Every day of the Christmas season is magical when you’re eight years old. Bright lights, colorful decorations, dazzling trees, gaily-wrapped gifts, and mouth-watering treats combine to create an enchanting time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.
But the second most important day in December for me—next to Christmas Day itself, of course—was the day the lights of Christmas migrated from the streets and the stores and entered our living room: the day we put up the Christmas tree.
First, the tree was assembled branch by branch, longer boughs on the bottom, shorter limbs on top. The next step was to untangle and string the multi-colored Christmas lights on the tree. Then it was time to bring the ornaments out of their boxes—twelve compartments to a box, with a blown-glass ornament resting in a tissue paper nest in each compartment.
I did not help with this process; the branches were too unwieldy, the light bulbs too dangerous, and the glass ornaments too fragile to be handled by eight-year-old fingers. Even so, I watched all of these preparations with a worshipful gaze, knowing a decorated tree in our living room meant Christmas was only a few short weeks away.
She was the most beautiful Christmas angel I had ever seen. Less than four inches tall, she wore a fur-trimmed red gown, and had a tiny halo resting on her soft white hair—a Christmas gift from my godmother.
Aunt Ramona didn’t have children of her own back then, and my sister and I were the blessed recipients of her bountiful love. She opened the gateway to a multitude of firsts in our lives: the first time we went ice-skating, horseback riding, camping, even the first time we attended Sunday School.
Now Aunt Ramona had given me my first Christmas tree ornament, long before Hallmark became inextricably linked with the tradition of exchanging annual Christmas ornaments.
Christmas would never be the same.
Although I wasn’t allowed to handle the fragile blown-glass ornaments that Mom so carefully unwrapped and hung on the tree each year, this angel was different. She was my very own, and I eagerly awaited her emergence from the storage box of Christmas decorations as if she were made of silk and china instead of polyester and plastic.
When I held this little angel in my hands, my dreams soared. I felt like I could do anything, be anyone, and go anywhere: the sky was the limit. Stretching to my full height, I would carefully grasp the metal hook and position her on the tree in a place of honor, my reach extending a bit higher with each passing year.
It’s been almost fifty years since I first held that tiny red and white angel. She came with me when I married and stayed with us each time we moved—surviving several relocations and traveling a thousand miles from New York to Florida.
No matter where I am or what my situation, this little angel never fails to release a flood of memories each time I lift her out of her packaging and lovingly position in a prominent place on our Christmas tree.
I am grateful, not just for my Christmas angel, but also for the memories that grow more precious with each passing year: memories of adventures with my own fairy godmother.
Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite Christmas ornament?