Date: Early 20th Century?
Provenance: Ended up with EAH’s Christmas things after the death of her mother.
My Christmas tree is a minefield of memories, adorned as it is in ornaments given to me over the years and ornaments I’ve given to my children since their first Christmases and ornaments that used to belong to my parents but have ended up with me. One of the most prized ornaments on my tree is a little embroidered doll that belonged to my mom. It wasn’t designed as a Christmas ornament, but it was so special to her that she repurposed it as one, and it’s been on our Christmas trees as far back as I can remember. I believe the story was that it decorated the outside of a gift given to my mom by her beloved Grandma Anna when she was a kid. I have this idea in my head that it was already quite old when my mom got it, but who knows? My mom has been gone some time now, so I can’t ask her to clarify. The other person who would know was my mom’s older sister, who recently passed away. My uncle might know, but this seems an item solidly placed in the world of the girls of the family. And so I’m left to look at this tiny little doll on my Christmas tree and wonder.
She is no more than two inches high, which makes her details especially impressive. She has brown hair and two little blue dots for eyes, but it is her clothes that are truly remarkable. She wears a puff-sleeved dress with an apron, both of which are covered in delicate floral embroidery in blues, yellows, and pinks. She even wears a lace headdress. She reminds me of a Russian peasant girl, in a beautiful sarafan and kokoshnik. But she is so vague that she could be from almost anywhere. That’s part of her charm, I think.
For all that I admire about this little doll, it is her mystery that has me searching for her on the high branches of the Christmas tree. She has become a little icon of memory and the past and, I’m starting to believe, of how to keep those things in balance with the present. As such, she is helping me stride forward into a new year, which for me is more of a process than a simple ten-second countdown on the night of the 31st. Oddly, I’m finding that thinking of this little doll, of all the unknowns of her past that are simultaneously so laden with meaning for me, is helping me balance past and present.
Once upon a time, I would think of past happy times and long for them, thinking I might find some way to recreate them. I would visit my home town, now vacant of nearly everyone I used to know there, and will my foregone relatives to walk in the door with hugs and lunch for everyone. Now I’m slowly—ever so slowly—learning to make peace with the fact that even though they won’t be walking through the door, they’re still there in a way. Moreover, I’m learning—even more slowly—that the present is pretty sweet too.