30 at 30 List #10: My Dad’s Ceramic Christmas Ornaments

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and I have my family, especially my parents, to thank for that. My parents had four children born in a span of six years. Given that 2:1 ratio, there must have been holiday stress when I was a child, and I’m sure they could tell me stories of that nature. However, looking back at age 30, I don’t remember any of those stories. What remains is their overwhelmingly positive influence during the Christmas season.

My mom and dad were/are the king and queen of Christmas. Mom decked the halls inside while dad made sure the lights outside were always the best and brightest on the block. Mom teamed with grandma to make the world’s greatest Christmas cookies while dad played Christmas carols on the piano. And so on and so on.

I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to both of my parents for the love they showered upon me and my siblings growing up. Of course they loved us all year ’round, but they also always had a way of making Christmastime feel special. That’s why, even today as adults, my siblings anxiously await this time of year when we can all be together as a family.

Of all the Christmas traditions that I grew up with, one of the most uniquely Hubert traditions is one that is still going strong as of 2014. Each year since I was born in 1984, my dad has made me a personalized ceramic ornament. For anyone who doesn’t know, my dad is a professional ceramic artist. He has also taught ceramics at Mercyhurst University since before I was born. In the first few years of life when I was an only child, I got spoiled and my dad sometimes made more than one ornament for me. Then, after my siblings came along, the tradition became one ornament per year for each child.

As we grew up and began to have interests, we were able to give input and select what we wanted as our ornament for that year. Each year, shortly after Thanksgiving, Dad would ask us what we wanted. Some years, there was an obvious milestone worth commemorating. Other years it was simply a matter of showcasing something or someone we were a fan of at the time. After everyone submitted their ideas, Dad would begin working on the ornaments. Getting from idea to finished product is a multi-step process that includes hand-sculpting, firing, and glazing each ornament to give it a personalized touch. My dad puts hours of work into each ornament (a time period of days if not weeks during the month of December).  Then, either shortly before or on Christmas Day, the new batch of ornaments is revealed to us. At different stages of the tradition, other family members (and, later in life, our significant others) have received a Tom Hubert original, but only the four Hubert children have received one every year.

This photo was taken Dec. 7, 2008, just prior to decorating my brand new tree for the first time living in my apartment.
This photo was taken Dec. 7, 2008, just prior to decorating my brand new tree for the first time living in my apartment. A few of the ornaments pictured here would be lost 364  days later in a fire.

When I moved out of the house into my first apartment in 2008, my collection of Christmas ornaments was among the first things I packed.

Then, on Dec. 6, 2009, disaster struck. The apartment complex where I lived in Erie caught fire in the middle of the night. Fortunately no one was injured, but the damage to the building and the individual units, including mine, was substantial. Once the shock of that experience had worn off and I knew that everyone had made it out safely, my attention shifted to what was left back inside. I was saddened to think of the loss of my new leather furniture, my TVs, even my extensive CD collection, but I knew those physical possessions were replaceable. In the forefront of my mind, all I could think about were the box of handwritten letters I had from Jessie and my dad’s ornaments.

I was so grateful to receive this basket that morning. Almost every ornament was recovered.
I was so grateful to receive this basket that morning. Almost every ornament was recovered.

For obvious safety reasons, no one was allowed back into the apartment complex, even after the fire had been put out. There was no official word about if or when the tenants would be able to return to their unit to pick up the pieces and see if anything was salvageable. I just kept thinking that among that wreckage was my freshly decorated  Christmas tree and all of my treasured ceramic ornaments, and I wondered if I would ever see them again. That morning my prayers were answered when a firefighter “rescued” the ornaments from my apartment amid the soot and ash after hearing my story from my now mother-in-law.

Following the fire, I moved back home with my parents. My dad remade a few of the most notable ornaments that were unable to be recovered. The whole experience only added to the significance of the ornaments in my life. When I next moved out/moved in, it was to live with my wife Jessie. She’ll be the first to tell you that my favorite part of Christmas preparation each year is putting up the tree, specifically decorating it with the many unique ornaments he has made for me over the years.

Truth be told, each ornament has some level of special significance to me. At the very least it was meaningful enough to me at the time to represent that year for me. But I’m going to try to do the impossible and rank my top 30, keeping in mind that I have had slightly more than 30 ornaments in my 30 years since I got spoiled during the pre-sibling era of 1984-86.

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