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  • NYS Writers Institute

A Christmas tree decorated with handwoven stories

A guest post from NYS Writers Institute graduate assistant Kaori Chen. Born in Tokyo, Japan, Kaori moved to America in 2010. She is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University at Albany and is conducting her ethnographic research with local weavers.

Earlier this month, I purchased up a 6-foot-tall Balsam fir from a local nursery for an older friend of mine because she recently hurt her leg in a fall. I just wanted her to have a Christmas tree with the hope that it would lift her spirits. In Japan I did not grow up with my mother and snow.

On my drive from the nursery, the aroma from the Balsam fir was so pleasant and I was feeling happy to help a friend who could be my mother. When I arrived at her house with the beautiful tree, her kind neighbor and I set it up in her living room.

I learned when you weave for more than 40 years, your Christmas tree will be decorated with ornaments that are made from handwoven fabric. Her Christmas tree is like a special seasonal bookshelf. Every single Christmas tree ornament -- handmade with fabrics -- tells a story. While decorating, one by one, my friend picked up her handwoven ornaments from her boxes and held them gently and kindly in her hand.

“Who made this?” I asked, and she told me stories. I picked up each ornament from her palm and placed it on the tree as if I placed a book on a bookshelf. Some ornaments needed to be placed in a specific spot on the tree.

We began with a little pillow-like square ornament that is made of a white handwoven fabric decorated with beautiful snowflake embroidery. It was made by her weaver friend who passed away this year. We could still smell lavender from the little pillow as if her friend was there. The weaver was one of the earliest friends she made after she moved to the United States. In the late 1970s, with some other weaving enthusiasts, they established the foundation of the Hudson-Mohawk Weavers Guild we belong to today.

She picked up another ornament. “Everything has a story,” she said.

I was feeling sentimental. How many more times will I get to do this with her? My friend gifted me one of the two Christmas tree ornaments that she made – de Kerstman ("The Christmas Man" in her native Dutch). Someday, I will tell someone a story about her and our friendship when I place de Kerstman on my Christmas tree.


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