Ornamental Friendships, or The Real Thing?

By Jim Bishop

The ornaments of our home are the friends who frequent it.

This thought, not original with me but firmly implanted in my thick cerebrum, reverberated down the cobwebbed corridors of my mind as once again I participated in the ancient annual ritual of decorating our Christmas tree.

In some ways, this process has followed a similar pattern ever since Anna and I moved to Harrisonburg in 1971, which now seems like light years ago.

EMU ornamentAn EMU Campus Center ornament, released in 1988, adorns the Bishop family tree.

For the first time in our married lives, we occupied a house that belonged to us (and the mortgage company, who sent us a Christmas greeting that read, “Merry Christmas, from our house to our house”).

Prior to this, we strung some lights and decorations around our rental apartment in Elkhart, Ind., but didn’t bother with dragging a tree into our cramped dwelling space. Besides, we motored the long distance eastward to spend the holidays with extended family.

Real vs. Artificial

Once settled into our new Shenandoah Valley surroundings, and having an aversion to artificial trees, we started a tradition of trekking to a local evergreen farm, and, after heated debate over possible choices, selected a powerless pine, cut it down and dragged it home, leaving a trail of needles in its wake.

One year, we bent the rules and opted for a tabletop artificial tree. On that occasion, we had an early Christmas gift, daughter Sara having taken in a frisky kitten that loved to defy laws of gravity, and we knew we’d have difficulty shielding dangling ornaments from Santa’s paws.

Ornaments come in a host of shapes and sizes. It’s challenging fun to add one or more new ones every year, while not neglecting or, heaven forbid, mishandling or discarding those that have been around for a long time.

In the 36th year of trimming a tree, I note how many of the accumulated ornaments have special meaning – gifts from family members, from workplace colleagues or special purchases over the years, i.e., a miniature Lionel Sante Fe diesel engine, a No. 53 “Herbie” VW Beetle, a “Howdy Doody” lunchkettle and thermos, a Santa surfing to a Beach Boys’ tune, an Ocean City, N.J., pendant, an EMU Campus Center ornament and others.

Oldest Friends Mean the Most

The different ornaments that deck our tree serve as a reminder of the diversity of friends wife Anna and I have come to acquire. Like ornaments, they are fragile, requiring special handling and care. And like ornaments, our oldest friends mean the most to us.

But friendships are more than decorative. Each of us needs friends in order to branch out and be more than we can be on our own.

Friends are among the greatest gifts we can have if we don’t treat them like possessions. And, they don’t, or shouldn’t, wear out if handled with love and care.

Unlike ornaments, we can’t just let friends hang there, dangling. We need to enjoy them, appreciate the beauty they add to our lives all year round and don’t put them into storage boxes when the initial illumination and delight begins to fade.

Not only that, but the best Friend we can have is the One who’s birth we celebrate and who loves us unconditionally, whether or not we invite Him into our midst. He is the bright and shining Morning Star atop the tree of faith.