Thursday, December 13, 2012

We Heart Christmas: A Marriage Parable

Years ago my wife and I got engaged in November. We spent a lot of time together over the next few weeks. With Christmas approaching we dropped by a shop and selected our first Christmas ornament as a couple; a stuffed cloth heart adornment that reminded us of our love for each other. Since each of us was living with family at that time, neither of us had our own Christmas tree on which to hang the ornament. But we bought it anyway.

A year later as we prepared to celebrate our first Christmas as a married couple we bought a cheap little artificial Christmas tree at K-Mart. It looked like it was constructed of green bottle cleaners. We put it atop a box on the indoor balcony of our little house so that it could be seen from the main floor. We strung some cheap lights and hung a few very cheap ornaments on it. We also hung our 'engagement' ornament from the previous year.

During that season we happened to see another heart shaped ornament in a shop. It didn't cost much. We bought it, brought it home, and put it on our ugly little tree. Thus was a born a tradition that we have followed every year since.

Each year we seek out a Christmas ornament that is either heart shaped or that features a heart. Before putting it on our tree we attach a piece of tape with the year written on it so that we can keep track of when we got each ornament.

We now have quite a menagerie of heart ornaments. Some are elegant; others aren't. Some are large and some are small. We have a large Mickey Mouse ornament from the year we went to Disney World. A string of four small wooden Teddy bears with hearts marks our fourth Christmas together. One of my favorites is a heart made of Hadeland crystal from Norway, where I served as a missionary. Another hand carved heart looks very Scandinavian.

One of the kids' favorite heart ornaments features two mice snuggling atop an old fashioned camera. The center of the flash pan has an opening that fits over a Christmas tree light. Our ornament for 2001 is a metal heart painted to look like an American Flag in remembrance of the patriotic response to 9/11. One two-heart ornament features painted words that say, "The best things in life ... aren't things."

There are many other heart ornaments, including a ceramic heart shape that is cleverly fashioned to look like a Santa face, a heart shaped picture frame featuring a photo of my wife and me from that year, an incredibly cute miniature xylophone, and an angel that is also a bell.

Each year we unwrap each heart ornament and reminisce as we put it on the tree. The appearance of certain ornaments always evokes a sense of delight. Then at the end of the season we carefully wrap each heart ornament in tissue paper and store them in containers until the following Christmas season.

I think our little tradition says something to our children and to each other about how we regard our marriage. It sort of reminds me of the April 2003 LDS general conference talk given by F. Burton Howard. Elder Howard related how his wife cherished and cared for the fine silverware set they began to accumulate upon marriage. He was enlisted in this care as well. His wife was so vigilant with the silver that he thought her to be "just a little bit eccentric." But he ultimately came to see that the silver was simply a metaphor for the conscientious way she approached their own marriage.

We long ago got rid of our bottle cleaner tree. Our current living room has a high ceiling but limited floor space. We very much enjoy our narrow 12' tall tree. Our heart ornaments are just a few of the many ornaments on the tree.

Although our tree is gorgeous, I must admit that as I was putting it together and decorating this year, I started looking forward to the time that we might just have a half tree that hangs on the wall, like my Mom does. I suppose that when we get to that stage we will put only our annual heart ornaments on the tree. I would love it if we someday had 50, 60, or more such ornaments.

Whether we reach that high number or not, I hope that each of my children forms Christmas traditions that demonstrate their devotion to their spouse and family. It would be nice to someday see grandchildren carrying on in their own families something like the tradition my wife and I started years ago when we embarked on our journey together.

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