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Family & Relationships

When Ornaments Tell a Story

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For many who celebrate Christmas, certain ornaments hold a special meaning.

Often, that meaning is religious or spiritual. But many can also tell a personal story and become a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. For me, none of our family ornaments carry as much significance as the ones my wife, Patty, made in advance our daughter’s arrival on May 29, 1983. Every year, when I place them on the tree, it’s a reminder of those happy days of anticipation. 

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When Patty was pregnant with our first child 36 years ago, she decided to commemorate the wait by making a set of Christmas tree ornaments. Tenaciously, she needle-pointed dozens of holiday scenes, pasting them into plastic gold frames and attaching ribbons.  Every year since Meaghan arrived, we’ve saved the ornaments for last – the finishing touch – on the tree.  And every year, I tell the kids stories about how I’d wake up long past midnight and see Patty next to me – still sewing so she could have all the ornaments finished by Christmas.  

This Christmas will be even more special.  With Meaghan, 35, and her girlfriend, Kayla, 29, planning to marry in 2019, Patty plans a surprise holiday gift of some of her ornaments.  Now 62, she clearly remembers the satisfaction she felt when creating them.   

“I’ve never been artistic, but it felt homey because we were creating our own traditions for the first time,” she says.  “I thought it would be meaningful to give them to Meaghan and Kayla this year as they begin their lives as a couple.”

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When Kristi Dingwell Morrison strings her family’s tree at home in Highland Ranch, CO, she savors a pair of delicate blown-glass birds that belonged to her grandparents, Everett and Clara Dingwell, who lived in tiny Burchard, NE.  The ornaments were a gift from Clara to Everett long before Kristi was born in 1946. 

“They remind me of my grandparents’ enduring love for each other, their devotion to their only child who grew up to become my father, and for our whole family,” Kristi says. “Grandpa Dingwell died at the age I am now, just shy of his 50th wedding anniversary.  The paint on these small treasures is scuffed and the ribbon frayed, but perfection is overrated. The wonderful memories and the gift of love remains.”

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When flooding from Hurricane Agnes inundated their home in Wilkes-Barre, PA, with little warning in 1972, Don and Mary Smith, now 88 and 85, respectively, lost all of their personal possessions. 

“For the Christmas after the ’72 flood, we bought all new ornaments, but didn’t remember to buy an angel or star for the top of the tree,” Mary recalls.  “Our daughter Pam was 13 at the time and made a cardboard star with colored sprinkles.  We’ve put that star on our tree for the last 45 years.”

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How about you – Do you have a favorite ornament?   

Take some time this holiday to reflect on those special moments and perhaps even give the gift of a new memory to those you hold dear.

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