Cats and Christmas trees can make for a challenging combination, but I love the holiday season, and one of my favorite parts has always been the annual decorating of the Christmas tree.  Until the tree is up, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas to me, and even though it’s been a little more challening for the past couple of years with two young cats, I’ve made it work.

I’ve collected ornaments for the past thirty some years, and inevitably, bringing out the ornaments each year leads to a lovely, if  sometimes bittersweet, trip down memory lane. I grew up in Germany, and traditionally, our Christmas tree was not decorated until Christmas Eve. As a small child, I was not allowed into the living room while the tree was being decked out in its holiday glory. I can still remember the eager and impatient anticipation of the moment when my parents would ring a small brass bell that hung on the tree, and I could finally enter the room. It was pure magic each time. The tree was decorated with multi-colored glass balls, sparkling tinsel, and real candles – something that we can’t even imagine in these safety conscious times we live in.

When I moved to the United States in my mid-twenties, I was introduced to the tradition of putting the Christmas tree up right after Thanksgiving. I loved this – now I could have the tree up for several weeks, not the mere two weeks I was used to from my childhood! I was also introduced to artificial Christmas trees. At first I balked at the idea – the intoxicating pine scent of my childhood trees was such an essential part of the holidays, it was odd to think about having to give that up. But, being able to have a tree up for five to six weeks won out over not having the real thing. Not having to deal with cleaning up needles for weeks after the tree was taken down was a nice side benefit. And since having a fake tree has become the environmentally conscious thing to do these days, rather than making apologies for my fake tree, I am now politically correct.

I’ve accumulated quite a collection of ornaments over the years. Not surprisingly, many of them are cat themed, and I can usually remember where I got them or who gave them to me.  There are photo ornaments that contain the photos of my cats, past and present. There are ornaments from places I’ve traveled to, like the shell ornament from a beach trip, the fat glass cat from Macy’s in New York City, or the handmade wooden ornament my dad made for me the year before he passed away. There’s the white tiger ornament that reminds me of a trip to Las Vegas to see Siegfried and Roy’s amazing performance. There’s the angel tree topper that came from the world famous Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany.

And of course, there’s the small brass bell from my childhood Christmases, and it still brings back the memory of that magic moment each and every holiday season.

What are some of your favorite holiday memories?

20 Comments on Sunday Purrs: holiday memories

  1. I loved reading this post. I especially enjoyed reading about you growing up in Germany although I did know it from reading previous posts of yours.

    I love the pictures of your tree and especially love your angel Christmas tree topper. I too would love to go to the Christmas market in Nuremberg. I have gone to the Christkindl Market in Denver which is our equivalent but I would love to do the real thing.

    I traveled to Poland this year and have a couple of Polish friends on Facebook. We were discussing Christmas traditions in Poland. They stated that you did not say Merry Christmas or decorate the tree until Christmas eve. I now know Germans do the same after reading your blog. Do all Europeans have this same tradition? It appears Americans are the only nation to put the tree and decorations up early but then we do it after Thanksgiving, a holiday unique to America.

    I collect ornaments and buy any cat ones I like. I collect calico cat themed ornaments. I have also had many given to me. I also collect Christmas broaches and pins. Most of these are cat themed too.

    Thanks so much for sharing about your Christmas traditions. Merry Christmas and happy new year to you, Allegra and Ruby. 🙂

  2. OMC! TW says when she was little, her peeps decorated the tree after they went to bed on Christmas Eve and she didn’t see it until they awoke the next morning. She were told that Santa brought it and decorated it. Some years this didn’t work out too well cos her Dad was an alcoholic and by the time they brought the tree in, he was falling all over it. She thought Santa was clumsy.

  3. The Christmas tree is my memory bank of all the good times both in childhood and my life to date. Like you, I’ve collected ornaments for years and whenever I travel I choose an ornament as a souvenir. Then each year as I unwrap them I have a memory feast. Even better, my uncle sent me some very old glass German ornaments that my grandmother had, and so there are several generations represented on my tree. The shape and size changes every year – we still get a “real” tree – but the memories are always wonderful! Since Kira’s days of tree climbing are long past she now decorates the scene by lying under the tree.

  4. Ingrid, I’d been remembering your tradition from reading “Buckley’s Story”, and while I’m sure remembering Amber and Buckley, and possibly FeeBee, is part of the bittersweet memories, the tree tradition brings them all together, and you are all a family.

