December 2, 2004

Embracing the Pathetic Tree

Filed under: Art and About Holidays — admin @ 4:18 pm

When my husband and I moved in together 10 years ago, our parents presented us with collections of Christmas ornaments from our youth so we could put them on our first commingled Christmas tree. At first, we politely said thank-you, unsure that the crude and imperfect ornaments would have a place on our “grown-up tree.” Together, we had bought more than enough ornaments that reflected our mutual taste, and they were definitely more polished then the lot of homemade and well-worn ornaments from our childhoods.

That first year we put the pathetic ornaments on the tree more out of obligation than sentiment. Most of them were placed on the back. During the next few years, they were the topic of derision, each of us teasing the other that his or her collection was the most pathetic assemblage of “Christmas Past” ever amassed. Some of my husband’s ornaments still make me laugh aloud when I unpack them. But I laugh harder at some of my own ornaments when I remember what my husband has said about them.

After we bought our first house, and had a little more room for decoration, we decided to segregate our ornaments, busing the ornaments from our youth off to a separate room and a less-than-equal tree. We bought a small artificial tree, put in on a corner coffee table, and designated it “The Tree of Our Youths,” although colloquially it was referred to as “The Pathetic Tree.” However, not once did we consider leaving those ornaments in storage, banished from Christmas splendor forever.

Those ornaments continue to have a strange hold over us. They are packed on the last layer of the last ornament box I open every year. Unlike our chichi ornaments, which each get an individual cardboard compartment in our ornaments boxes, the pathetic collection is squished together in whatever units are left vacant when all the other ornaments have been carefully wrapped and put away. Every year, I think about the bevy of ornaments we have acquired from friends and family, and I think it is time to use that artificial tree to highlight another subset of our collection. But instead, we choose to force the larger, dominant tree to become overstuffed with “quality” ornaments, while The Pathetic Tree is allowed to give each ornament the proper amount of airspace for optimum display.

This Christmas, a home remodeling project is encroaching on our living room, the center of all our Christmas decorating activity, and we decided to give many decorations a year off rather than watch them be smothered by construction dust. The artificial tree is acting as our primary arboreal accessory this year and it is adorned with some of the family’s favorite ornaments. None of the pathetic collection made the cut. And as you probably have guessed, I miss that motley crew.
Amateur psychology might suggest that the inclusion of those ornaments in our yearly celebration is a physical reminder of the Christmases of our youth, full of wonder, warmth and mystery. And that may be partially true. But I think what I miss most is that almost all those ornaments were either made by our own hands, made by someone for us, or they were personally selected to represent us in some way — my husband, the soccer player or me, the angel.

And I admit, not every ornament relegated to The Pathetic Tree is old. Sometimes, an ornament crafted by a friend or family member gets hung on that tree—ornaments that have more emotional and sentimental value than the average gift. Perhaps The Pathos Tree would be a better moniker. Next December when those ornaments see the light of day, they will be treated with the proper respect afforded the Elders.

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