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Making holiday traditions didn’t stop with MS

By Dan Digmann

A used flashcube, four half-inch squares clipped from recycled holiday cards and a thin piece of red thread always receive prominent placement on Jennifer and my Christmas tree.

These scraps of otherwise forgettable waste collectively make up one of my most treasured ornaments. It’s not because this decoration is a family heirloom or was a gift that I received from a beloved grandparent or long-lost relative. 

It’s something I made with help from my mom, Nancy.

She was the den mother from my older brother’s Cub Scout den, and this was a craft they made as part of their pre-Christmas party. I wasn’t old enough to be a Scout, but she made sure I had the supplies I needed to make my own ornament.

I imagine now her reasons were twofold: 1) To thwart my tendency to fall apart in a little brother meltdown because Mark got to make a Christmas tree decoration and I didn’t; and 2) To keep me occupied after the den meeting so she could cook supper without repeated Dan-induced distractions.

Wow! This makes me sound like I was such a little brat, er, I mean, brother.

I was so proud of this ornament that I made All. By. Myself. Taking the used flashcube (I mean do you remember flashcubes? If you don’t, you gotta Google this one to believe it!) and then carefully sifting through the Christmas cards to find the perfect designs. Measuring them to fit in the four flat spaces on the cube’s perimeter and then cutting the designs with all the precision a pair of blunt safety scissors would allow. 

All done. And with that, I proudly pranced into the kitchen to show my mom my reimagined flashcube that donned images of Santa Claus, a snowflake, a Christmas tree and an illustration of a child wearing a winter hat. 

I also needed her help with tying the piece of red thread so I could hang my decoration on our tree. I mean, come on, I had just figured out how to tie my thick shoelaces, and now you want me to tie a knot with this scrawny piece of string?

Now, more than four decades later, hanging this homemade ornament on the Christmas tree still is among my favorite traditions of the holidays. Not bad for scraps of otherwise forgettable waste, right? 

There are other decorations, holiday foods and memories that make the holiday season so special. But I wonder why this one ornament has stood the test of my time. Maybe it’s because I always will remember the pride I felt because I made it by myself. Or perhaps it’s because it has lasted more than 40 years and has been with me through nine address changes, three Christian denomination changes, and my life before and after getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

This ornament is a constant element that connects my today with MS to my yesterdays that didn’t include this chronic condition. Such a thought never crossed my mind when I created this personally priceless gem of plastic and cardstock. I was just a 6-year-old child who had his heart set on creating a Christmas tree decoration. 

Time and sentimentality are what made it priceless.

Each year that Jennifer and I have been together (this is our 20th Christmas together and 17th as a married couple), we’ve introduced new elements into our holidays. Some carry on as traditions while others are relegated as memories of Christmases past. Of course, we always must watch the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” with James Stewart and Donna Reed, but last year we heeded our friends’ recommendation and finally watched “Elf” starring Will Ferrell.

Both movies are on our list for this year.

The older I get and the longer I live with MS, I have realized that making holiday memories and time-honored traditions didn’t end when I left my parent’s home in Iowa to go to college, moved to Michigan to pursue a writing career or when I was diagnosed with MS in 2000. They are as much a part of today as they will be next year and the years that follow.

This holiday season, I encourage us all to go beyond our MS to make new memories, build traditions and find joy and beauty in the simplest of things – such as a used flashcube, four half-inch squares clipped from recycled holiday cards and a thin piece of red thread.