The Great Outdoors by James Murray

Column: Origin of tin angel ornament a Christmas mystery

Great Outdoors by James Murray

By James Murray


A cold winter wind was blowing outside.

It was an early Christmas eve morning, 50 years ago this year.

I was sitting at the kitchen table, looking out the window at nothing in particular – alone with my thoughts, glad I was indoors where it was warm. The snow was drifting with the wind. Our whole backyard and beyond looked like a snow white Arabian desert. The fence posts barely poked above the snow.

At first I thought it was a single leaf, still clinging onto a branch of the crabapple tree that grew in the backyard. Then I saw the flash of silver. As I looked harder, I saw that it was a small silver-shaped angel, tied to a branch by a loop of string. I recognized it right away. It was one of my mother’s tin cookie cutters that she had kept in a box in the drawer under the stove. I watched it swinging about in the wind for the longest time.

Who had put it out there, and when?

Later that day, when my father sent me to the store, I went out to the backyard and walked up to the tree to take a closer look at the angel cookie cutter hanging there all by itself. The snow had drifted in a curve around one side of the tree. It was hard beneath my feet – enough to support my weight without breaking through. Whoever had placed it there had to have been light enough to not break through the snow, and short enough that they had tied it to one of the lower branches. But who?

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Over the course of the next few days I watched to see if anyone in my family was looking out the window at the angel in the tree. No one that I noticed. A few days after Christmas, the angel was gone. There were no footprints in the snow. Perhaps it had blown off and been buried.

So one day the following spring, when the snow was gone, the grass beginning to grow and flowers were starting to come up, I thought about the tin angel. I looked for it on the ground, on my hands and knees, but found nothing. Maybe a crow or magpie has absconded with it and it now sat in a place of honour in its nest. What might a baby magpie think of a tin angel?

Over the years that cookie cutter angel crossed my mind a few times. More than once, when I had seen someone’s Christmas tree, that they’d set out with the garbage after Christmas, with a bit of tinsel still hanging from one of the branches, I thought about the tin angel. The way it first caught my eye – just a small flash of silver – so many years ago.

I’ve always been sort of a sappy Christmas kind of person. I even set up a tree every year in my front room. Although only my dog and I get to see and appreciate it. I’ve also collected Christmas ornaments over the years, too. I guess they sort of remind me of Christmases long ago, when we were kids. The other night I turned the tree lights on and the room lights off. The dog was quite impressed.

The other day I also had the opportunity to meet for a few hours with my younger sister. We met in Chase. She was in the process of moving to the Island. We went up to the cemetery to leave a Christmas wreath of spruce bows for our parents. While I was sitting in the vehicle waiting for her, I watched her in the rearview mirror as she slipped something from her pocket. It was small and silver, wrapped in a Kleenex. I watched as she hung it on a branch of a nearby tree. She stood looking at it for a moment, then took it down and slipped it back into her pocket.

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