Christmas trinkets and time machines

By E. Adam Porter

Editor in Chief, News of Sun City Center

They say February is the season of love, with Valentine’s Day and all its candy hearts and chocolates. But, for me, December is the ultimate sentimental season. The songs, the lights, the symbols of faith, family and fellowship. And the memories.

Everyone has a favorite holiday memory. And a photo or a trinket, something that always makes you feel a certain way, regardless of the passage of time. Something that is, in its own special way, a version of Sherman’s WABAC Machine. See it, and time stops. Pick it up and be transported to a singular, crystal clear moment in time.

For some, it’s that clumsily crafted ornament. A handprint in hardened clay, labeled with a faded year, painted in green or red. Or a shaky video on reel-to-reel that you keep meaning to transfer to DVD or digital. Little ones in knit hats and jeans scampering across the yard with unbridled joy.

For others, it’s a photograph of Who We Were Then — young, smiling faces hanging above dapper outfits bought for a long-ago party, calling to mind the Moment We Met or the night we realized It Was Love. It could be a snippet of music from a song our parents used to play, a track from a record packed away somewhere in a dusty attic.

These precious, priceless items symbolize moments that define life and moments that make life worth living. They capture what John Lennon meant when he sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

That, more than anything, is the magic of the holiday season, that stretch between late November and mid-January, when everyone takes time out to reminisce and reconnect. What we celebrate and how we honor those holy days is secondary to what this time of year does in us and for us. The holidays are bittersweet for all of us. Filled with hope, regret, joy and sorrow.

For little ones, it’s the delicious sweetness of hot cocoa or the sneaky thrill of filching a candy cane off the tree. The excitement of Christmas morning — seeing the empty plate of cookies, the overflowing stockings, the elation of presents unwrapped and the disappointment of the ones Santa missed once again.

As we grow, the holidays often become moments connected to and measured by the items they bequeath to us, a collection of giddy butterflies and lonesome tears. Find one, and you’re suddenly transported to the magic anticipation and boundless optimism of young love or the empty devastation of parting ways. A first kiss under the mistletoe, breath spiced with Christmas fudge or peppermint and, maybe, a hint of buttered rum. Hands clasped tightly to ward off the winter chill as you stroll down the lane looking at Christmas lights. Then the gut punch of the missed date, the unreturned phone call, the inevitable distancing.

But most of us find The One, and we begin marking holidays as the First of Many More to Come. We bring our family traditions together. At first, that merging is unfamiliar, a bit uncomfortable. After a few tries, though, all those customs coalesce into something that honors what was, while building new traditions for the next generation to cherish.

Decorations, mostly store-bought at first, are slowly replaced by those clay handprints, macaroni manger scenes and glitter-glue stars. Some of those older ornaments have cracks in them now, where they were broken and meticulously super-glued back together. Getting them properly mended required impromptu surgery with tweezers and reading glasses. It was midnight, and you cussed the entire time, but when they come out of the box a year later, they are somehow more precious for their flaws. The donkey from the Nativity Scene is missing an ear, and that makes it irreplaceable. Because, when you pick it up, you can close your eyes and picture that moment, so many years ago, when a chubby little hand held that damaged donkey out for inspection, a cherub face desperately feigning innocence.

Photos and ornaments mark the passage of time and the collection of memories. The longer we have them, the more precious their worth. A tiny ceramic Santa, once $3.99, is priceless when flipped over to reveal a clumsily scribbled name, smudged by over-eager fingers picking it up before the paint was dry. A faded Polaroid, forgotten in an album until it is pulled out, just once every year, is transformed into the only thing that matters in that moment.

We all have these moments, these trinkets that transport us to another “where” and “when”. The holiday season is special, because we allow ourselves time to reflect on their meaning and all that comes with it. We give ourselves permission to remember moments we will never forget.