Star Wars, the Nutcracker and my incomplete Christmas list

Star Wars, the Nutcracker and my incomplete Christmas list

I have many failings as a mother, and my deteriorating memory is high on the list. Especially during the Christmas crazy.

Like many parents, we have a tradition of buying our children ornaments every Christmas, starting with the year they were born.

Our son’s first Christmas was awash with ornaments, not only the tiny glass shoe and the blue rattle Blog Photowith his name and birth year that we picked out, but the assorted rocking horses and silver bears and others contributed by family and friends.

Each year after that I’d try to pick something meaningful to them — a “Chutes and Ladders” ornament when my son was 5, a “Nutcracker” mouse the year my daughter had that role in the ballet, etc.

The kids always loved finding each one as we decorated the tree. While I hovered nervously, they’d grab them out of the bin and put them all in a 1-foot-square spot on the tree, which I’d secretly rearrange after they went to bed. (Control-freakiness about ornaments is another one of my flaws.)

There have been casualties; most notably, the year we found the perfect ornament for my son: a colored-glass doughnut, his favorite cuisine.

My daughter was with me when I bought that one, and asked if she could carry the bag to the car (foreshadowing here).

It slipped out of her hand onto the pavement with a telltale clink.

We headed back inside, but of course that was the last one. Then we found something just as good: a “Star Wars” clone-trooper helmet ornament, also made out of glass (foreshadowing here).

We took it home, excited to show him. He pulled it out of the bag and promptly dropped it on the floor.

Back to Target for clone trooper No. 2. (I believe we still have it, but it may have succumbed to the ravages of childhood over time.)

Unpacking our box of Christmas ornaments the other day — I should say Ornament Bin No. 1 — I was distressed to find that I couldn’t remember exactly which ornaments went with each year.

In the sentimental delirium of those early years, I had thought I’d remember each and every purchase in my heart forever. But that ship quickly sailed into the fog of motherhood.

So I cleverly scrawled the year on the bottom of each ornament or its box.

That system failed in the rush to repack the ornaments every January (not my favorite chore). This year, in the box that says “Teddy Bear, 1999,” I found a glass church ornament. And so on.
So last week I started a list to record them for posterity.

I intended to work backwards in time but couldn’t even remember what I gave them last year. Luckily, my daughter still has all of her brain cells and reminded me that they both got an ornament shaped like a box of movie popcorn.

But other questions arose: Was her trombone from 2013 or 2014? Was his chess-set ornament from 2007 or 2009 (conflicting record-keeping on that one)? Why were there no ornaments from 2011? And where did the recycled-paper ornaments come from?

Part of the problem here is indecisiveness. Some years I found too many perfect ornaments and bought them each two. Or three.

So I wasn’t sure if Iron Man and Tinkerbell were from the same year as the pizza and the sand castle.

And mixed in are ornaments from other important people in their lives, including an Alice in Wonderland (for the year my daughter played Alice in a play) that vaguely resembles Chuckie in a blond wig.

We sorted it out as best we could, in part by opening Ornament Bin No. 2, which held some of the missing years.

I suppose exact historical records aren’t really crucial. The point is that every year, even after I’m gone, they’ll pull out these ornaments and remember a fragment of their lives — something they loved when they were 6 or 7, and the traditions we shared as a family.

Among their special ornaments are several that my mom bought all of her grandkids in recent years, including beautiful Santas hand-made out of tiny curled paper. Each is in a box with my mom’s teacher-perfect handwriting, inscribed with their names and the date.

There are three from my son’s first Christmas, the year she started the tradition, a glass Santa and Christmas tree and a folksy wooden Santa. They were accompanied by a note explaining that each of his cousins had the same three ornaments, and she hoped they would all think of each other, and her and my dad, when they decorated their own trees someday.

Those notes are precious to us now.

When we were packing up her house last year, we came across bins full of ornaments she had collected through the decades: the glass ornaments she bought as a newlywed, showing telltale signs Blog Photoof wear from her four children; and the handmade versions that replaced them over the years, the Styrofoam-and-sequin balls and hand-painted wooden Santas made by her kids and grandkids.

She never cared about having a picture-perfect tree with color-coordinated ornaments; it was all about the memories.

We divvied them all up, making sure everybody got the ones with their names or some special meaning.

There were quite a few left over, and I couldn’t let them go. I brought home all the unclaimed glass ornaments, which we will proudly display on our tree, in between Iron Man, Tinkerbell and all the rest.

Someday, my kids will pull out their own box of ornaments and find her notes, and my list, incomplete though it may be.


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, or

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