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No Respecter of Ornaments

By Leslie Graff

“Do we have to put them all up this year?,” my husband grumbles as he shuffles down a few trees and a dozen freezing cold boxes from the attic.

“Yes, all of them!,” I assert, with some insistence. “In the Graff house we are no respecter of ornaments. It’s a matter of principle.”

Everyone is welcome under our big tent, or big tree, rather. The one wing dismembered Styrofoam meat tray glittered angel hangs next to the carved Kenyan animals. The lifesaver body doll from third grade sidles up to engraved carousel one of my students gave me. The gaudy beaded Saks Fifth Avenue ornaments my grandmother bought shares a branch with the one legged C-3PO.

Yep, I check my artist aesthetic sense at the door in December. No matter their state, or garishness, they have a place on the tree (even if it’s at the back). Any of these characters, when viewed in the harsh fluorescent light of day would quickly earn a one way ticket to the landfill, but when the Christmas music is playing and they are bathed in the festive glow of the twinkling lights they receive mercy.

I love ornaments in all their sentimentality. Accumulations of life’s small moments. The glittery wonders, the masterpieces of my once young fumbling grade school fingers hang alongside my children’s. The old guard, heirloom ornaments, war torn soldiers scarred by decades of ornament duty, tell of eras past. The unusual and sometimes tacky figures recall at their annual hanging trips, acquaintances, associations not oft remembered. Still it’s more than that.

The Savior looks upon us with compassionate eyes, he see us in a gentle light. He knows our efforts and loves us even in our short-falling attempts. He knows our worth even in our imperfect, battered state. He does ask for haughty beauty he asks for earnest humbleness. He takes us broken and restores us whole.

So I hang them, hundreds of tiny tokens tucked amid the lights and branches. Reminding me of the Savior’s gentle ways. Teaching of the treasure to be found in still imperfect souls.

What parts of the Christmas ritual have deeper meanings for you? What are some of the favorite treasures you hang on your tree?

About Leslie Graff

(Art Director) In her pre-diapering days, Leslie earned an MS in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU. This entitled her to mold the minds of impressionable college students in rambling six-hour lecture courses and travel the world as child life specialist. She now passes the seasons in a quaint Massachusetts town with her husband, Allen, and three young sons. She spends her days encouraging play, championing global causes, and whipping up a mean R2D2 cake. She savors her nights, stealing away to her studio to paint.

14 thoughts on “No Respecter of Ornaments”

  1. Leslie, I love this. Especially the one-legged C3PO. I kept a one-legged Buzz Lightyear toy for many years.

    I do love the stories associated with various ornaments. Our many birds, which dh and I bought at Roberts the year we had a very tight budget (one bird at a time, multiple trips, each in line with a bird to get the 40% off), the wooden bead strands we made ourselves, different ornaments from my childhood that I made or received as gifts. Even the tacky rocking horse that I don't love, but my favorite Grammie gave to me. So far, it all stays (well, okay, except for the ornaments from our ward giving tree–never did like those). It's the stories that make them work.

  2. When we were newlyweds I mourned the sad state of our barren Christmas tree. Of course we had the obligatory newlywed poverty to accompany it so it felt even less like Christmas at home. That year we started a new tradition – to give each other an ornament the day we put up the tree. The tradition has continued through 4 children. Our tree is an odd assortment of ornaments purchased not with an over all aesthetic vision but rather with the personalities of each person carefully considered. Now putting up the tree is a trip down memory lane, wonderful. I've promised the kids that when they're grown and have their own Christmas tree I'll hand over their ornaments, but in reality that level of empty nesting may be beyond me.

  3. Great post title, Leslie! Leave it to you wonderful ladies to help me find the beauty in our ugly Christmas decorations. There were a few that were seriously on their way out the door this year, but maybe I'll hang on to them for a little longer and try to see them through different eyes.

    I'd love to start the ornament tradition with our kids. We always wanted to do that but never seemed to get around to it.

    It's fun hearing your stories!

  4. I wish I could come see all of your trees. I love seening glimpses into other peoples worlds via their trees. My grandmother gives everyone an ornament every year it's a very fun tradition. Some might are quite atrocious but others are sweet. In her old age my mom and I are now designated shoppers and have fun choosing things that fit people's interests and personalities. It's a great tradtion and builds my kids stash of ornaments for when they are grown.

  5. I think I've posted pictures of the angel dh and ds made out of a toilet paper roll that sits atop our tree- beautiful, no. elegant, no. But, I love that they made it together and how excited ds is to put it up each year. For me, the mismatched crazy tree is worth it because it brings my kids so much joy but I love the deeper meaning you have associated with it!

  6. Something in me resists putting up the ugly ornaments, but I can usually squelch the desire for beauty enough to let the kids put their homemade gingerbread guys and sparkle trees front and center.

  7. I have been threatening to celebrate Christmas this year without a tree. I have to rearrange the living room and maybe I could get by with just a table topper. Or decorate my topiaries with Christmas crap. I've been sharing all these ideas with my daughter, halfway joking and more than half way serious.

    Then she called me last week laughing. She has asked her 8 year old daughter what she liked about Christmas. She said she loved Grandma's Christmas tree and my ornaments! I was shocked because my tree seems to digress every year.

    It's filled with a mish mash of ornaments collected over the years and although I like pulling them out and reminiscing…I wasn't aware that they were being appreciated. Knowing now that my granddaughter appreciates my tree, it's given me the push to get that tree up and do add something else as another element of surprise. Afterall…I believe that Christmas is about the kids!

  8. My parents have always had an eclectic tree, complete with the paper plate angel that my little brother made in kindergarten. My favorite is the styrofoam ball that our dog ate half of fifteen years ago. It's still on the tree. My husband and I have an eclectic tree also, although we've started doing the thing where we buy ornaments as souvenirs when we travel (not that we do it much right now), so maybe someday we'll have even more ornaments on the tree.

  9. This is an apt description of my tree. Some of my favorite ornaments to hang are the sequined covered styrofoam balls that I made with my mom as a little girl. They bring back memories of my childhood in our little apartment, just my mom and me.

    The other ornaments I love are the ones I collected when I lived in South America. They are made of bread dough and are shaped like native Ecuadorians, both the native colorado Indians and the Otavalenos. They're twice as special because my husband and I got those ornaments when we were only just married a week or two and living there.

  10. I am a control freak when it comes to design in every other part of our home. But at Christmas it goes right out the window. When it comes to the tree, It's all about memories for me. I have ornaments from my childhood and every one both my children ever made at school ("ugly" or not) and my personal favorites are the "paper angels"- two doilies folded into triangles with photos of their heads glued on and pipe cleaner halos, made by my oldest when she was 3 and my yougest was 3 months, it just wouldn't be Christmas without all of these unmatched ornaments!!

  11. As we start to get swamped with hand tatted ornaments (which I like, I just don't want a white blizzard of them that makes everything else disappear) I've started to triage ornaments so that we aren't overwhelmed.

    But yes, someof the most moving ornaments I have are simple hand made ones from years past, with the name Jessica scrawled on them. Those are priceless to me.


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