This post is a part of the Humanist Community at Harvard’s 2012 Blogathon, a 12 hour blogging marathon by Chris Stedman and Chelsea Link to support HCH’s end-of-the-year fundraiser. Chelsea and Chris are both publishing one new post per hour, for twelve hours straight, and none of the posts have been written or drafted in advance. For more blogathon posts, click here. If you enjoyed this post or any of the others, please consider consider chipping in to support our work.
I just complained about the wrong way to create secular holiday traditions, so now it only seems fair to offer an alternative. Other people have thought about this a lot more than I have, so this isn’t in any way supposed to be expert advice or the one right way or even a particularly great example. It’s just a taste of something I enjoy.
Earlier, I posted about how finding beauty in nature is just as valid a way of creating and enjoying art as making something from scratch. I think the same principle applies to traditions.
I am really lucky to have been raised by a family with the means to feed me and clothe me consistently, to provide music lessons and math tutors, to live in a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, to send me to college, etc. This has been the reality for most of my life, but not all of it. When I was born, we lived in a small apartment in a neighborhood where my mother once had trouble convincing a policeman to come assist an unconscious woman she had found because the woman was black. Take-out from Popeye’s was a special treat.
When I was two or three years old, we celebrated Christmas on our own for the first time instead of visiting relatives. We hadn’t established a collection of ornaments and decorations, and we certainly didn’t have the means to start then, so we cobbled together the most festive ensemble we could for our little tree from what we could scrounge up. We had a couple of strings of lights a family friend had given us – one was shaped like flamingos, the other like little planet earths. I think we probably did the popcorn strings thing. My mom found a box of tiny wooden toy ornaments for a dollar at a flea market. And then, inexplicably, we decided to fill in the gaps by looping fishing hooks through some miniature whisks that we had lying around for some reason. I don’t know if they started out as toys for Baby Chelsea or were some kind of novelty gift we received, but we had six or eight very small wire whisks that were soon harvested for their shine.
The whisks remained a staple of our trees long after we were able to purchase many more elegant ornaments. Most have vanished over the years – probably more than one in cat-related incidents – but my parents still have a couple of little whisks in their big tub of decorations.
The whisks are by far my favorite ornaments. I appreciate their quirky indie charm, of course, but I can’t really imagine a Link family Christmas tree without whisks. They remind me of where I came from, of how lucky I am, and of how my family was able to make a little go a long way. They inspire me to be grateful and resourceful, and to take responsibility for my own happiness. Somehow, these weird little kitchen utensils have become a meaningful holiday symbol for my family.
Chelsea Link is the Campus Organizing Fellow at the Humanist Community at Harvard.