I’ve been taking down Christmas trees, or helping to, for about 45 years now. Never though, as happened Friday night, have I been wrapping favorite ornaments in tissue and wondered if everyone I love would be alive next December when I next unpacked the boxes.

Got to be some sort of maudlin mile marker in life when a thought like that traipses into your head uninvited. We’re all closer to death this Christmas than last, no matter how you look at it. But come on!

I’ve always been captivated by Christmas ornaments, their history and their connections. When I was small, my first Christmas tree memory is of being told, “Let me hang that one. It came from home.” In other words, my parents were saying, “please don’t drop that precious glass ball that I hung on a tree lit with candles back in Wisconsin (or Pennsylvania).” I loved to hear those stories. And because three of four of my grandparents were alive, and I assumed my parents were immortal, there was no sadness attached. Just connectedness when I looked at that kind-of Chinese-looking man made of glass. I still look for him every year. Still don’t know why there is a Chinese-looking-guy ornament.

Then there are the two or three plastic ornaments with little fans that used to spin smartly if you hung them just right above a light bulb. My dad could always set them spinning. The tiny Italian lights don’t generate the heat to spin the fan like the big, old bulbs. But the ornaments still go on the tree.

Nowadays my grandparents are all long gone, both my parents have died, and Mary and I are, astoundingly, on the verge of a 30th wedding anniversary.

So it is not just the ornaments from my childhood, or from Mary’s, some of which go back to the farm, or were handmade by her mom, that have memories attached. Now it is the ornaments we’ve actively gathered in our shared lives. On that first Christmas together in 1976, we began a tradition of swapping ornaments. I remember placing those first ornaments on the tree in the Scoville Avenue apartment and thinking about all the years we’d repeat the process, all the trees to come, all the homes those trees would grace. It was open-ended, and while I no longer believed in immortality, there was no end in sight. Now, certainly, there is an end in sight. Decades away, I hope, but taking a more discernable shape as Friday’s dismal thought suggests.

That first year, I went to Grables, now I think an empty storefront on Oak Park Avenue, but then one of the village’s loveliest gift shops. I bought a hanging ball, with a scene of some Alp-like winter village. The ball could be opened and inside Mary put the gift card I’d written?#34;”On our first Christmas together.” This being real life, our quite demented dog Augie chewed up that ornament three years later. So now it doesn’t hang on the tree, it nestles somewhere deep inside. And when we place it carefully in the tree we think almost fondly of pillow-humping, jumping-straight-out-the-kitchen-window-and-running-like-hell-Augie. There is virtue in the passing of time, after all.

Every family tree, I imagine, has the ornaments made by the kids and featuring their class photos. Even those are changing their orientation from contemporary to historical in my house. With my son now 21, looking at those second grade creations, it is no longer a reminder that he has grown up a bit more, but that a whole era has passed.

As the weekend closed, the Christmas memory vault was safely packed back into the basement. With the January temps stuck in the 40s, I’m turning my attention to the first spring flowers and pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. It may not be immortality. But it is, at least, forward looking.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...