The Common Good

Christmas is Supposed to Be Crusty

It's time to haul out the Christmas lights and stockings, Advent calendars, and odd-shaped Santa pillows from grandparents. Every year I sort of dread dragging all the chaos out of the basement. I wince at how large the bins have become and am afraid that I may find candy or some other randomly gross food item in the bin from last year. This year I found a melted chocolate Santa in the bottom of a stocking. Delicious.

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As I groan and grunt, wondering if this might be the year we do not decorate for Christmas, I find all the anxiety dissipates as I lift the lid on the first bin of Christmas decorations. My children, who just moments ago moaned and whined at the mere suggestion we haul all the Christmas stuff out, are now standing around the bin with wide eyes.

"Whoa," they say. "I remember that!"

Now my kids have short memories. At ages 2, 3, and 6, there is not much they can remember.

But the magic of dragging dusty angels and ornaments that predate their own mother out of boxes is awe-inspiring nonetheless.

So we pull out half-melted candles, homemade ornaments, dented cookie tins, and strands of lights that may or may not work. It's all a pile of junk to someone else. But to us, it is our Christmas treasure. A stuffed snowman and dog decoration that barks jingle bells when you push the snow man's mitten. Ornaments that rest all year in yellowed boxes from now-defunct department stores, only to rise up and greet us for the month of December.

My own mom still hangs the stocking on her mantle that I received when I was just one year old. I was born on Christmas Day, so it was a birthday present, I am told. It is a slender red stocking with a puff of white trim on the top. Each side is decorated with sequins. A snowman face, a Santa Claus, and a Christmas tree.

For 30+ years my mother has stuffed this stocking with odd accoutrements like gum, Chap Stick, and jewelry. And every year I see it and find myself captivated by Christmas. Not because of the items my mother stuffed into it over the years, but because of the memories it recalls. Christmases that were filled with joy. Others that were more downcast. Those that boasted family members from near and far and others that reminded us of those no longer with us.

That sequin stocking almost moves me to tears every December.

As a mom with my own traditions at hand, I realize that what I pull out of that bin each year will represent great joy and will be reminders of family, love, life, pain, sorrow, and peace for my kids in the years to come. And each Christmas our bins of decorations swell a bit. A new ornament from a friend. A new stocking for the baby. But one place I refuse to allow these bins swell too big is by purchasing new items every year.

For me, Christmas is supposed to be crusty. I mean that in a good way. It is supposed to be all yellow, damp from the basement, and smelling like candles and old pine needles. There is tradition dripping from every one of the items I pull out of our bins. Sure, we buy things on occasion. This year we got new stockings for my kids. Ones they will keep for their lives, that I will hang forever and ever. Their first "real" ones, with their names and all.

But mostly, I cannot possibly imagine buying new Christmas decorations. New things do not have the same memories as the old. And I know that not all memories are good. And that sometimes you have to start over. But if you are blessed enough with some good memories, what a joy to pull them out each year.

My grandmother knitted my husband and I matching stockings when we were first married. They are crocheted. They are baggy and they sag to the ground when filled. I love these. My grandmother passed away almost 10 years ago. This year I pulled them out and as I considered hanging them, my 3 year old said "hey look, socks." And I apparently did not hear him.

So he pulled them on and began skating around the wood floor. He had them stretched beyond recognition and pulled up to his chest. I was angry for a second until I realized that he had just added another layer to the memory. One more piece of the puzzle. Of course now I cannot hang them since they are limp and misshapen, but once they regain consciousness, up they will go.

And if I raced out to buy new stuff, I know that someday it would get old and hold memories, too. But there is something special about preserving these memories. For if we dash off to buy a bunch of new stuff, we do the things I rant against on a regular basis. We buy, we create packaging and waste, we waste fuel on shipping things around, and we add to our impact on the world.

Which ends up stealing little bits of our children's future. Which, ironically, is the whole reason we want to preserve these traditions in the first place! So for nostalgia and for the sake of the future I am trying to preserve, this Christmas and beyond, I am dedicated to hauling out the past.

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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