Considering Christmas

December 24, 2014 | By Brent Almond | MAKING MEMORIES

Christmas is often idealized as a time of reflection, to pause and consider life, family, world peace — lightweight stuff like that. But I can’t remember the last time the days between Halloween and New Years resembled anything remotely meditative or peaceful.

I could blame consumerism, box stores and maga-malls; the colder, shorter days; my rambunctious 5-year-old; Obama. But if I’m being honest, it’s all my own doing. If there’s going to be any inner dialog, it’s on me to stop and listen. So one recent evening I sat in view of our tree* and took it all in. Glowing lights in our dimly lit dining room, twinkling and reflecting off the orbs and odd shapes adorning a sweet-smelling fir. I let my eyes wander from ornament to ornament, remembering where and when they were purchased, what was happening in my life. It was like spending time with old friends — you may not see one another very often, but your history is deep and your reconnection easy.

In taking these moments, in making these observations, I came to realize some of these baubles were among my oldest possessions. Outlasting furniture, clothes, photographs, albums, books. Tokens from nearly every year of my life hung from this tree. It was a feeling both comforting and weighty — but it had given me the space and peace of mind I’d been seeking.

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designer daddy - christmas ornament

Mouse, circa 1976
I’ve owned this mouse made of felt and yarn longer than anything else in my possession. I don’t know exactly where or when it was purchased, but I’ve always known it as being from my brother. The photo may not show, but it’s yellowed and frayed in spots. Yet I’ll hold onto it as long as I can, clutching close the memory of our childhood, our innocence and friendship, before dogma and condition and uncomfortable silence took its place. And I’ll hold a little hope that some of the former will return.

designer daddy - christmas ornament

Elves, circa 1983
I’m not even sure these are Christmas ornaments, but I know I’ve been using them as such for as long as I can remember. I also recall that I bought them in Okinawa my freshman year of high school, that I long ago named them “Lucky” and “Charms,” and that my husband doesn’t care for them.

designer daddy - christmas ornament

Noel, 1984
For so many, Christmas is also a reminder of the things we’ve lost — it comes every year without fail, yet the rest of life changes, evolves, moves on, fades away. This tiny satin pillow was a gift from my high school tennis coach, also the mother of one of my best friends. The green ribbon has faded and come untied, the lace trim a bit matted and smashed. It’s all a bit battered, but still here — unlike my friend, who died when we were in our twenties. I think of her each time I unpack and hang it on the tree. Yet as I write this, thinking more deeply than I have in years, it reemerges from memory that her birthday was December 25. Happy Birthday, Jann.

designer daddy - christmas ornament

Quilt, 1988
This is one of many dozen “quilt balls” made by hand my first Thanksgiving in college. My job as an artist at the student center dictated I remain on the depressingly empty campus, decorating the center for Christmas and generally being at the beck and call of the center director’s wife. The theme that year being quilts, in addition to these balls of fabric and ribbon, our beleaguered crew also made banners, garland, runners and tree skirts – all with a quaintly, quilted motif. At the pit of my holiday sweat shop despair, my parents and brothers arrived for a surprise visit. My quilt ball serves as a reminder of how much family means to me during the holidays, and of how much hot glue burns like hell.

designer daddy - christmas ornament

Bear, 1999
Early in our relationship, Nick and I collected a ton of bear shit. Certainly it was a carry-over from our involvement in gay bear culture, yet it was also a way for us to build our lives together. They were something to share and to buy together, as we had yet gained the maturity or stability to move on to houses and pets and children. This particular bear was actually a “My 1st Christmas” ornament. A portend of parenthood, or just a cute bear on wheels? Both, I guess. And either way a lovely reminder of those first years, and of how lucky I am to have found my Papa Bear.

designer daddy - christmas ornament

Tree, 2007
The last two Thanksgivings before becoming parents, Nick and I spent at a seaside villa in St. Martin with our four best friends. The first time (when we purchased this ornament) it was a hedonistic week of cigars, rum and skinny-dipping. The following year we hadn’t planned to go, but our initial attempt at adoption fell through, so the trip was both therapeutic and a welcome escape. Both times it was breathtakingly beautiful, as near perfect a vacation as you could ask for. Almost every year since, as the weather gets dark and cold and dank, as I’m trapesing across some soulless strip mall parking lot, I close my eyes and feel the sun beating on my face and hear the lapping of the waves and the laughter of friends.

designer daddy - christmas ornament

Jon, 2009
Here it is, our first intentional “1st Christmas” ornament, hung on our tree when Jon was less than two months old. The photo was taken at the hotel we stayed in while awaiting the okay to take him home from West Coast to East. The same photo adorned the cover of our Holiday card that year. Best Gift Ever, indeed.

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Take a moment today, tomorrow, this weekend, before it all gets packed away. Bask in the memories, let them wash over you and fill you and remind you of both the brevity and breadth of life. Each ornament or song or story or morsel is more than something to experience, but something to consider and hold dear.

*Decorated very late at night by my hard-working husband, alone – because I was busy designing our holiday card or online shopping or planning our next social event. Or more likely farting around on the Internet. I love you, honey.

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I don’t say it nearly enough, but thank you for reading, conversing and sharing. It truly means the world to me.

Much love and Merry Christmas,
Designer Daddy

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6 responses to “Considering Christmas”

  1. Merry Christmas to you and yours Sir. Thanks for sharing so much. Truly inspiring.

  2. Marcie says:

    Lovely post! I totally agree, its all a blur most of the time. Last weekend my parents were watching H for us, and I woke up at 6 naturally. While Derek slept, I put on Nat King Cole, curled up on the couch and looked at our tree. The 15-20 minutes of sheer relaxation and memories was a nice gift to myself. Merry Christmas!

  3. Bekah says:

    Thanks for sharing your glimpse with us. I agree, ornaments are a perfect opportunity for reflection.

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