Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Family Tradition

Several years ago--I don't know when--my stepfather-in-law, Marty, started a family tradition with his children. It since has expanded to include my mother-in-law, Maryanna; the husband of Marty's daughter; the girlfriend of Marty's son; the girlfriend's young daughter; and Jeff and myself. This tradition occurs every year on Thanksgiving day and is known as "The Ornie Competition" ("ornie" being short for "ornament," of course). Each member of the family makes or buys one Christmas ornament that is representative of his or her year. The family members draw numbers out of a hat, bowl, or cupped hand to determine the order in which they will present their ornaments and explain the ornament's significance and why it deserves to win the competition for the Best Ornament. Competition is fierce, and winners are remembered--at least by themselves--for years; one or two members of the family in particular claim to remember having won the competition each and every year since its inception (malleable memory is a wonderful thing).

In 2006, my husband and I visited over Thanksgiving for the first time. We joined in the festivities as well. That year, Jeff's ornament depicted the U. S. Capitol building with the Constitution behind it. It represented his job--he had started working for the U. S. government while still in college, and he continued to serve his country as a federal employee, although he had recently switched agencies. My ornament was a silver heart with the year and "Our First Christmas Together" or some such inscribed on it--Jeff and I had married earlier that year. As I recall, Jeff won that year's competition. Last year, in 2007, we again visited my mother-in-law for Thanksgiving. Jeff's ornament was a helicopter; mine was a train, to represent all the time I spent on the MARC and Metro trains commuting from Maryland to Washington, DC, and then going all over the city conducting background investigations for OPM. That year, we had a three-way tie, I think. My ornament tied with a plane ornament from Marty's son-in-law (he had done a lot of traveling) and the artist's palette from Marty's daughter (she was making some major changes and viewed her life as a clean easel waiting to be painted upon).

Jeff and I had such fun during the Ornie Competition both years that we didn't want to miss it this year, even though there is this little detail of us being half a world away. So I mailed my homemade ornament to Arizona, Jeff had his web-purchased one sent to Arizona, and we set up a Skype conference call at 11pm on Thanksgiving Day. It was an interesting call, as my in-laws' computer didn't much feel like showing any pictures--theirs or ours--so they had no idea where they were pointing their camera. There were many statements like "Now we can see the window" and "Now I see someone's shoulder--I think it's, yes, it's Marty's shoulder. Pan left! No, your other left!"

Things also changed this year because we had so many entries that the decision was made that we'd never reach a consensus on the winner--last year's 3-way tie may have had something to do with that--so we changed the judging system. Three names were drawn out of a hat, and those three people became the judges. But in any case, here are pictures of this year's entries . . .

We had three political ornaments this year to commemorate the historic nature of the U. S. presidential election. Marty, his son-in-law, and his son all chose to go this route. The son-in-law's ornament reflects both the election and his Texas pride.

Marty freely admitted that he had a second ornament ready and waiting to be used instead of this one, had Jeff or I been chosen as one (or two!) of the judges. We're the conservative ones in the group; the others are all more liberal, so Marty stuck with the Obama one instead of pulling out McCain option.

Marty's son actually tried to cheat by presenting two ornaments--one Obama one and one in memorium of a friend who had died this year. I don't have a picture of the second one, so I'll stick with the first one he presented (which is the only legitimate one; duplicate entries are discarded--okay, I just made that rule up, but it ought to be the rule!). This one was a fairly ingenious, simple, homemade one--it's his voter registration card with an Obama sticker on it!

Marty's daughter's entry was a tribute to her new company; she is a TV producer.

Maryanna's ornament was a tribute to her current job. Her plant is closing down next year, and she's decided to stay on with them until the end. Her ornament this year was hand-constructed out of materials relevant to her job as a purchaser at a plant that makes explosives.

Jeff's ornament was a depiction of Cairo traffic. This ornament is movable--the cars start out separated, but you hit a button, and they fly toward each other until they almost crash. It's pretty typical of Cairo cars, too.

