My parents were married in 1933, a year and a half after this 1931 Delineator cover appeared, but the ornaments I’m writing about, which belonged to them, may be even older.
They are probably Czech, or, at least made in Europe, which explains why Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, bears little resemblance to the fat, jolly Santa invented for American advertising campaigns.
Every year, fewer of my very old ornaments survive, and many are attached to memories, like the cheap plastic raindeer which my mother turned into “Rudolph” with a dab of her deep alizarin red nail polish… and a miniature lamp ornament, bought for my first apartment… musical instruments, for my musical husband… a metal toy saxophone (also from my parents) which makes noise. (Happy New Year! T-o-o-o-o-o-t!)
I “toot” this horn when hanging it and taking it down every year — my favorite part of Christmas decorating, since I find our misguided season of materialism very depressing. Once, in an attempt to conquer my seasonal gloom, months ahead I started making ornaments (some to keep, some to give) from carefully blown and decorated egg shells. A few have survived for over forty years.
But my favorite decoration is this bizarre red-faced and slightly sinister ornament.
It was only a few years ago that I recognized him for what he is: the Roman god Janus, the tw0-faced god.
Janus can look ahead and look behind at the same time. He faces the past, and he faces the future. He is the god of endings and of beginnings, who gives his name to the month of January. One of his faces has not aged well: it has lost most of its paint, which is appropriate, since it represents the old year.
Many modern Christmas traditions incorporate elements of the old pagan festivals (including the practice of bringing evergreens into the house, be it a whole tree or “the holly and the ivy.”) (The lyrics of that carol use those pagan symbols of “life in the dead of winter” to foreshadow Christ’s sacrifice, neatly blending two belief systems.)
Did my parents recognize Janus? I doubt it — it took me 50 years, even with the benefit of four years of Latin in high school! I suspect that they bought an inexpensive box of twelve ornaments when they moved into their first home (which my father and my uncles built with their own hands.) The newlyweds didn’t have a lot of money. But I’m glad I still have this little ornament reminding me to look back to the past, while facing the future.
This is my annual reminder to get names and dates on your family photos while there are still people around who remember those faces and events. My mother wrote “got my fingers nipped” on the back of this one. She died before I ever saw this photo. Label your photos now.