Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 9:21 pm | Fair 62º


Tim Durnin: Cherished Christmas Decorations Aren’t Just for Show

Packed within the holiday boxes are remembrances of people and times that have long passed

My Christmas decorations are still neatly stowed away in my garage. The red and green containers have their reserved space in the corner where they sit like children’s blocks, stacked neatly, reaching for the ceiling. Each year we seem to add another crate or two.

I can’t say that opening these boxes holds the same sense of excitement and magic that it did in my youth. I can clearly remember the sensory engagement of opening the Christmas boxes every year, the smell of aging candles, the brilliance of bright glass spheres and shining tinsel, and the textures of glitter on garlands and the soft fur collars of stockings.

When I open Christmas boxes today, there are many more layers of complexity and meaning, creating an experience that is at once both joyful and reflective. My entry into midlife brings with it the sober realization that more Christmases have passed than are to come. And the contents of the boxes bear both tender and sometimes painful memories and reminders of people, places and times that have long since passed.

Waiting for me in those boxes are ornaments that hung on the trees of my youth. There are gifts and knick-knacks from relatives and friends, students and co-workers. There are reminders of my courtship with my wife, of our fathers now passed, of our infant children, toddler children, school-age children and now teenage children. I confess some degree of reluctance to go foraging through those memories just yet.

Unpacking the Christmas decorations has always been and remains a sacred ritual for me, an opportunity to acknowledge the past and follow the contours of my own and my family’s history to its present, muddled expression.

Immigrants from Ireland and Austria-Hungary begin the tale that ends in sunny California. It is a largely unremarkable but pleasant journey through upstate New York and Pennsylvania coal country, winding its way across the states to its current resting place on the Central Coast.

I will open the boxes carefully; my children will empty them with abandon. Inside the chaos will belie the orderly appearance of the plastic containers. Newspapers, packing peanuts, tissue paper and even towels have been used to protect the fragile constitution of our holiday decorations.

I can’t help but read some of the torn and ragged newspaper pages. A weathered page from the Dec. 24, 1996, edition of the Los Angeles Times caught my eye last year. It has been sitting on top of the pile of boxes waiting to be read.

I picked it up over the Thanksgiving weekend and learned a Ventura surfer had been sentenced to six months in jail for intimidating other surfers. That seems to have been a pretty stiff sentence. The obituary for Margret E. Rey, writer of seven Curious George books, appeared on the opposite page, and a complete traditional Jewish funeral was advertised for $1,795. I don’t know much about the cost of traditional Jewish funerals, but it seems like a good price.

Behind the paper and packaging there are some real treasures, though very personal. You won’t find anything in our collection that someone would pay more than a quarter to own at a yard sale. On the other hand, my girls have already started laying claim to items once I am, ahem, no longer in need of them.

For me the contents of these boxes are, as you might imagine, priceless. They tell a story that only I know or ever will know. And while some of the trinkets will find their way into my children’s’ stories, they will be tied to their memories and be given life by the meaning they attach to them.

In the end, that is what we have and leave with, our own stories understood from our distorted and nuanced perspective. Preparing for the holidays affords us the opportunity to relive those tales and prepare to start the next chapter in our personal narrative — 2012.

Happy decorating, and may all of your stories be blessed.

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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