Wednesday, December 19, 2007

O Christmas Tree, My Parents' Christmas Tree

Two weeks ago I went over to my parent's house (and my childhood home) to help them set up their Christmas tree. Although it wasn't the same color-coded tree kit I grew up with (the Marciuliano folk often chose their evergreens from an artificial forest), the ornaments were the very ones I hung as a child, a teen, a college student and a visiting sporadically-employed adult.

The sheer familarity resulted in a bittersweet process, not only because the decorations recalled a time when the entire family was around to put the tree together (then gather in front of the RCA hearth and warming glow of a Rankin-Bass special) but also each ornament captured a particular Christmas or rite of passage that seems sadly to grow dimmer and dimmer until you hold the very material of those memories right in your hands.

So with your kind permission I would like to review a small sampling of these very ornaments, each their own holiday madeline cookie evoking a stream of self (indulgent) consciousness. Let's start with clearly the most prized and esteemed festive bibelot of them all...
Yes, your eyes do not lie. That is indeed an exquisite egg carton compartment, delicately turned on its base and brought to perfection with a mere wash of vermilion, a dab of glitter and a pipe cleaner curved so faultlessly yet so effortlessly that one cannot help but wonder if this was brought to life not by a skilled artisan but by the very Son of God himself! Or you may think it's the handiwork of a kindergarten student circa 1972, devised as a time-killer project by one Mrs. Sharf (who all the students quickly dubbed Mrs. Shark and despite in my mind having the menacing mien and temperment of a Margaret Hamilton was probably no more than 30 and simply slowly going insane spending the majority of her waking hours tending to 20 kids whose biggest accomplishment was almost getting their snowpants off before peeing). Either the way, the fact that my parents have managed to keep this ornament in perfect condition (not to mention keep it all) is touching and telling to say the least.

The next holiday bauble may seem at first glance to be simply one of many cartoon-related decorations that nowadays festoon store shelves...
But back in the late 70's and early 80's my brother, my mom and I were quite the Ziggy fans (I was quite the fan of most comics back then, devouring every strip in the New York Daily News Sunday supplement from Little Orphan Annie to Peanuts to Dick Tracy to such now-forgotten selections as Dondi, Motley's Crew and Herman). When my mom saw the above ornament in our local supermarket, she not only knew it was the ideal addition to our tree but the start of a family tradition (rightfully believing that the year "1982" indicated this ornament was the first of an annual release. My mom bought two variations, one for Marcello and one for me, and promised to buy two new ones every year from then on out. Alas, although my mom looked high and low come 1983, there was no "second in the series" to be found, bringing to a quiet yet swift end what was hoped to be an ongoing, multigenrational family collection.

Now on the whole Marciulianos like to make more often than buy, and both my parents created numerous decorations for our tree, from the rather ornate...

To the comfortingly homespun:

But around 1973, they decided to start mixing it up...with mixed results. It began innocently enough during a trip to my cousins' house in Cherry Hil when my family stopped at a small arts & craft store and picked up a collection of wooden, paint-by-numbers Christmas ornaments for a fun-filled, squeaky clean family project. Unfortunately, even though we all managed to say within the lines, the end result of our efforts was a psychotropic phantasmagoria that looked less likely to adorn a Christmas tree and more fitting perched on the shoulder of a piper at the gates of dawn...

Or starring as a "living credenza" character in Yellow Submarine

This was followed in the mid-to-late 1970's by what would soon be dubbed my mom's "Bob Mackie" or "A Cher Christmas" phase, featuring cloth ornaments with more sequins than a Taiwanese drag queen and often in the shapes of such holiday standards as "Stonewall Bar American Indian"...

Let us get a closer gander at the ornament's sheer volume of "pizzazz," shall we? Note how every pore of this proud native seems to say--if not scream--that he is going to boogie-oogie-oogie until he just can't snort coke off the sternum of Bianca Jagger no more...

That happy fellow was soon joined by the perhaps-a-tad-too-fabulous Christmas Peacock...

The customary Christmas Glitter Gator...

And something that is either a shiny holiday heart with bow or a sparkling beefsteak tomato.

