Handmade ornaments, like the walnut Santa and boy scout star, have genuine
love packed in each one. (Photos provided by Kathleen M. Gallagher)
Handmade ornaments, like the walnut Santa and boy scout star, have genuine love packed in each one. (Photos provided by Kathleen M. Gallagher)

As I carefully unwrapped and hung the ornaments on the tree this year, I was struck by how many of them were made by hand, crafted expressly for me and my family. How had I never noticed this before?

There’s Santa’s head, fashioned by a walnut, yellowed cotton gently encircling it, forming the hair, mustache and beard. Colored markers long ago crudely inked the eyes, nose and lips. That Santa was made by my mother’s mother, a grandparent who died when I was a toddler. That Santa is my ancestral connection to my maternal roots.

There’s the hand-stitched cherub, a needlepoint work of art made by a long-time friend. Each stitch is an expression of time, talent and love … for me. That hand-sewn angel always sits high on the tree, like Gabriel announcing the coming birth of Jesus.

There’s the bright orange miniature sweater, a ball of yarn attached with two toothpicks pretending to be knitting needles. That sweater was woven by my Aunt Mae, now of blessed memory. She wasn’t really our aunt, just a close family friend, with a dimpled smile and a generous heart. I miss her.
There’s the extra-large shiny red ball with a hand-painted black belt and a gold buckle transforming it into Santa’s stomach, a gift from our future daughter-in-law. Her humor, simplicity and thoughtfulness are all reflected in that decoration.

I can’t even count the number of ornaments created for my husband and I by our boys as they made their way through each year of elementary school. Handprints on construction paper, clothespin reindeer heads, a plastic star filled with tinsel and a beaming Cub Scout photo. There’s even a tiny tree with a handwritten note from one brother to the other: “Merry Christmas Mikey! Love, Joey.” (That one still overwhelms me with parental pride.)

In an age where technology races to remove the human touch from every aspect of our lives — (think grocery store self-checkout lines and the absence of toll booths) – humans were necessary to make these ornaments. Human hands lovingly crafted each one-of-a-kind item. Human thoughts centered on me and my family as they were shaped. Genuine heartfelt love came tucked inside each one.

Research confirms that producing art – any kind of art – improves physical health and reduces stress and anxiety. Moreover, the act of giving has been shown to increase happiness and may actually increase a person’s life span. I pray that the acts of creating and giving these wonderful Christmas decorations filled the gift-givers with as much joy, serenity and satisfaction as they have given to me.

The Christmas story reveals that God loves us so much that he gave us His only Son, a Son who ultimately died for us and redeemed us. It is this spirit of selfless generosity that illuminates my Christmas tree and fills me to the brim with gratitude this Advent.

No one else in the entire universe has the treasured ornaments that adorn my Christmas tree. Each one is slightly imperfect. And that’s what makes them perfect. Perfect and priceless.

 Kathleen M. Gallagher is the director of Pro-Life Activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.