Published in special Christmas publication of the Zionsville Times Sentinel, 12/02/09
I cherish one ornament on my tree over all the others.
It’s not the one you’d expect.
It has no sparkles. No grandeur. Nothing to make it stand out among the glittering, glass balls and Sponge Bob Santas.
No, the ornament is a little girl made of porcelain. She has long dark hair and wears a pink nightgown. In her hands, she holds a Christmas stocking. Made by Joan Walsh Anglund, the ornament has beloved black dots for eyes, a sprinkling of freckles, and chubby, rosy cheeks.
Decades ago, the ornament was a gift.
A miracle, you might say.
I remember this ornament from my earliest Christmases. She was there when Dad put the Perry Como Christmas eight track in the player. She was watching from the tree as Donny and Marie hosted all their family Christmas specials.
And in the bustle of decorating on one of those Christmases long ago, the little dark-haired ornament was dropped. She shattered, and along with her shattered my heart.
See, I’d grown quite attached to the little porcelain girl. When you’re a child, you have the ability to gaze at inanimate objects and they take on life in the midst of that gaze. Whole worlds are created within and around those objects—dazzling worlds full of dancing (which I could never do) and singing (which I try to do) and where the outside world can’t reach in and do any harm.
Such was this little Joan Walsh Anglund ornament to me. The pink-gowned girl was me, untouched, and perfect.
I wept and begged my parents to make her whole. “Surely, Dad could fix her,” I remember thinking. Dad could fix anything.
But alas, she was shattered beyond repair.
So I did the only thing left to do: I turned to the magic and the miraculous.
I turned to Christmas.
If my parents couldn’t fix the broken ornament, then perhaps Jesus could. I concocted an idea to wrap the ornament in tissue and place it in the tower of my toy castle. Then I gathered my mom, dad and sisters together. I asked if we could all hold hands and pray. Surely after the prayer, when I grasped the tissue, the little girl in the pink nightgown would be whole.
I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could. I didn’t want Jesus or Santa or anyone to think I was peeking. That might break the magic. As soon as I said, “Amen,” I reached in and took hold of that tissue full of shattered pieces.
Only there were no pieces.
I peeled back the tissue to reveal a whole, new, ornament.
My sisters and I gazed at each other, astonished. We squealed with excitement and danced around the room in our flannel, flowered nightgowns. As the celebration continued, I stood still, clutching the ornament, searching for traces of evidence of pieces glued together. There were no marks. No lines indicating someone fixed her.
No. The ornament was brand new.
When I was much older, I learned my parents bought a new, identical ornament and replaced the broken one. But for years, I believed the magic occurred the moment we prayed.
Indeed, there was magic in that moment. It’s a magic that remains even today. Tears stream down my cheeks as I write this, knowing that in the top of that plastic castle tower, more was pieced together than an ornament.
Hope was restored.
Belief became real.
The possibility of wholeness was realized.
And isn’t Christmas just like that?
Christmas is when the least suspected thing becomes the greatest; when the biggest magic happens in the smallest gestures; when the world’s greatest nursery was a stable; when the world’s first ornament was a star in the eastern sky; when the world’s first present was a tiny cry that echoed hope and possibility across the world.
We walk the malls and sidewalks this holiday season not searching for gifts as much as we’re searching for hope.
We make purchases which morph into glistening music boxes which twirl for a few moments, wind down and die.
What we thought held the world only holds a moment.
So my Christmas wish for you, dear readers, is that you may find meaning in what others find meaningless.
May you find longevity in what others find fleeting.
May you find freedom in places others wouldn’t dare tread.
And when you hang your favorite ornament—no matter how old and tattered—may you find wholeness in your most broken places.