Mari Katherine Raftopoulos: Memories behind ornaments

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Mari Katherine Raftopoulos

Every year, when my mom started on her Christmas kick, it was as if Santa came to town and filled our house with the most vibrant holiday cheer.

My mother was so good at Christmas, as both a child and an adult, it was hard for me to believe that there wasn’t a magical element intertwined in all of her holiday décor and spirit.

There wasn’t an inch of our house that wasn’t festive, a minute didn’t go by in our day that wasn’t filled with an advent calendar chocolate and there wasn’t a single night in December without every Christmas light lit around the house.

But, my favorite part of Christmas was the joyous music that would fill every room from sunup until sundown in our home, thanks to our love for the jingles.

My mom and I would sing and spin around in circles around the living room and Christmas tree, sometimes using the cake batter spatula as a microphone or the broom, depending on what type of holiday party preparation we were doing.

Not a night goes by when I don’t dream of this, of what it used to be like, especially during the holidays.

This Christmas, it was my turn to bring the spirit to our house. The past four years, I came home from San Diego with the house feeling like the North Pole and smelling of freshly baked gourmet foods at all times. Because I would arrive just before Christmas from college, I didn’t have a chance to help my mom decorate beforehand.

Coming back home to decorate this year was emotional because I wasn’t sure if I would remember where everything went in the house.

Did mom put this snowman here or over here? Did she adorn the Christmas tree like this, or like this?

Christmas has always been special for my family. My mom made it that way for us. And I have been worried all December that I wouldn’t have that same effect my mother did.

That was until I started sifting through the boxes of decorations and each of them sparked special stories that then led them to their perfect place on the wall or on the tree. I realized along the way that I would have some help in remembering where everything went as well.

Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a special moment, like putting up your family Christmas tree, you forget to step back, stop trying to put everything just right and look at the beauty in the event.

For me, it wasn’t the tree that shined the brightest that night, but it was the people dressing the tree.

One on the ladder, one tangled in the lights and the other one jumping to place the ornament at the peak of the tree.

While it may have not been as elegant as my mom would have done it, the outcome was exactly how she would have liked it.

And just when I couldn’t remember where to hang the wreath, my brother placed it exactly where it was supposed to go.

Oftentimes, as women we think that men don’t notice the small things or the details. But, notice that when you lay the ribbon in a different way or hang the advent calendar on a different wall, they say, “Didn’t Mom put that over here?” Or, “I think Mom decorated it like this.”

Just when you think that they don’t notice or care, they really do.

I tried to find my own decorative flair, but it seemed that even when consciously making an effort, every bow I hung on the garland, every ornament I put on the tree and every wreath I placed on the wall looked exactly how my mom would have done it.

In the first column I ever wrote, titled “Winter Blues,” my mom couldn’t stop crying at this line: “Ornament by ornament, my mother undresses the Christmas tree. The ornament of a pair of baby slippers that reads ‘Mari Katherine’s first Christmas’ gets harder to put away each year for my mother. Because each year the ornament gets older and so do I.”

And now, I have felt what she felt. Just as it was hard to hang the ornaments without her this year, it will be just as hard to put them away.

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