This dog ornament was the child's entry. I'm not sure if she wouldn't explain it, or wouldn't explain it loudly enough for the webcam, but I have no idea what it represents, unless she either adopted or lost a dog this year.

The dove is the entry of the son's girlfriend, the child's mother. I couldn't hear what she was saying, so maybe Maryanna will kindly leave a comment to explain both mother's and daughter's entries? (Feel free to further explain any others as well.)

My entry requires multiple pictures and a longer explanation. My whole life this year was shaped by the knowledge that we were moving to Egypt. And everyone knows that the pyramid is the shape associated with Egypt. So just as Egypt formed the shape of my life, the pyramid had to be the shape of my ornament. But what about the sides? Well, so much happened this year that I decided that each side of my pyramid would represent something significant.

This side shows the Step Pyramid, representing Egypt itself. Since I already had the true pyramid shape reflected by the shape of the ornament itself, I chose the Step Pyramid as the picture to represent the country and our move here.

This side shows a picture of Isis, taken not long after we adopted her. Isis has brought much joy and love to my life. This is a typical pose for Isis--sitting regally and expecting to be adored. She knows exactly who she is--a cat, through and through--and she's not afraid to let you know who she is and what she wants.

This side shows a picture of Cleo--it's much clearer than it appears in this photo (I couldn't try too many times to get a good picture due to battery constraints). Cleo also has brought much joy, love, and laughter to my life. This pose is typical of her--play, play, play, all the time. She's our crazy kitten/monkey/fish/baby/U. S. Marine.

This final side of the ornament commemorates a very big accomplishment of this year--Jeff and I becoming debt free for the first time in our marriage. You can't make it out clearly, but it shows "Paid in Full" on my student loan, which was the last one we paid off.

So those were the entries this year. I know who won, and I know who I thought ought to have won. I also know who Cleo would have voted for--I just had to rescue Jeff's ornament because Cleo was trying to get a closer look. Which ornament would you have voted for? Leave me a comment or vote in the poll*--it closes on Wednesday, 17 December 2008, at 12:01 AM my time (at least I assume it's my time). I'll let you know who actually won after the polls close.

I can't enforce this, but please--only vote once!! (Those of you who know who won--don't ruin the fun, please!)

*Those of you getting this post by email--to vote in the poll, or to leave a comment, go to

By the way, thanks to Maryanna for most of the pictures in this entry!


  1. Debbie, great blog. And I love that you are conducting an on-line poll so we all have another chance at being the winner - but we all are winners anyway.
    Natalia's black lab is respresentative of Scott's two black lab's, Abby & Sarah. Suspended in my ornament made from insulators is an ornament my sister gave me lots of years ago. It is Baby Jesus in his manager and Santa Claus looking over him - to me that respesents all things good and I am all things good and try to share my positive outlook with others - and I should win the poll. :) I won't vote, because, I, too, know who won.
    As we were decorating the tree Marty found an ornament of Lisa's dated 1987, so the competition is 21 years old. Marty makes up the rules and changes them as he sees fit, thus the 3 judges this year. We are so glad you & Jeff decided to make the competition this year a truly international one. Next year we will be coast to coast also as Jeanne & family join the fun.

  2. Maryanna,thanks :-) Vote anyway, for whoever you think should have won, whether that person actually did win or not. Jeff voted for himself, so all's fair as long as you only vote once. I don't seem to be able to vote. I think the website is recognizing that my computer and Jeff's is the same, so I could change his vote to vote for myself, but I can't vote again. So maybe double-voting isn't possible after all.

  3. WOOHOO!! I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me. For anyone who hasn't yet, look for "Cairo Taxi" on YouTube to see why MY ornament was so fitting :-)

  4. So who won on Thanksgiving Day?! BTW-I voted for ...I'm not telling!


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