Patchwork Christmas

When I was in elementary school, I was a Camp Fire Girl.

Our troop met at my best friend’s house. I don’t remember exactly who was in the group, but I knew all of the girls well. They were classmates and friends.

One Christmas, we made ornaments from inexpensive beads and fishing line. I still have two of them–one orange, one green. I put them on my Christmas tree every year and have ever since we made them back in 1979 or 1980–whenever that was.

This year, when I put up our tree, I texted my bestie this picture with just the caption, “Every year.”

“Oh gosh, that takes me straight back to 5th grade,” she said. We talked about that experience of Camp Fire Girls–the songs we sang, the girls in the group. We learned to knit there; we had the goal of making a blanket to donate. Everyone knit a square, and none of them were the same size. Our saintly leaders had to piece them together. I genuinely don’t know how they managed.

The Man has his ornaments, too, several of them from West Germany. My father-in-law was stationed in West Germany for several years of his Air Force career, and The Man was born there. His ornaments come with memories of gifts in his shoes, of Cub Scout Olympics in Berlin, of the landlord lady who took care of him sometimes when his mom was out.

We wandered down memory lane as we decorated that tree… The first “dad” ornament I gave him the year I was pregnant with our oldest…

The tiny set of brass ornaments that were a gift from my favorite early boss… She is still one of the best bosses I ever had. She helped shape my perspective on so many things about the workplace, and she gave me enough lead to try new things–but wasn’t afraid to rein me in when I got ahead of myself (or her).

The half-finished set of cross-stitched ornaments that I never finished… There should be eight scenes of the nativity, not four. At least I managed to finish the Baby Jesus.

I have many of these crocheted snowflakes. I used to make them and give them away as gifts.

Many years ago, I reconnected with an old co-worker on Facebook. She posted on my Facebook page that her daughter asked where her crocheted ornament came from, and she remembered me and that gift from back in the late 80s. She still put that crocheted ornament on her tree every year.

For years, my tree was covered in kid ornaments–the ones they made in school with macaroni and finger paints and popsicle sticks, the ones that had their sweet faces clumsily glued into the middle of a makeshift frame or their tiny handprints pressed onto a plastic ball. I’ve hung Spider-Man and Yoda, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Fantastic Mister Fox, books and ballerinas and artists and fire trucks and more scout-themed ornaments than I can remember.

Now, my kid ornament is a gift from my grandson. He draws a lot these days, and he drew me a tree to put on my Christmas tree. I watched him make it via a video call.

He likes to call me so I can watch him draw. Sometimes his calls come at inconvenient times–he doesn’t fully understand time zones yet. Sometimes he asks to talk to his aunt, the other artist, and they hijack my phone so that she can encourage him in his artistic endeavors.

When he called me the other day, I showed him his ornament on my tree. “I didn’t think you’d put it on there,” he said. We told him of course we would–he made it for us!

My oldest son has his box of ornaments in his own home now. He and his wife bought their first house this year, so I sent them an ornament of a little house to commemorate the milestone. He called and said the ornaments I’ve given him over the years tell the story of his life–his interests, his activities, his milestones.

That was the goal, after all.

There are other ornaments, too. Some are silly–just representations of the interests that have come and gone or come and stayed, like my several knitting ornaments. Some hold memories of hard years–times that were lean financially or spiritually, times where the effort felt futile. Some are a symbol of hope deferred–the “not yets” that hover just out of reach.

I don’t put everything on the tree. Some are too fragile to come out of the boxes, especially with cats around to investigate. And after thirty-plus years of marriage, there are just too many to put everything on the tree.

But almost all of them hold some kind of memory. They are more than plastic, ceramic, brass, crochet thread.

These inexpensive, half-finished, randomized ornaments combine to make things beautiful–to cover a tree that is more than the sum of its parts, a symbol that holds weight and multitudes, a patchwork of a life in progress, pieced together along a winding road that still has a few curves left in it, I suspect.

So with apologies to Martha Stewart and Joanna Gaines, my tree will never be magazine-worthy. It will never have matching ornaments or a theme.

But it will have a story.

Or rather, many stories.


I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I hope you all had a merry Christmas. See you in 2024!


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