Christmas Writing Challenge #9: an Object that Triggers Emotion
Christmas Writing Challenge #11: The Stockings

Christmas Writing Challenge #10: The Background of Photos

When I first started this writing challenge, it grew out of a bunch of pictures I found at my mom's of our childhood Christmases. I remembered some of the pictures, but some I had entirely forgotten or never even seen. When I found the albums, I had a memory of some of the pictures, and my memory was definitely better, in most cases, than the pictures themselves. In my head, the photos were sharply focused and well composed, but in real life, not so much. And I found myself wishing I could time travel, to actually take some pictures I wish we had.

If I could time travel, some of the photos I would take are pictures of the ornaments on our tree and of our stockings. I remember how instantly swamped with the Christmas spirit I was, as a kid, when we got out our ornaments for the "cute tree," which was the tree we had downstairs by the fireplace. I wish I had a photo or two or ten, maybe one of the entire tree but most of them zoomed in close to the individuals ornaments.

Alas, no such photos exist.

But then last week, when I started working on these prompts again, I looked closer at the photos, and while I still haven't found a picture of the ornaments on the "pretty tree" (the one we had upstairs by the big window, always a fresh flocked tree), which is really what I wish I had the most because of the story behind it, I noticed something in this picture:


I scanned this one, even though the subject is obviously blurred, because I wanted to remind myself to write the story of those nightgowns. But what I noticed (finally!) is that the tree is the thing that is in focus...and there they are: the ornaments on the cute tree!

Which is, I confess, quite a long introduction to today's writing prompt:

Find a photo from your childhood Christmas and look at the background. What memory sparks do you find there? Write about that—about what you find in whatever is behind or around the photo's main subject.

Since noticing the tree detail, I've put together a list of eight memory sparks to write about, just based on the background details in pictures. (I still, alas, have not found an image with our stockings in it.) But since I started with the tree, the ornaments are what I'm going to write about today.

We always had two Christmas trees at our house, the pretty tree upstairs and the cute tree downstairs. Some years, Santa brought presents upstairs and sometimes down. The cute tree had wooden, painted ornaments in traditional Christmas colors. I don't remember all of the ornaments on the cute tree, but here are the ones I do:

  • ​the toy soldier. He had a little gold gun slung over his shoulder. Why are toy soldiers also Christmas-y? I don't know.
  • the nutcrackers. Three or four little nutcrackers, with a handle that moved their jaws up and down. We went to see The Nutcracker a couple of times when I was a kid (as most of us were dancers at some time or another in our childhoods, that was nearly a prerequisite to existence!) and even now, a nutcracker soldier is a requirement for Christmas.
  • the rag dolls. They had red hair, but otherwise they were so much like my favorite dolls.
  • the rocking horse. I think it had a fur-covered body.
  • the books. There were four of them: The Night Before Christmas, a fairy tale of some sort, a retelling of The Nutcracker, and one other I can't recall. Leather cover, colored illustrations, gilt edges, the text in minuscule print: these were just like regular books, except tiny and with a gold cord that turned them into ornaments. These were my very favorite ornaments on our tree and I have fantasies, every December, of finding something similar for my own tree. I did find the Moore one at Mom's during one of our clean-out-the-basement trips, but the cord is broken and the binding torn, so I don't hang it up.
  • the balls. Not glass, but the foam kind covered in red satin. Sometimes the satin would come unraveled and I was always tempted to pick at those unraveling ones, which annoyed my mom.
  • the tinsel. Instead of a traditional string, the tinsel on the cute tree was made of round tinsel links, strung together. Like a countdown-to-Christmas paper chain, except sparkly. I loved that tinsel.
What I remember most clearly about the cute tree ornaments was how they made me feel. They were small and cute, with working hinges and perfectly-crafted details. Getting them out of their box and hanging them on the fresh pine tree was a magical thing. Without them, the TV room was just the TV room. With them, it was a Christmas place. We didn't have many other Christmas decorations, so maybe that's why, but seeing them again was what made me feel like Christmas was here. In a sense, they weren't just a spark to Christmas spirit, but the thing itself.
Photo challenge:​ Let the background of some of your pictures this year be cluttered with Christmas-y details. Who knows what someone will be grateful to have in an image, three or four decades in the future?


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