By Christina Vance
It was small for an ornament, maybe a little more than 2 inches in length. Its ivory color made it blend with whatever the overall color-scheme was for the tree. It was always the last decoration put on the tree and my mother always made a production about giving it a place of prominence.
The little ornament was shaped like an angel and had been crocheted long before I was born. I grew up thinking every tree had a little ornament like ours because it was always given such respect and our tree was never declared “perfect” without it.
When I graduated from high school and was attending university I made an attempt to dissuade my mother from using the ornament. In the trendy fashion days of the early 1970s Christmas decorations took on a garish look with metallic trees and multi-colored lights. I thought the little ornament was a drab addition to our new brilliance in Christmas decoration.
But my mother, for all her patience with my forays and tangents in Christmas decorating, insisted that we use the ornament. “We can add any kind of decoration you want,” she told me. “Just remember that this little angel goes in the same spot as it has always been, since before I was a little girl.”
Well, it was not like my mother and I were arguing over the length of my skirt or the color of my eye shadow. Nevertheless I was curious now about this special little ornament and what it meant to my mother. “Where did we get her?” I asked.
My mother smiled briefly as she delicately opened a very old box holding the ornament. As she opened it I could see her eyes moist with tears as she carefully unwrapped it. “It’s about time that you asked,” she softly said. “You need to know this story.”
“I got her from my mother, who had it when I was a girl.” Mother began. “She was on every tree we had when I grew up, just as she has been here every year for you. When I was 14 I asked my mother just what you asked me. And that’s when she told me the story. Grams got her when she was 18, that was when she asked the magic question of her mother.”
Astonished, I began to see this ornament already in a completely different light. I knew it was special to my mother and always had been. But she never volunteered the story before. I did not know I had to ask to learn the secrets of the ornament angel.
“How old is she?” I asked. “Where did she come from? Who made her and why?”
Mom smiled, her eyes sparkled. This was clearly a moment she had looked forward to for a long time.
“This angel was made by your great-great-great-great-grandmother Christina in the 1860s. It has been placed on the same special spot on every Christmas tree in our family every Christmas since that time.”
Mother still held the little angel ornament in the box, the tissue paper open. I touched my mother’s arm and looked inside at her. She was completely barren of any kind of holiday color or sparkle. She was made with a simple stitch and knowing now how old she was I imagined that at one time her real color must have been pure white.
“Christina was 9 years old when she learned the real reason Christmas was not celebrated in their home. She was born on Christmas day and they always celebrated her birthday but never did they celebrate Christmas.
Christina asked her mother why there was no celebration of Christmas. Her mother explained to her that when Christina was born she had a twin sister who was stillborn. It was a sad and a happy time in their home and Christmas always reminded them of the heartbreak of that day. By celebrating just Christina’s birthday they avoided reliving the pain of losing the other baby.
Christina was so saddened to learn that she had had a sister who was lost. But in her girlish mind she did not see her sister as a dead baby. She saw her instead as an angel. And angels were what brought the good news of Christmas to the shepherds. So it would not be bad to remember her.
On her own, she made the angel ornament and gave it to her mother for Christmas that year. She explained that the angel represented her dead sister who would watch over Christmas as a happy time in their family from that time forward. Christina made her parents promise that from that day forward they would celebrate Christmas. And they always did.”
Now my eyes were wet. To think that that story had been passed from generation to generation without fail was a miracle. But why did I have to ask about the angel before she told me the story?
Mother smiled. “Because Christina had to ask her mother. Before she asked, Christina had no idea she ever had a twin. The story changed her life and it changed Christmas for her forever. Just as this story has now changed Christmas for you.”
Mother was right. Christmas has never been the same for me since learning the story. The angel now hangs on my tree every year. I have children of my own, of course – four boys. None have yet asked me the question, though my youngest is now almost 30 years old.
But I have hope. All my sons have just daughters. And my eldest granddaughter is starting to look a little curious at the very old, most precious angel that hangs on my tree every year.