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Christmas Traditions: Including the Possible Meaning of Old & New “Stuff”

Christmas Traditions and the Importance of "Stuff"
ETA Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker. The Ballet at Lincoln Center in New York. 



Experts suggest different routes – one can either rent the dumpsters and rifle it all in blindfolded, hire a company to do a tag sale, or one can go through every single room, drawer, shoe box, or whatever kind of receptacle that can hold ‘stuff’ and decide carefully on the future of each and every object. No size too small.

One of the  truer reasons for closing our ‘live’ retail store was that I was too often confused when overhearing our customers call our carefully curated books and carefully chosen home goods ‘stuff.’  In short order after selling my parent’s home of over forty years, I had become a salesperson of stuff!

It took a potential fatal gulp of vodka from the dusty liquor cabinet and three 15’ dumpsters, a mobile “LegalShred” unit, charitable drop offs/pick-ups, and a lost counting of banker boxes to complete the task and I’m still reeling from the psychological drama. I am anti-stuff. I am Kondo on three cups of coffee when I tidy my own home.

But actually it was how my parents left their things behind that affected me more than the challenge of ‘getting rid of their stuff’.’ My mother in particular. How did I miss that she was an artist who valued her work and the tools of her many crafts? She put away her hobbies carefully.  I kept my dad’s intellectual history and challenge myself to poke my head in his books every so often – his vast library of books on finance, capitalism, socialism and the economy now have their own place in mine. I kept his notes in these books that also contain tiny penciled dots where he thought he should remember. Sometimes I find myself vehemently disagreeing with what he thought important…nothing new there. We can still argue through his stuff!  When it came time to go through the giant chest where my mother had carefully stored our family’s Christmas decorations, each one wrapped in re used tissue paper, I couldn’t bare to sort them and when the movers came one last time, I pointed to it and said, “Be careful with that one” and it came with me.


It was this crazy little tea light that recently set off a cascade of happy memories of Christmases past – in particular our last one as a family. My mother died four months later at Easter. As her lung disease worsened, so did  the evaporation of our traditions: no more fires in the fireplace that dad loved chopping wood and tending (she was so afraid of her coughing attacks from the smoke), and and finally, no more candles, then finally, she was unable to climb the walk to our candlelight service at the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York, where we went faithfully for thirty-eight years.

The best Christmas gift she ever gave me. The appreciation for Handel’s Messiah.

“What about this?” I asked her, as I pulled this pseudo tea light out from my pocket, posing it with her collection of Nutcrackers on the coffee table on the couch where she spent her most difficult years. I put on Handel’s Messiah on CD. She had never been a shopper and she had been shut in for many years with her fear of catching a cold. This little plastic tea light, tho, made her howl with laughter.  She marveled at the fact that she could turn it and on and off and that it even flickered. Very slowly I tested it this year. It still worked.

Fits well in a carry on.

Yes. May we all be reminded of the previous Christmases with the material things we save and cherish –  tea lights, music, a children’s story – and may we even go out and purchase more ‘stuff’ for the purpose of creating new ones.

In particular this year, I marvel at my new, tiny, portable Nativity Scene that I  take with me as I embark on another trip.



Books on the Pond

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