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Ornament ‘show and tell’ on Zoom: traditions, treasures and a life’s story | COMMENTARY

Paula Thalis, shows off two of the COVID-19 related ornaments she sells in her Annapolis store, "A Christmas to Remember." Let's hope this pandemic doesn't become a tradition.
Paula Thalis, shows off two of the COVID-19 related ornaments she sells in her Annapolis store, "A Christmas to Remember." Let's hope this pandemic doesn't become a tradition. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Some of our biggest Christmas memories come from the smallest things, tree ornaments.

This year I put up my Christmas tree early. It’s always a daunting task, all those little ornaments, so many of them collected over our 50 years of marriage. But this year I had time. I made it a joyful task, looking at each ornament, remembering where I bought it or who gave it to me, listening carefully for their stories.

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I’ve hosted Zoom meetings this month with my friends who are quilters, artists and grandmothers. As I emailed the invitations, on a whim, I invited them to bring their favorite ornament or decoration for “show and tell.” I expected exquisite handmade beauties, created of fabric, tiny stitches or carefully executed paint strokes.

What a surprise! The crafters’ favorite ornaments were not made of their own hands. Instead they took us all on a trip down memory lane. We shared traditions in our families, told stories of our little treasures and truly created a sense of Christmas community.

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As each member lovingly presented the ornaments to their computer camera, they opened windows into our lives. A strange purple glass ball with antique glitter suddenly became a treasure: It had been handed down several generations from a grandmother years ago. A small fabric sock printed with an “antique” Santa was a friend’s very first ornament when she was a baby. A rather unseasonal palm tree brought back memories of the owner’s honeymoon in Hawaii 50 years ago. Previously white baby shoes, tied with a red and green ribbon, commemorated the year a first child was born. A silly green frog leapt into one tree from a baby’s mobile from the ’70s. One member brought an adorable ceramic angel that she herself made in grade school.

One friend showed us a nutcracker from her collection, given to her children when they were young. The nutcrackers had not been out for several years, after her husband passed away, but she bravely shared her favorite one with us. I imagine the others now sharing memories on her mantle.

Ornaments were still packed away for one quilter friend, but she lovingly described her favorite, a fragile glass sphere with her name in antique glitter, dated 1949. To her surprise, I reached over and showed the camera my green glass ornament, made the same way, with the same date! It must have been all the rage when we were born! I have similar ornaments with my parents’ names, Lucy and Al. This synchronicity inspired my friend to find her ornament, decorate her tree, and send a photo to our group.

My favorite moment during a Zoom meeting was when a Jewish friend remarked that she really enjoyed the stories behind our ornaments. She had no idea they contained such treasured memories. In turn, she picked up her laptop, walked outside, and shared her family’s six-foot menorah built by her son when he was in high school. We all loved her story describing how they light it each night of Hanukkah.

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It seems strange this year to decorate. We can’t have parties or invite friends to our homes. But some of us are decorating more this year, in an attempt to bring light and joy to 2020. A Texas quilter’s newest ornament was adorned with hand sanitizer, toilet paper, masks and the virus — a treasure for years to come!

Through the magic of Zoom, my friends shared more than small decorations as they gently held their memories up to the video camera and told their stories. We shared our lives with each other and imagined giving each other those hugs we miss so much.

They inspired me to share photos of my favorite ornaments with my grandkids. I realized that they might never connect the antique glittered balls inscribed with Lucy and Al, to Granny and Pop Pop. I got a reaction of “Cool!” and they enjoyed some of the ornament stories involving their parents.

Thank goodness for the miracle of Zoom technology, and for my friends that have the courage to learn this new way of getting together. We are connecting.

If you have a favorite ornament or holiday decoration, please share it with your family and friends. Tell them the story, reach out to them, and bring them some joy. And next year, let’s hope we can do it again — in person.

Mimi Dietrich (mimidietrich6@gmail.com) is a Baltimore quilter. Her Hometown Girl exhibit last year at the Maryland Center for History and Culture connected many quilters and friends to the city of Baltimore.

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