in the garbage bag with a bow. So he opened that as part of the presents and that he loved. He wasn’t a cook, but three or four times a year, he’d cook something and then leave this enormous mess in the kitchen for me to clean up because whoever cooked didn’t clean.

Anyway, he got his frying pan. All the presents have been opened, and I tell him, “Well there’s one more, but you have to find it.” So he looked and looked and looked all around the room and under things and in drawers and he never got it. Finally, after about 15 minutes, I had to tell him where to go to find the walking stick. Well, he was a picky man. So he opened it and I could tell by his face he didn’t like it. So finally you know, I took it back and he got what he wanted, which was a telescoping walk. And then we went back to, of course, the new living room was done, so from there on we went back to our tradition in the living room.

And I was still drinking, I’m an alcoholic and I was drinking. And for the next three years still drinking and didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. And then I got sober 13 years ago and I went on not celebrating Christmas or my birthday or anything, you know, just I don’t know if it was depression, but I’m sure it was at first. And that continued even after I got sober and got better. I was destroyed physically. I still didn’t have…celebrate Christmas. And I have a friend that I met in rehab that we’re still friends and she celebrates all the holidays. I mean, the front of her house, everything.

She’s now 80, and she still does it. So she finally, about six years ago maybe got me the tree. She said, “Go do it, do it.” And so, I found my ornaments, it took a while, and I got a tree and I decorated it and I liked it. And over the last six years, it’s grown and grown. So, every year, like I’ve added more to the outside or the inside and as an ex-image consultant, I love clothes and I love shoes. With my boxes of shoes. I have this collection of ornaments from my childhood. I even have one I made when I was eight years old. And then other things people have given me or I’ve accumulated. And a few years ago I started collecting shoe ornaments. And I finally last year went to an artificial tree and it looks great. And so now, it’s got my whole history of, you know, eight years old to the present and it’s covered in shoes as well.