My Grandma Norah always had a very unique Christmas tree set up when I was growing up.
Although mostly in pink and cream tones, her tree always included a wide assortment of bird ornaments.
Some are realistic, while others are adorned with jewels. Some have long tailfeathers that cascade down the tree. Others have short beaks and bodies. Some are very old and valuable, likely from early Christmases she spent with my grandfather. Others were probably purchased at the local Dollarama. All that mattered is these birds caught her eye at some point, so they went into a shopping bag and she brought them home.
The variety is what made them so special as a group.
Every year, my grandmother would spend weeks fussing over her Christmas tree. It would go up very early in November, and she would spend the month festooning each individual branch, and placing and replacing every ornament until it all came together in a symphony of sight.
As she got older, my parents would help her set up the tree initially in a whirlwind day of activity, and then leave her to fuss.
There were a couple of Christmases when I would come visit to take on the task of helping to put the tree up. She was the kindest person I may have ever known to date, so when I started putting up garland and ornaments in a quick and haphazard fashion in those years, I could see her start to cringe but she wouldn’t say a word of criticism.
I knew when I left she would spend weeks gingerly rearranging each ornament, just as grateful as I was that we were able to spend that time together.
My grandmother died in January 2015. I remember thinking she insisted on making it through one last Christmas season before her death, well into her 90s.
After her passing, I came to help sort through her things to decide what should be kept and what should go to charity. In addition to old photographs and a bowling trophy (I hadn’t even known she bowled in her youth), I was insistent that I wanted the Christmas tree birds.
No one in the family fought me on it. They probably thought it was a weird request.
Every year since when my husband and I put up our Christmas decorations, I dust off the old shoe box, open it tenderly and look at the birds before deciding which ones I want to put up that year. I usually settle on all of them.
M family knows how important the birds are to me, and, over time, have gifted me new ones to add to the old.
So now, my Christmas tree is the family bird tree. In some ways, it makes me feel closer to her. For me, her spirit will always be linked with the season.
And every time I look at my tree, my mind is filled with memories of her and the wonderful years I’ve been lucky enough to have with my family as a whole.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, dear reader.
I hope you all have an opportunity to consider which holiday traditions matter most to you, and what they represent.
Jessica Owen is a reporter with CollingwoodToday.ca.