I have a brass star that sits on the top of my Christmas tree. No matter the size or state of the tree, the star is there. It matches the star that lived on the top of my family Christmas tree; the one made by my father the second year he and my mother were married.
Polishing the family star with Brasso was one of the key Christmas traditions. A designated child would take the star reverently into the kitchen, dig out the smelly Brasso, and polish the star until it shone. It had to be done quickly because it was the first thing put on the tree.
When I got married and moved away from home, I begged my dad to make me a star for my new family. He was living with cancer at that time, not up for travelling or finding brass – but it turned out there was still brass left over from when he made the first star, and he worked it into a beautiful five-pointed star and wrote a message on it, blessing it with his hopes for happy times. My children followed the same polishing ritual at our Christmases, when I’d let them.
My father didn’t live long after he made me the star. I never got to spend another Christmas with him, and he passed away on Christmas Eve, while both of his stars shone down – one on my mother and siblings in Boston, and the other on my little family, living far away in Germany.
Every Christmas I reverently take my star out of its special box. I no longer share my Christmas with the man whose name is inscribed with mine on the back. I wonder how my father would have viewed my divorce; I grieve how he never got to know my children. I think of all of his Christmas craziness, about us all singing around the family piano, of his flambeed desserts and chocolate covered bugs, of his perfect understanding of us and his forgiveness of what we were.
And I think of my mother, the more silent Christmas celebrant – the one who didn’t join us in singing, who sat out much of the foolishness, who seemed absent – but who was in reality racing around making hot chocolate, cooking the dinner, baking the goodies, tidying and sorting and making Christmas happen. For her, I put out her little elf, not the “elf on the Shelf” spy, but one from well before that time. It has a striped hat and is dressed in green. It was her ornament in our family setup, the one she made sure was out and front and centre. (You can see him in the bottom left of the photo above…)
So appropriate. My dad was always the star of Christmas. My mum was the engine, the busy elf acting in the background. She reminds me of the Brownie Pledge:
“Twist me and turn me,
And show me the elf-
I looked in the mirror and there saw myself.”
The star shines on. The elf finally gets to take a rest and just hang out. Though my parents are long gone, their icons are still with me, filling me with memories of Christmases past.