I have an odd little Christmas tradition. Every year as I put the ornaments on the Christmas tree, I always pause when I get to a round, little red ornament with white Christmas trees on it. The little ball is about the size of a tangerine, and you can pull the top half back on a hinge to reveal a secret hiding place inside. When I find this ornament each year, I always open it up to see what’s hidden inside. There’s never anything in it, but I always have to look each Christmas anyway just in case because one year, I actually found something.
The story of the round, little red ornament began my senior year of college. My grandfather—a very impressive 92-year-old at the time—had become a widower just a few years before, and since my grandmother always picked out the best Christmas gifts each year (she loved to shop), my grandfather had to redefine gift giving for his grandkids on his own. Every year I would receive some kind of Christmas knick-knack with $50 tucked inside. One year it was a stocking ornament. One year it was a Santa figure that opened in the middle to reveal a secret hiding place, and one year it was the round, little red ornament. In my opinion, my grandpa did a pretty good job with gift giving on his own (he might have had some help from my aunt).
Anyway, I must have forgotten to take the money out of that round, little red ornament that Christmas of my senior year because one future Christmas (A year later? A few years later?), as I put my ornaments up on the tree, I pulled out the round, little red ornament, and for some reason, I opened it up. Inside, I found the $50 just as Grandpa had left it. I’d like to tell you that the Christmas I found the money was the first Christmas I experienced after my grandfather’s death. It adds meaning to the discovery. I’d like to tell you that I clearly remember taking the money out of the ornament when Grandpa gave it to me, so of course, finding new money felt like a Christmas miracle. After all, who would be silly enough to just leave $50 in an ornament and forget about it? I’d like to tell you it was one last gift from Grandpa before he joined my grandmother again. I’d like to tell you all of these things, but I can’t—mostly because I don’t remember. But in my mind’s eye, that’s exactly how I choose to remember it: Grandpa passed away in January 2011, and by December 2011, I found the money in Grandpa’s gift to me as I put up my Christmas tree.
The first time Dr. B helped me put up my Christmas tree (about eight months before we got engaged in August), I shared the story of the round, little red ornament with him, and I opened it up just in case something was inside. As usual, I didn’t find anything.
The next year, when I pulled out the ornament again and opened it up, Dr. B said he should have remembered my little tradition because it would have been a perfect place to hide an engagement ring. He’s right, of course, but a rock-climbing chalk bag was also a good place for it (and that’s a blog post for another time).
This Christmas when I pulled out the round, little red ornament, I went to put it on the tree, and Dr. B looked at me funny: “Aren’t you going to open it?” I couldn’t believe it. If it hadn’t been for my husband, I would have skipped my little tradition. What was I thinking?
So, I opened it up, and sure enough, just like every other year, the inside was empty. (This isn’t one of those cheesy romantic Christmas stories where the handsome husband hides a second engagement ring in the ornament. After all, I only need one engagement ring. But it is one of those cheesy Christmas stories where Dr. B’s memory of my Christmas tradition adds a whole new level of meaning to the ritual.)
I smiled at the empty ornament, closed it, and found a spot for the round, little red ball on the tree. And finding nothing has actually become part of the tradition, too. I always pull out the round, little red ornament, I always open it up on its hinge and look inside to find nothing, and—in that moment—I always remember the two Christmases when it was full. And if I forget, I now know my husband will remind me.
Of course, if the round, little red ball had another $50 in it one of these years, I’d be perfectly okay with that, too.