Tuesday, January 26, 2021

2019 Ornament Of The Year

My 2019 Ornament of the Year

The year was 1979 and my life was turning upside down.

I was in the middle of my senior year of college and things were happening quickly.

For reasons I still can't fully explain, I'd settled my accounting major's heart on the dream of working for Arthur Andersen & Co in Chicago. Now mind you, I'd never been to Chicago before. And I knew precious little about AA&Co except that it was the biggest accounting firm in Chi-town and something about it just called to me. 

So keeping my options open by interviewing with most of the then-Big 8 accounting firms, I'd breezed through fall on-campus hurdles, and as soon as my finals wrapped up, I'd hopped a plane to zip over for three office interviews. Pinching myself, I came home for the holidays with three job offers in my pocket. 

Including one for my dream job.

My mind was in a whirl. But not about my job. I knew with calm certainty that I was destined to take that dream job.

My fourth-born's cursive n starts with a distinctive crook at the top, and mine is rather straight. Otherwise, our handwriting looks much the same. 

What was really messing with me was the concept that this was the last Christmas of my childhood.

Oh sure, next year I'd be traveling the 250 miles back home to Michigan for the big day. But my constant preoccupation was this: Next year, I'll be putting up a tree in my happening bachelorette big city apartment, and I have zero ornaments. 

My attention focused on this issue like a laser, and I determined to build myself a suitable collection of ornaments, like, pronto.

{Come to think of it, this is probably why I've spent a lifetime making and giving away Christmas ornaments to my friends and family. I just think it's so important for young people especially to tuck away such treasures for the future, and to know that whenever life rips them from their childhood nest, they'll be ready to celebrate Christmas with at least some tree trimmings.} 

{As it turned out, 1979 was also the year that some friends and I headed to Vail for a few days of skiing between Christmas and New Year's. The quaint shops clustered at the foot of the ski slopes were filled with darling options within reach of my college student budget, and I bought at least a dozen ornaments on that trip. They hang on my tree to this very day.}

So in those precious days leading up to Christmas 1979, I decided to try my hand at making ornaments. 


Now, my mom was a fifth-grade school teacher, and every holiday she was inundated with gifts from her devoted students and their families. That year, someone gave her a set of cute Christmas-themed cookie cutters - the kind that not only cut out the shape of Santa, for example, but also stamp into the dough the details of his hat, his face, his suit, and even his chunky boots. (Kind of like this.) 

And thus an idea was born.

I whipped up a batch of salt dough, rolled it out on the counter, and used the cookie cutters to cut out stars, snowmen, Christmas trees, as well as the aforementioned Santas. Once they were baked, I painted them, covered them with a clear protective finish, and strung them on silver cord for hanging. 

But as I was working along in that first phase, stamping out the Christmas swag left and right but still staring down a hefty heap of dough, I suddenly had another idea.

Using some old-school Play-Doh skills, I rolled the dough out into a long snake. A long, looooong snake, almost a meter long. And then, looping and coiling the snake back and forth on itself, I wrote out in cursive the word, noel

I baked it along with the other ornaments, then painted it with a simple red stripe along the top of the coil, looping and curving along the length of the letters.

It ended up being adorable. And for many years to come, that cursive salt dough noel earned a prominent place on my Chicago - and then Seattle - Christmas trees. 

Here is my noel ornament on my 1983 Christmas tree, near the bottom and slightly to the right. 

Fast forward to 2010. Sadly, salt dough does not last forever, and that year, my noel ornament took a bad fall. I saved the pieces, but despite my best efforts with a bottle of tacky glue, had to accept the fact that this ornament's days were over. 

But wait! I made the first one, so why could I not whip up a replacement?!

Seemed easy enough to implement that idea but for one reason or another, I just couldn't make it happen. 

Until this year. And for Christmas of 2019, the FIFTIETH anniversary of my original creation, I chose a scaled-down version of my noel for my Ornament of the Year. 

I decided few simple design changes were in order. 

  • Instead of rough and ready salt dough, we used a store-bought polymer clay. Easy to use and long lasting. These babies should be good for at least another forty years.   
  • As per the original, we painted a stripe along the top of the letters but mixed it up with a variety of Christmas-y colors.
  • And because I'm now way more of a perfectionist than I used to be, I called in my fourth-born to help. Her incredible fine motor skills and infinite capacity for perfection took the execution of these little gems from good to great. 

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I'm happy to honor the long life of my original noel by according it status as an official Ornament of the Year.

I love that my daughter and I brought the old design forward into the new millennium with a few new enhancements.

And  I hope that for many years to come, I'll see this familiar shape on my tree and reminisce about the way it came to be, back in the last Christmas of my childhood. 

The year was 1979.

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For more Ornament of the Year posts, check these out:

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