The ceramic Christmas tree
Last updated 12/20/2023 at 2:33pm | View PDF
Hunched into the crawl space, my eyes do a quick scan.
A collection of unlabeled plastic bins are organized into sections, known only to me as "Halloween," "Easter," "Christmas,"
I see it. A weathered cardboard box that predates the colorful bins surrounding it by not just decades, but generations.
Ever so gingerly I pick it up and squat-walk-shuffle my way out of the storage space. Relieved to be standing up straight again, I carefully open it. Beneath protective layers of paper towels and old newspapers, everything looks to be in order. I see the familiar plastic bag that was originally used to cover a pillow, along with a note on yellowed paper, scotch-taped to the edges, that reads in cursive: "Use this to cover our ceramic Christmas tree".
Less remarkable than the message is the opportunity to see my grandmother's penmanship. I smile, taken back to the excitement of childhood birthdays or holidays, seeing this handwriting on the envelopes in our mailbox. Receiving a card from my grandma meant two things: the card itself would not be signed (just in case we wanted to reuse it), and she would always include a handwritten bonus message from the second choice greeting card (the one she didn't buy, but who's sentiment she still wanted to share). My grandmother was clever like that - always thoughtful and extra diligent in these, her acts of love. It was hard to out think her.
Except on one occasion my grandfather did. When they retired from a life as hard-working farmers and moved to a smaller, more manageable house "in town," it was right before Christmas. He surprised her by putting their ceramic tree in the front window, then driving up and telling her that the house was theirs. Every Christmas after, my grandma kept that tree in that window. As a kid, I loved it!
It looks just like many of yours. Originally popular in the 1960 and '70ss, more recently with a vintage twist: green with multi-colored lights, illuminated from underneath.
When my grandmother passed away years ago, I knew immediately which of her keepsakes I'd like most: her tree. And so every year I carefully trek into the crawl space and bring it out with our decorations.
This is a season when we reflect back connecting loved ones and traditions past and present. Her ceramic tree provides me with the link to do just that.
I've added a new-world-twist, though, to this old-world-treasure. Plugged into a smart outlet, the tree shines its light when my grandma's name is said out loud by my children and husband, the people she did not know, yet who were a part of her dreams for me.
"Alexa, turn on Grandma Reinhard's tree."
- Carissa Kapcar of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].