When we were kids, a person my parents held in highest esteem gave us some Christmas ornaments. They were red balls with Santa’s caps, felt eyes, and faux fur brows and beard. My parents coveted them and would only let the kids hang them when we were dexterous and teenaged, and even then we’d get stern looks before they put them in our charge. “Two hands,” they’d say. When I was finally old enough to hang these ornaments, I did it with fear and self-doubt.
A point came many years later when I was staring at the Christmas tree with my father like we used to do– “dreaming” he called it, and I looked at those Santa ornaments on the tree, waiting to feel that old tingle of being gifted by “kings”…and I realized, in my adult cognition, that they for all intents and purposes were…really really tacky. And ugly. And cheap. We had given them so much meaning, and there they hung, like the emperor and his “clothes.”
“Dad, you know…those Santa ornaments? They’re kind of horrible,” I said.
His face scrunched into a look of disdain, readying himself for fatherly-flung disagreement that truth-be-told, had worn thin as I’d got older and smarter and more dexterous. And then his face softened. And he laughed. “My gosh, you’re right! They ARE horrible.” And we laughed and laughed and laughed and I’ll never forget it. A total castration of royalty, right there in our sun porch.
Still, even more years later, when my parents sold their home of 40 some odd years, my sister and I divided those Santa ornaments up like family jewels. Two for her, two for me. And every year since then, I’ve hung them myself, only recently entrusting them to my own children. Even though I know better than to cling to such things, those Santa ornaments hold some sort of power for me. I think it’s because my parents believed they had power. And I believed in my parents.
Then yesterday, I came in from grocery shopping and my husband was under the Christmas tree with the vacuum. My ten year old son looked at me. “We’ve had an accident, Mommy. The tree fell down out of nowhere and a few ornaments broke. But just think of all the ones that DIDN’T break.” I looked at the re-erected tree and scanned it, making a check list of my most favorite ornaments, dating back to my grandmother’s childhood in the late 1800s. Then I saw my son’s eyes dart to the coffee table and there were the Santas. Both of them broken. And you know, I cried. I did. I wept. I wept because my father’s fingers had touched those powerful tacky bulbs and believed in them. I cried because they were apart of his Christmas “dreaming.” I cried that my mother and father needed to assign power to a thing like a tacky Santa ornament in the first place. I cried that I had assigned them the same power. I knew the person who had given them to our family. I believed in her power too. And now she’s dead. And so is my father. And all that power is either in my memory of them, or died with them, or never existed in the first place. I cried because at Christmas time, no matter how good you are at busting through myths, it’s hard. You want to dream. You want to believe. But I knew that this was yet another lesson in letting go.
So I took a photo, and then I promptly tossed them in the garbage can, smashing them down with my naked hand, perhaps wanting to bleed a bit. They’re just ornaments. They’re meant to be enjoyed and part of their wonder is that they are so fragile. Memories aren’t. The love of a parent is not. I haven’t told my mother yet. I wonder what she’ll say. I wonder if a thing like an ornament matters when your husband is dead and your friends are dying all around you. Perhaps that is why I wept. I wanted that return to childhood where time stands still just for a moment every year, when I wink at those tacky Santas and feel their power. I know the “dream” is in me. But sometimes it’s nice to have a little boost. So tacky little Santas, may you rest in peace. Thank you for your years of service. I’m sorry you had to go the way you did. But I’m not sorry we believed in you.