Merry Merry to my Devoted Dozen!
…and all other brave souls who dare enter here! [Insert piratey laugh here]
Christmas in Scotland is such fun. The decorations are lovely, the pubs and menus are bursting, there are parties, prosecco, and jumpers, Santa Runs (for those who are fit or insane) and mulled wine everywhere you look. And, just like in the US, the stores play Christmas tunes that seep into your skull like syrup on spaghetti.
My personal holiday traditions are few but important, including the annual Haters Guide to Williams Sonoma Catalog, where my soul mate Drew takes the piss out of the pretension and nonsense for sale there:
“Drew says: Go peddle your Christmas in cup back in Arkansas or whatever. Vibrant mix, my ass.
A real hillbilly Christmas in a cup is just a roasted squirrel, a packet of raw grits, and a copy of the Duck Dynasty Christmas album
(which really exists and is literally titled Duck The Halls) all whizzed up in a blender.”
Everyone has a holiday tradition or five, and I’ve written about them before (scroll the archives for more if you’re bored). Hurricane, particularly, lived at Orange Level (the Homeland Security “high risk”) for at least a week until every inch of our home had been smothered with holiday cheer. Or garland.
The one tradition that I love the MOST is having the tree. It doesn’t have to be real or grand, but I love having a tree because we decorate ours with stories. (I bet you do too.) Speaking of stories, let me start at the beginning.
I began writing this post last year on a plane to Vienna.
Yes, I am aware of how that makes me sound and I don’t care. Part of this Mid-Life Crisis Package Deal was that while we lived in Scotland, we would 1) see as much of Scotland as we could and 2) travel in Europe as much as we could.
We also decided to travel a little less in exchange for traveling a little better. At our age, hostels, for instance, were OUT. Again, aware of how this sounds, let me be clear in expressing how many fucks I don’t give. In my mid 40’s I have no desire to sleep in a frozen dormitory with a dozen strangers and walk down a corridor to pee, only to have to queue up there waiting for the dude in front of me to finish flushing his system of what I can only assume is the absinthe-coated roadkill he must have eaten for dinner. (Seriously, what have you consumed that makes poo smell like burnt hair?)
I experienced this in my 20’s – and it was hysterical fun – but I am not that tolerant anymore. And Hubby is much too snobby not to have an en suite bathroom. So when we found a 5 day Christmas package in Vienna, we jumped on it. *(1)
It was splendid from start to finish. The flight was made interesting by sharing our row with Ed Snowden’s cousin, who takes wealthy clients on BMW (cars and bikes) tours across Europe. He was bringing a carry on full of Stornoway sausages and Christmas puddings to a dinner party in Germany with friends. We liked him immensely. Heinekens in the Amsterdam airport staved off hangriness and before we knew it, we’d arrived. Our hotel was lovely. We dumped out luggage and walked right back out and headed for the nearest Christmas market – a smallish affair in a square with perhaps a dozen stalls and a small stage on which local musicians were playing carols:
Mulled wine and a skewer of chocolate covered strawberries later and all was well in my world. There was snow on the ground, flurries in the air, and we had five magical days to explore one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
But this post is about Christmas ornaments. Baubles, as they call them here in Scotland.
It’s one of the few things we purchase during our travels, because they are practical (price and size) and we enjoy looking for ones that tell our story in that place and time. We’ve even been known to buy bookmarks or key chains and turn them into baubles later. And while we actually traveled during Christmas last year (2), we look for baubles every time we holiday. Anywhere. Magical moments happen the year round, and not every holiday has a bauble stall:
This is an actual bauble stall (one of dozens) at the City Hall Christmas Markets in Vienna. It overwhelmed me. So we walked 6 stalls down to bratwurst and more mulled wine and all was well again in my world.
We keep these stories in a box, wrapped gingerly in tissue paper, tucked safely in special storage. We don’t like tchotchkes (3) or figurines, things that require dusting and could be, quite frankly, smashed by an excited dog bumping a table in the living room. My (delusional) grandparents used to get me dolls from the countries they visited, but since I didn’t play with dolls, and they had no cultural or cool stories to accompany them, they lived in a secretary, encased in glass, and I often had vivid dreams about them coming to life and exacting revenge on my grandparents for their ignorance and vanity. Woah to the person today who gives me a snow globe; my lack of filter will surely make them cry.
To me, baubles – Christmas ornaments – should hold stories of lived experience. They slumber away the summers only to reappear in long winter days to make you remember and smile. Baubles are a box of stories.
The first bauble to go on our tree every year is a glass octopus. No other ornaments can go on before the octopus – delicate and only about 2 inches high, it is hung carefully near lights so that its limbs will sparkle and shine. The octopus is a story of two lovers who ran away from the world for three days, to a motel in the Outer Banks, to escape the stress, the accusations, the ignorance, the exhaustion of daily life. The pair walked the beaches, hand in hand, and decided on a future that, while unsteady and unsure, would undeniably include one another. The octopus was purchased in a wee shop by the shore amidst three days of spicy Bloody Marys in solo cups and walks in the sand full of wisdom and freedom. The octopus is a story of love defining itself in its own terms.
It is the first story we unravel every year, because it’s the most important, but there are many others. With every bauble, there is a time, a place, a face, a memory, a joy. There is a fish from Montana, a gift from a father to a daughter, the brass gates of the Texas State Capitol, bought second hand in the Luckenbach post office, a trip taken for a father from his son. A seahorse, a nutcracker, a loggerhead turtle, snowflakes and martini glasses, a stiletto and Darth Vader. All stories. All experiences. All life.
So in about a week from now – when the den of the holidays is over- when all the peppermint bark is gone and you feel like you might stab someone if they offer you another slice of ham- and you are packing away your baubles for another year’s rest, resist the maudlin that comes with too much Merlot or mulled wine.
Remember that you’re not clearing away happiness, you are storing these lovely narratives to give you joy next winter, when they reappear and remind you of people, of places, of experiences, of a life being lived.
Have a story about a favorite ornament or bauble? SHARE in the comments!!
(1) When the entire 5-day package- hotel + flight – costs the same as 1 ticket to the US? Hells Yeah we jumped on it.
(2) Hearing every bell in Vienna ring at midnight to usher in Christmas Day might be one of my favorite holiday memories ever.
(3) Yiddish word for cheap touristy souvenir crap most likely made in China.