What’s on Your Mantel This Christmas?

Last night, I went to see my 74-year-old mother, and she gifted me with a plastic garland that has been my favorite Christmas decoration for as long as I can recall. It’s not much really, just a typical 1960’s chain of molded Santa faces, bells, birdcages and holly. Yet, it made my heart sing to receive it.

As a child, Christmas was the one time of year that brought peace to our home. I still recall my mother retrieving boxes of ornaments and the delight I felt when the plastic garland was placed on the metal banister of the attic stairs, or across the fake cardboard fireplace that graced our den. The garland was a beacon of hope that signified another year of survival.

I added the garland to my fireplace mantel last night, the perfect finishing touch to a collection that already holds so much meaning.  Above the garland sits a tiny elf. Below rests an equally nostalgic Santa and reindeer sleigh. Both are gifts from my biological mother.

mantleI have known my birth family for 23 years, and had the miraculous experience of meeting my biological grandparents twice. Two perfect visits are the framework for my memory of them. I see their faces when I look at the elf and Santa that once decorated their tiny Newfoundland home.

When my birth mother thinned her Christmas collection, bestowing her own childhood memories on her three children, she wrote a note on the envelope that held my elf. It reads, “This is one of 3 elves that I remember on the family tree from age ten on. I think Mom (Freda 1918-2009) ordered them from a catalog. Now I give one to each of you. They have sentimental value.”

Born on Christmas Eve, I spent my first Christmas in the company of strangers. Nurses cared for and nurtured me without question. I was a child without family, given up by a poor mother who desperately wished she could keep me. I believe that the loneliness and selfless acts of that Christmas set the tone for all my Christmases to come. For me, Christmas is being kind without expectation of reward, loving unconditionally even when someone is incapable of loving you back, and making memories that will matter for the next generation.

Of all my holiday adornments, this year’s hearth-side decorations mean the most, as they are a perfect co-mingling of the family I fought so hard to find, and the one brought to me by adoption.

As you deck the halls this year, I encourage you to keep family memories close. Whether that family is made up of friends, biological or adoptive branches, they are the roots of Christmas.

For those still in search, this is often the hardest time of year. I wish you peace, love, and the fulfillment of finding.

Blessings for a mantel that makes you smile,

V.L. Brunskill
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