Just a family Christmas tree
John Norberg s


It's just a family Christmas tree.

We put it up each year the weekend after Thanksgiving and children and grandchildren and grandparents join in hanging the ornaments. With Christmas music playing, it's a time for remembering Christmases past – like the year the tree fell down, like the time tree stained the carpet, like the times in another home when the tree was two feet taller than the ceiling.

"Does granddad know how to measure?"

There's a lot of love with us in the room during Christmas tree decoration. And that means everyone feels unconditionally comfortable giving granddad a hard time. Teasing. Laughing. Remembering.

It's just a family Christmas tree.

We put up hundreds of ornaments. And our children and grandchildren laugh at us as they help hang them. "You aren't going to give all of these to us someday, are you?"

We assure them that, yes, we most certainly will.

Our family Christmas tree ornaments are so beautiful and valuable they are absolutely priceless.

Most of them are very old. Many of them are broken and glued together. Children who are now grown made many of them with their tiny hands – gingerbread men, toy-hauling Santa Clauses, and drawings. Some of them came from our grandchildren with photos of themselves. Nieces and nephews now in their 40s gave us wonderful memories with handmade ornaments they made as children – manger scenes with toothpick frames, wood cuttings with our names and candy canes drawn on them.

There are silly ornaments made with plastic beads by an aunt during arts and crafts at her retirement community. She shipped a box full of them up from Florida one Christmas. We loved that aunt. She might have been the happiest person I have ever known. She has been gone from us now for many years. But we have her plastic bead ornaments and we remember her laughter and the fun times we had with her as we put her treasures on the tree.

Some of the ornaments are meant to tease me – a hood ornament that is too long a story to tell here and a miniature model of the prize lamp from Christmas Story.

It's just a family Christmas tree.

Some of the ornaments were given to us or purchased by us to mark special occasions in our lives – a baby's first Christmas, new jobs, graduations, family vacations in Disney World, Christmas trips to Marshall Field in Chicago to see Santa Claus, eat beneath the big tree in the Walnut room and look in wonderful at the store window decorations telling stories like Pinocchio.

One of our ornaments is a plastic bone. We got it for our dog, a white Shepard-Husky mix. Her name was Gussie. She lived a long life for a dog – 15 years. Gussie has been gone from us now for 23 years. But the tattered remains of her Christmas ornament bone still hang on our tree.

It's just a family Christmas tree with many old ornaments from my mother reminding us of our Norwegian-Swedish heritage. I'm sure we have more Norwegian-Swedish ornaments on our tree than the people in Norway and Sweden. Our parents are gone now. But their memories are in our tree. And so is our heritage.

At the top of the tree is an Angel found by my wife many years ago in a little shop in Berchtesgaden, Germany. She remembers the spectacular mountain-view from that shop in an area where breath-taking beauty is everywhere. That Angel has looked down over our family for 44 Christmases now. It's a simple Angel. Over the years people wondered if we would get something new and expensive. No thank you.

My wife was a beautiful, young woman when she found that Angel. She's just as beautiful today – my wife and her Angel.

As I grow older I realize I am unsure of many things. But this I am sure of. That Angel will look over family Christmases from the top of a tree long after my time is done. When that Angel is 88 years old a young child will look up and ask about it. And there will be a family story to tell.

It's just a family Christmas tree put up and decorated with the memories of our lives. Like our memories some are very old and glued together, some are very new and sparkle in the white lights that twinkle on the branches. All are precious.

It isn't just a family Christmas tree.

It's the story of our lives.

John Norberg