But no ornament holds a greater place in our family's heart than the oldest, purchased by my parents for the their very first Christmas tree as husband and wife. The very box for the ornament (still in mint condition) is the very epitome of 1963 fashion and fancy (once you discount the curiously satanic number code on top), with a description that harkens back to a a time of unbridled optimism when man dreamed of a technological utopia where architecture was sleeker, transporation was faster and kitchens were better for his housebound wife...

That is, until you take out Santa on Stork...
With wings broken, a body held by the merest of fabric tendons and a St. Nick that can perhaps best be described as "bindle-less hobo," Santa on Stork may appear to be less a relic of the golden "Jet Age" than an all-too powerful reminder to check in regularly on the elderly come the long, winter months. But despite all that (and a tendency to turn to dust upon touch or breeze), this Santa remains perched on his steed a full 44 years later, still ready and willing to careen through the Christmas Eve night air to deliver presents to all good boys and girls or merely slough off feathers, wires and perhaps a foot along the way.

Now over the many years and decades some of the above ornaments have fallen out of favor with our family and failed to make it to the tree (most notably the wooden and beaded). But this Christmas I declared that there would be no benchwarmers. Every ball, every figure, poorly-glued shredded paper thingy would get to shine in the LED light and hang with their brethren on the manufactured branch, from the tradional...

To the traditions sadly cut short...

To the solemn Santas...

And unorthodox Kringles...

The ornaments fashioned in pre-school...

In days of macrame and denim...

Or nights at Studio 54...

The questionable...

The eerie...

And the downright horrifying...

And last but certainly not least, our beloved but not-yet bereaved Jet-Age Santa on Stork, perched ever so carefully on a spray of branches and still prepared for takeoff, bum hip and all.

And so with all the ornaments hung carefully in place (and on every branch possible)...

We all sat down to celebrate with that Rankin-Bass classic, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, complete with the despicable Winter Warlock ("Please, call me Winter").

And though our family Christmas evergreen may never possess the glitz and grandeur of its nearby big city cousin...

Frankly, I never thought it was a bad little tree.

So to you and yours, may the Christmas bells ring loud and clear this year...

May the stars shine brightly over your home...

May the snow fall gently on your white Christmas...

May we all finally experience some peace on Earth...

And may you receive visits, gifts and joy from the Jet-Age Santa for years and years to come.

12 comments:

D.B. Echo said...

Wow. That's pretty touching. And, DAMN, your family is good with the ornament-making!

Kedamono said...

Damn, now I have some tears in my eyes... Merry Christmas Francesco!

mintzworks said...

I cried. No, really...I cried.

At the thought that you spent literally hours doing this post, and I'm one of those adults who can barely get his pants off in time to pee...

Dimestore Lipstick said...

What a lovely piece. I wish for you all the same and more.

I'm kind of jealous, because my mom believed in an ultra-formal, high-fashion tree, and none of our Christmas creations were ever permitted to sully its perfect branches.

Your folks have the most beautiful kind of tree--a tree made of decades worth of love.

lol. ror. said...

ha! ha! Doesn't watching television at the folks' house suck because of closed captioning? I can hear dialog, but all I do is read the damn captions.

am i right, people? am i right?

V said...

The odd thing is...I swear my family has a blue and fake pearl ornament that is very similar to the first homemade one you pictured. I wonder if it was some sort of popular pattern?

Andy 3000 said...

This was one of the best posts ever. Thanks, Ces, and happy holidays.

D.B. Echo said...

Hilary's first home-made ornament looks kinda famuliar!

Dag said...

Having grown up in almost the exact time frame as you, some of these pictures caused a weird time-warp effect in my brain. There is some repressed memory dealing with luan plywood ornaments and paint that is now struggling to get out.

Despite that, I rather enjoyed this post Franceso. To you and yours, I wish you a peaceful and tempra paint free holiday season.

JPB said...

"Glitter Gator" made me spew.

JPB said...

Oh, God. I so wish I could take a picture of the old white sock my younger sister stuffed with cotton balls, drew a face on and cut a swatch of rabbit fur from my precious 1978 rabbit fur jacket to use as "hair." Mom loved it so much, she made a Christmas tree ornament out of it. Says a lot about my Mom.

JPB said...

This gets funnier and more wonderful every time I read it. It's a treasure trove, seriously.