20 Years and Counting….

December 9, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Christmas time, Family, Living With Intention

Twenty years ago was our first time. That year there were just three of us and the youngest of us was about three and a half. We took Benjamin to St Louis and we went to a lovely little florist known for their extravagant Christmas displays and German glass ornaments. We plied Benjamin ahead of time with a big filling lunch at Crown Candy Kitchen and walked into the brightly lighted Christmas wonderland with the one who would be always our wildest child, contented and almost drowsy. We talked about looking with our eyes and touching with one finger. We all three walked in extending one finger in practice and probably looked like a little Christmasy cult family with those single fingers all pointing. Giggling we each chose a new ornament for our tree, avoided breaking anything along the way, and then headed downtown to sit on Santa’s knee and see the bear village at Famous Barr. It was a wonderful Saturday and we followed it up by getting our tree and decorating it the next afternoon to the sounds of Charlie Brown’s Christmas album and the smells of baked butter and sugar coming out of the oven. We named it our Christmas Adventure weekend and a tradition was born.

The next year my husband volunteered to work a long weekend in the hot St Louis July heat at a downtown fair for the Red Cross and won a weekend hotel to be used whenever we chose. For a young family just making our way this was a real treat. And we knew just the time. The following December we, now four of us, trooped across the river, and repeated the whole enterprise this time adding a holiday movie and an overnight at a fancy downtown hotel with our new baby Hannah snuggled in between us with her brother in the king sized bed. We had brunch there the next day on the way to get our tree. Over the years as our finances and kids grew up fancy dinners were added to the brunches and hotels. By the time Eli came along we sometimes had our adventure in Chicago or some other cool town. Some years we saw a stage production instead of the movie , but always there were the five of us, the new ornaments, and the sights and sounds of Christmas.

We usually kicked off Christmas around the first weekend of December, unless it fell on the first or second in which case we would wait until the following weekend. Our tree is overflowing now with ornaments from all those adventures. There are the red glass hightops from when those were the only shoes Benjamin would ever wear. He also tended toward funny snowmen, and soccer playing reindeer. There are lots of kitties from Hannah and dolphins and even a hippie peace cow when her love of animals started to merge with her politics. Eli liked big traditional frothy glass concoctions. His were the most fanciful and the most delicate which always seemed adorable from this scruffy Tom Sawyer kid. I am partial to all the Santas, Black Santa, German St Nicholas, Father Christmas, and every other flavor. John will find the silly frog holding up the earth, or the baker twirling pies in the air. His first ever is a sax playing Santa from our St Louis life called St Louie Nick.

Our whole family history lives on that tree. Amid all the glass and glitter there are handmade treasures that are more valuable than any of the ones that cost money. I can see my kids at every age on the branches and they remember their childhoods and now their young adult years as we unwrap each one hearing its story for the 18th or 12th time. The last few years we have headed into NYC for our adventure. And now with kids in college it will fall in the middle of the season instead of the beginning. The tree will already be up because now finals happen and so we celebrate the end of them with Christmas Adventure. This year Benjamin is finishing college, no make that FINISHING COLLEGE, in December, so there will be even more to celebrate. Graduation won’t happen until May, but the classes will be over and there will surely be a diploma ornament in the mix. He’ll get to pick the restaurant this year and I predict it will be his old favorite in Soho. I can already imagine the piles of oyster shells between he and his dad and the chocolate mousse Eli will order next to Hannah’s creme brulee. Someday there will be husbands and wives and grand babies on these adventures. But for this one more year at least it will be just the five of us again…the people that I love most in the world. We will toast each other and Christmas, giggle in front of the windows at Macy’s, have hot chocolate at the bald guys chocolate place and I will be eternally grateful for these people and this sweet life we have made together…..


  • jamie

    I know I have told you this before, but I love the traditions you have created with your kids. I can’t wait to be able to do the same with mine (if I ever have any). I hope your blog stays up for, well, ever, because at some point I am going to have to come back and take notes…

  • library lady

    I have always loved hearing about your pre-Christmas adventures and the choosing of the ornaments and tree. A graduation for Benjamin is an excellent addition to the festivities and let me know if you can’t find a diploma ornament and I’ll add it to my Quest For New Ornaments That I Absolutely Don’t Need.

  • Natalie

    I love the stories about your family
    We have a million ornaments too from every life stage. We added a kitchen tree last year just to catch them all

  • TheCynicalOptimist

    Love the desciptions!!

    I adore ornaments and it could be described as an obsession. I’ve been debating posting a blog about them!

  • Kate

    My parents have given each of us three children a gold ornament every year of our lives, engraved with the year. And when we graduated from college and got our first tree? Those ornaments came with us. Our first tree. Completely decorated with memories. We’re 32, 35, and 37, and we have each collected that number of gold ornaments from our mother and father.

  • painted maypole

    what a wonderful tradition!

    your picture is the play that I’m doing (but not in NYC, in NOLA – my wording was a bit vague, eh?)

  • Bia

    Oh what lovely traditions.

    Our tree sounds very similar…a hodgepodge of memories through the years, each telling its own story.

    Blessings to this year’s Christmas adventure!

  • drew

    You have a neat family. I showed this to my wife and we are going to start something similar this year. Thanks

  • beesknees

    What’s your favorite ornament?

  • Katrina

    We get new Christmas CDs every year which we start playing after Thanksgiving. It is way easier now with itunes. I love this time of year.
    You know what I miss though? The 15 kinds of cookies my mom made… I make them too only we eat as we go so we never manage to have those beautiful plates with lots of different kinds.

  • starrlife

    Ornaments have been our family tradition for generations! Beautiful.

  • Kellan

    “Our whole family history lives on that tree” – what a great thing! It is so important to create and continue family traditions!

    I hope you guys have a wonderful holiday season, E. See you soon – Kellan

  • Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge

    What a beautiful story and beautiful tradition. And, I grew up in St. Louis, have gotten chocolate bunnies from Crown Candy, and been to many Famous-Barr’s throughout the city. Your post gave me a little twinge of sadness, being so far from home. But, mostly, I just loved it.

  • Mighty Morphin' Mama

    Okay, now I feel like Christmas, your traditions are so amazing and lovely. You have created a legacy for your kids, they are so fortunate.

  • laurwilk

    I absolutely love this post! I’m a bit home sick though and reading this only makes me long for my family and siblings and traditions! 🙂 Soon enough!

    I adore my family’s traditions and to be honest, as I grow older, I get a bit worried about eventually having to create my own, our own – with a new (very special) person.

    Growing up …is hard to do!

    (Congrats to Benjamin! The whirlwind of thoughts, hopes, dreams, let downs, and experiences I have had since graduating a year and a half ago have made for an interesting ride. It is a fun, scary, hopeful and wonderful time in life, I think!)

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