Christmas Spirit is a finicky thing. You either have it or you don't. And sometimes getting it back can be a long and tricky road.
My Christmas spirit was quietly tucked away in a plastic box in a storage room in my basement. It's taken me 23 years to open that box that safely held my Mom's Christmas ornaments. Mom loved this time of year and reveled in buying perfect presents, wildly decorating the house, baking hundreds of Christmas cookies and, her favorite part, painstakingly trimming the tree. Her tree. It was lovingly decorated with ornaments from near and far. There were lopsided homemade ones made by her children. Others were gifts from friends who thought of her while on their vacations, and still others that she painstakingly collected in her travels through the years. The Christmas tree was her masterpiece and it was the family holiday centerpiece that we gathered around every night. Family time. She fiddled with ornament placement for weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. My Dad would teasingly ask her how certain ornaments got the prime front and center location on the tree while others were relegated to the back. She patiently explained for the umpteenth time the method to her madness. An endless mix of German and English Christmas records were stacked on the turntable and filled the living room with the rich sounds of her childhood and ultimately mine. it's how we learned her native language. Oh Christmas Tree was Oh Tannenbaum in the Mancini household. Pigeon German, Pigeon Italian...English...a wonderful mix of cultures and generations. She loved every moment of it and so did we.
My Mom passed away in February 1994 after a four month long agonizing battle with cancer. Cancer not only took my Mom, it also took my love for this holiday. It was too heavy and dark without her bright light to guide us. So I tucked Christmas away with the box of ornaments that I somehow ended up with. It traveled with me through my many moves over the years, remaining unopened.
I don't know what shifted this year. I've come to peace with alot of things, and I guess I am finally ready to fold my Mom into my soul. Silly me; she's been there all along, waiting. And it was time to pull the magic out again.
Tonight I grabbed the box from the basement, turned the lights down low and asked Alexa to play some Christmas carols for me. Andrea Bocelli's rich voice, singing in Italian, filled the room. (Alexa, by the way, needs to brush up on her German) I carefully lifted the lid and there they were, Mom's treasures, carefully wrapped in tissue. As I started to unwrap them, it all came flooding back, the stories behind these little pieces of brightly colored glass and wood. They were all there, just as I remembered: The shiny red and gold bulbs she coveted and stealthily stalked the day after Christmas at Jordan Marsh. A happy group of mice that were hand sewn in Germany, and the Mouse King that I had made for her in Covent Garden when I lived in London. I'm not sure why mice became a Christmas staple on her tree but they were adorable. As I dug deeper through the tissue, I unwrapped the bulb that looked like it was dipped in stained glass, the bears that hung from the bell and the tiny wooden train that tracked among the branches.
There was one more that I needed to find. My favorite childhood ornament. The one she let me hang on the tree year after year after year. And at the very bottom of the box, nestled in the very last layer, there it was, exactly as I remembered it. Well, maybe a bit more worn but definitely still loved.
The tiny donkey in the clear glass bulb. I couldn't tell you what made this ornament special. It wasn't ornate, quite plain actually, and the gold strands were fraying and falling off, but when you looked at the tiny figure inside...well...it was pure sweetness. I vaguely remember 7 year old me asking my Mom if he was one of the donkeys in the manger on Christmas Eve, and she said she thought he was. I believed her. I still do.
I pulled most of them out and carefully hung them on the tree. I turned off the lights and curled up in a chair and just took it all in. Periodically I would lean forward and move an ornament, and then sit back and take it all in again. My Mom's spirit is here. Christmas is here. And I know it's going to be magical. Because she was magic.
For those of you missing a loved one during this holiday season, my heart and love go out to you.
Merry Christmas to all, and may you find the magic in the coming week and upcoming year.