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LARSON: Getting to the meat of Christmas symbolism

My son Ian emailed me a picture of his Christmas decorations. I recognized most of them, including the scarf and mittens I knitted for his first Christmas that he'd draped over the mantel. Below them, on the hearth, sat a little semi.

"Where did the little truck come from?" I asked.

"Kristen's grandfather worked for Hess and every year he gives all the men in the family a Hess truck. I just met him this year, so he gave me my first truck," he said.

What a nice tradition, I thought, to honor the livelihood of one's grandparents with Christmas decorations. Not that we didn't have traditions of our own.

Every year I gave all my boys (husband included) an ornament to commemorate a significant event. Our family tree included little musical instruments representing first piano recitals and the year my husband played his guitar at our niece Donna's wedding. The year Halley's Comet came through and the boys saw it at Fernbank with their great-grandfather, who was seeing it for the second time, is remembered with comet ornaments.

Some years were more eventful than others and some years I had to wrack my brain. Like the year all I could come up with was that all three boys' soccer teams were named after snakes: Cobras, Pythons, and Vipers. It took a lot of looking, but somewhere up in North Georgia I actually found snake ornaments that turned out to be kind of cute with little red bows around their necks.

And as far as jobs go, I did acknowledge all my kids' first jobs with an ornament. For Ian, a keychain from Stone Mountain Park where he ran the sky lift. For Leif, a lifeguard's whistle. For Loren, a miniature Dunkin' Donuts box.

I got to thinking even more about our decorations and what any of them might have to do with ancestral as opposed to individual interests. Ian's paternal grandfather worked for Arrow Shirt Company and every year the administrators were given a baseball card-sized Jacquard print of a classic painting. My then mother-in-law gave me a stack of them which I fashioned into coasters, sachet bags and even little purses for my then-relatives. Only the one for 1976, the year Ian was born, did I turn into a Christmas ornament. What a gorgeous collection that might have been, had I kept them all.

And then there's my dad, the butcher. What do I do with that?

I let my mind wander for a while, and then one day I happened upon little cheese slicers shaped like meat cleavers. Perfect, I thought.

Of course, friends are going to ask my boys why in the world they have a butcher knife hanging on the tree, but hey, it's no worse than my having to explain three snakes.

Susan Larson is a writer who lives in Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.

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