I have one Christmas ornament that I love above all the others. It is nothing more than a square of ceramic on a paper clip, made to look like a Christmas present. The ribbon is painted on, and the package is dotted with glitter that somehow still survives even after all these years. For as long as I can remember, my eye and my hand have always gone to this ornament first. I always put it near the top of the tree because it is my favorite, because it reminds me of being little, because it was made by my brother . . . and because this year marks the beginning of a lifetime of Christmases without him.
I started to think about the nature of ornaments. Everyone has a box of them that makes its return from the attic or the basement each winter. The collection changes every year. Some get broken, others are added, but still the box persists as the years go by . . . a dizzying array of styles, trends, generations, and moments. The ornaments tell the history of our lives with incredible breath even though they glitter in perfect silence on our trees.
It has been trendy in recent years to decorate a tree with a theme — maybe a single color or two, with uniform, repeating ornaments and sophisticated white lights. Even the tree itself has been carefully grown and manicured. I don’t see trees like I did in my youth — the scrawny, scrappy Charlie Brown kind, with colored lights and a mish-mash of ornaments ranging from plastic and glass to popsicle sticks and glitter. To me, my Charlie Brown tree is the most beautiful of all, because the ornaments leave a trail that leads backwards through time, and my memory follows. This trail of ornaments is a thread that weaves itself through my life, connecting all of my former lives into the present, and it will be waiting for me in the future.
In the same way, the chapter house for the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester, Massachusetts is an eclectic home of historical worth. Though born just prior to the American Revolution, “the Oaks” is not simply of the Revolution. She has seen many Christmases. She is Loyalist and Patriot. She is Georgian and Greek Revival. She has spent holidays as a soldiers barracks, a residence, a tea house, a war time Red Cross Headquarters, and as a DAR chapter house. She even endured twenty Christmases alone as the world moved on without her. She is old fashioned and modern, simple and chaotic, youthful and decrepit, classy and kitschy. She is history.
The Oaks’ Daughters understand and embrace the vast spectrum of her life. The tendency these days may to be to decorate an historical home in a strictly “Colonial Williamsburg” fashion. This year at the Oaks, the decorating style changed from room to room, celebrating the eclectic nature of this historic home in every century. There were modern teddy bears sitting on antique spinning wheels, a dinner table adorned with a 19th century epergné amid 21st century embellishments, plastic fruit (remember that? My grandma used to keep a bowl of it on her kitchen table) mixed in with boughs of fresh pines, and a fireplace decorated with a very 1960s “Mad Men” flavor.
The exhibit hall payed homage to generations of history. Visitors admired everything from Mrs. Paulauskas’ button collection to a musket fired at Lexington Green on April 19, 1775. There were stories about the early days of the Chapter, when the Oaks was a tea house and a workplace for the Betsy Ross Squad during WWI; and a display that gave a nod to the Worcester Fire Society (predecessor of the WFD) with artifacts dating back to its inception in 1793. Guests sang Christmas carols with us at the piano, then stood in awed silence in front of George Washington’s chair. There was so much to see in every corner of the house. It was a joyful celebration not just of the Oaks’ Revolutionary origin, but to the memory of all who have passed through her doors over the years. The Oaks is unlike any museum house that you will ever see: she is beautifully imperfect, lived in, and real.
If you are interested in visiting the Oaks, or arranging for a private group tour, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.