    But it looks to me like Allegra has plans for that tree, and is just waiting for you to turn around so she can work it out.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Bernadette, you’re right, even though the memories are bittersweet at times, they’re part of my family tradition, too.

      And you are so right about Allegra – she’s like “nothing to see here. Carry on.” 🙂

  5. I never knew you were grew up in Germany, Ingrid! This is why I love to read other people’s blogs – you get to know them so much better. My mother was allergic to pine, so we never had a real tree until I was an adult. We would decorate it with red satin balls, candy canes, and strings of popcorn and cranberries. The cats, of course, thought it was just a big toy for them!

    • I spent the first 20 some years of my life in Germany, Vicki.

      We had popcorn garlands on our tree until we got Feebee, my first cat. When he discovered that Christmas tree decorations are edible, that was the end of that – I was too paranoid that he would eat the string.

  6. Those are great memories. I collect cat ornaments and have many. When I was little I always looked forward to going to my grandpa’s farm. He lived far away. And we would get to see all my cousins, aunts, & uncles. Would have a lot of food, presents, and fun.

  7. Warm memories! Christmas decorations vary along life. We stopped making a tree due to an active and troublemaker young black boy that is nowadays the middle one in the feline gang. It was not such a sacrifice because we were more fond of my mom’s collection of nativities, that we display during the season. My Christmas memories are also related to preparing the special Christmas dinner, it was such an event at home when my granny lived with us, and afterwards with mom, hard work, delicious treats along the way, and joy.

    • What lovely memories, Maru – especially the one of cherishing time spent with family preparing Christmas dinner. We so often rush through meal preparations, it’s nice to have this special time.

  8. Oh Ingrid, that was such a nice story about your childhood and it made me think back to when I was a child back in the dark ages. LOL. Anyway, speaking of candles, my father worked for GE and had many inventions of his own, and one thing he made was candles for the tree but they were fake candles and the lit up. It was terrific. Because of so many cats here, we usually don’t have a tree but this year some kind soul gave us a very tiny live tree which I can’t plant because of the red clay here so I am going to just put it in another pot.
    Merry Christmas to you and the girls.

  9. Oh, Ingrid – you had real candles on your childhood Christmas trees! My father wrote a beautiful story of how his parents would go into the living room on Christmas morning, close the pocket doors, and light the candles while my father and his brothers waited impatiently on the other side of the doors. When the doors slowly opened, the boys were cautioned not to move quickly so as to avoid drafts that would make the candle flames move around.

    I cannot imagine how beautiful those trees must have been!

    Thank you for sharing this touching story. My favorite holiday memories are of the years when my three sons were small and my husband and I got to play Santa. I loved seeing their anticipation as the day drew near; they’d make paper chains for their tree (we lived in a 16 room Victorian and my goal was a tree in every room); we’d bake a birthday cake for baby Jesus; and they finally learned that the earlier they went to sleep on Christmas Eve, the faster Christmas would come! Christmas morning always began *very* early – and if they weren’t up by the time my husband awakened, he’d wake them up! I loved seeing a huge pile of presents under the tree (I’d adopted the Victorian thinking of more is always better) and they were very good about taking turns opening one gift at a time so we could all exclaim over each one . . . and then the gigantic pile of discarded gift wrap in the middle of the room . . . the boys would dive in, accompanied by the dog and cat. Good times, and ever-so-precious memories.

  10. I have yet to figure out why a fake tree is environmentally conscious. They take up so many of the earth’s limited resources to make, and they sit around in land fills when they are thrown away. Yes, trees take a while to grow and seem like such a waste that they are cut down and then thrown away a few weeks later, but they contribute oxygen to the environment while they are growing, homes to wild life, and they help enrich the soil (not to mention employ people to cultivate them) and then they break down and decompose when they are discarded.

    says the woman with two artificial trees because like you I find them much easier.. I also bought them on clearance at the end of the season in previous years so I can pretend I saved it from being thrown away.. 🙂

    • I guess we can’t win when it comes to the environment and Christmas trees, Connie – but I sure am glad that’s not stopping you from enjoying your two artificial trees! And you saved yours from being thrown out, too – if that’s not conscious living, I don’t know what is ;-). Merry Christmas!

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