Some Christmas trees are themed. Like candy or the color pink or dogs.
At our house, the theme is memories. Our Christmas tree — smack-dab in the middle of the entryway — is a giant family scrapbook.
Over the years, we’ve weeded out the random ornaments, the ones with no memories attached, so that decorating the tree is a sweetly sentimental labor of love.
After artificial branches are fluffed, I drape the tree with strings of clear beads and fake pearls. Cooper and Katie then hover as I open the giant storage box filled with ornaments.
They’re eager to help. As they’ve gotten older — and as I’ve perhaps mellowed just a little — I’ve allowed them to handle more fragile ornaments each year.
I make little piles: some for Cooper, some for Katie, some for me. And we talk about each one.
When Cooper was a baby, Steve and I decided to buy an ornament for him each Christmas, with the idea that when he has his own home and tree one day, he’ll have a small, ready-made collection.
So far, there are 12 special Cooper ornaments and eight for Katie. Each has a story.
The stuffed teddy bear is because we called our firstborn infant “Cooper bear.”
Buzz Lightyear represents 2004, when our preschooler had a major obsession with Buzz and all things Toy Story.
A year later, our collection grew to include Harry Potter in flight, representing the first two novels that Steve read to Cooper over many months of bedtimes.
On our branches you’ll also spy a cowboy — a reminder of our dude ranch week in 2010 — and a bicycle symbolizing Cooper’s completion of two triathlons in 2011.
Katie’s collection includes Elmo with a stack of blocks, a stuffed giraffe to represent her devotion to animals, and a cowgirl that matches big brother’s cowboy. And there’s an angel for 2009, when Steve died and Katie first started describing her vision of angels and heaven in greater detail.
That Christmas season, I was tempted to keep the tree and all its ornaments in the attic. I couldn’t bear to unpack so many memories.
My sister and her family rescued us. They volunteered to set up the tree and decorate it, providing our little family instant joy while shielding me from grief-riddled pain.
Since then, I’ve rebounded. I’m capable of hanging the White House ornament from our pre-children vacation to Washington, D.C., the Santa band from Steve’s childhood and the pewter horse and buggy from the last pre-cancer vacation we took as a family.
Instead of cursing my sentimental nature (as I sometimes do), I’m thankful that we spent so many years collecting tiny treasures.
This year, as I walk around our three- dimensional scrapbook, I’m reminded of the importance of moving forward even when you’re feeling pulled back by grief.
Our ornament collection didn’t stop growing when Steve died. Cooper, Katie and I continue to pursue new interests. We continue to travel when time and budgets allow.
There’s a Tower of London ornament and a lighthouse from Halifax, Nova Scotia, along with a tiny version of the Alamo.
Plus, there’s room for whatever adventures and passions await us.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm @gmail.com.
(Follow me on Instagram at tyradamm to see ornaments throughout the season.)