The Family Christmas Ornament
The Family Christmas Ornament
Every Christmas when it comes time to decorate the Christmas tree, there is a lottery drawn. It’s not a lottery for money, but rather the privilege of hanging Grandpa’s Christmas Ornament on the Christmas tree. The person who wins the lottery unwraps the ornament from where it was carefully wrapped in tissue paper the previous year and in almost reverence places it on the middle of the tree where everyone can see it first thing upon looking at the Christmas tree. Although the Christmas ornament is not illuminated, shiny or fancy; it is treated although it is made of diamonds and gold.
The Christmas ornament tradition began when my grandfather was deployed in Germany miles and miles away from family for the first time on Christmas. As the night of Christmas Eve began to darken the skies, he found his heart feeling the loneliness of the darkness as well. His mind drifted to the family that he knew was gathered in the familiar living room with the fire glowing in the fireplace, the smell of a turkey dinner swirling around the house and the warmth that only comes from being close to those who love you. His heart ached as he knew the family would be gathered around the Christmas tree opening presents and he thought of all the memories that he would miss. He had to acknowledge that it would possibly be his last Christmas because the war might strip the celebration of the holiday for him on this earth.
As Grandfather walked back and forth on his patrol he happened upon a small tree, that in the gloom of the night had the shape of a Christmas tree. He thought again of the beautifully decorated tree at the family home and placed his hand in his pants pocket and his fingertips touched the cold metal of empty rifle shells. In that moment he had an idea of what he needed to do this Christmas eve. He pulled the empty shells out of pocket and laid them on the ground. He then knelt down and carefully pulled the shoelace out of his boot. His hands shook with emotion as he fashioned a small string of shells and laid them on the bare branches of the tree. He closed his eyes and pictured his family as he quietly sung Christmas carols, trying to imagine the smell of the turkey dinner and feeling the warmth begin to touch his heart as the faces of those he loved danced in his mind. After some time, he took his Christmas ornament down and placed it in his pocket. The cold shells felt almost warm in his pocket as he made his way back to his post.
When he returned back to his post, he noticed that his brothers in war were showing signs of depression and loneliness amplified by the dark gloom of that Christmas eve. He went back out to the area he had been patrolling and found a limb on the ground. He brought it back to the camp and without a word placed it in an empty can and filled it with dirt to hold it steady. He began to hum his Christmas carols again as he placed his Christmas ornament on the tree’s limbs. A hush fell over the camp as the jingle of those empty shells rang alongside the quiet carol. Soon other soldiers began singing along and in no time, others had produced bits of string and paper to hang upon the tree alongside my Grandfather’s Christmas ornament. The night became alive with Christmas magic as stories of Christmases back home were spent with family, favorite presents purchased and memories of loved ones were shared. For a moment, the horrors of war faded away and were replaced with the peace and joy of the Christmas season.
After grandfather came home from the war, he didn’t talk much about anything that happened over there. The first Christmas after he was home, he seemed pensive and had a childlike excitement burning in his eyes. His young bride, my grandmother; was confused by his sudden switch and behavior and watched him with a mixture of amusement and curiosity. After the Christmas tree had been brought in and decorated for Christmas Eve, my grandmother went into the kitchen to tend to some of the dishes precooking for the grand Christmas dinner. She heard humming coming from the living room and peered around the corner to see my grandfather pull something out of his pocket , hang it on the Christmas tree and continue to hum Christmas carols softly to himself. She couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer and approached him, touching his shoulder. As he turned she noted the dampness in his eyes from unshed tears and her eye caught the jumble of rusted metal hanging on the tree. He took her by the hand and told her of the Christmas where he was miles away from everything he loved and was able to recreate Christmas by making this little Christmas ornament, singing carols in the dark in the middle of a war. He told her of the magic that happened that night as the sorrow of the soldiers was replaced with joy at the sight of a withered limb decorated with bits of paper and string. How the chill of the night was chased by warm memories carried deep in the hearts of those fellow soldiers. After a few moments of silence, my Grandmother approached the tree and carefully lifted the metal Christmas ornament and placed it in the center of the tree; a place of honor.
Through the years my Grandfather and Grandmother purchased other ornaments, their kids made some of their own and the tree filled with Christmas ornament and memories, but the center spot was always reserved for Grandfather’s Christmas ornament. Every Christmas since that night, the metal Christmas ornament was carefully unwrapped and placed in the center of the tree as a reminder of the strength of a family’s love. No matter the miles that separate those who love each other and the impossible situation that they may be in, Christmas is a time that bridges those gaps.