In December, we deck the halls, we trim the trees, we gather with family to light the menorah. Holiday memories become linked with the objects that help us celebrate, meditate and remember.
Is it any wonder that many of us begin collections of these cherished mementos? We begin with a single piece, maybe a family heirloom, maybe a gift from a friend. We curate our collections, adding a piece here, a piece there -- each addition to the assembly selected for unique qualities that capture our imagination as well as the spirit of the season.
Here, two longtime residents of Fort Worth share their collections with us.
Hilde Horchler, crèches from across the globe
Hilde Horchler hails from Freiburg, Germany, but after 29 years in Fort Worth with her husband, Helmut, a recently retired Alcon executive, she is as emotionally attached to Texas as a fifth-generation Panhandle rancher. She and her husband are also enthusiastic travelers, and their Mont Del Estates home is filled each Christmas season with selections from the 50 Nativity scenes that they have collected from around the world.
Perhaps her most religiously authentic crèche is one he picked up during a business trip to Israel in 1984. This particular favorite of hers is a classic manger scene with depictions of the holy family, the oxen, the donkey, a shepherd, sheep and the three kings with camels -- all carved from simple olive wood. The figures are almost minimalist in their lack of heavy detailing. One of her crèches with great sentimental value is a German Hummel porcelain figurine assemblage, boasting meticulously painted faces.
"I first got the manger when I left Germany in 1982," she recalls. "Every time when I went back, I got another figurine until eventually we had them all."
Horchler's crèches have come to Texas from Peru, Mexico and Spain, too. Two of her Peruvian crèches are marvels of miniature design; one is formed in a gourd, while another is a mini altar made from the hardwood found in the country's tropical forests.
For this transplanted Texan, one of her favorites is a crèche purchased 15 years ago in Fort Worth. The Nativity scene has a Lone Star twist, with a bandanna-sporting cowboy, a windmill, barbed wire and all kinds of wildlife, including a roadrunner, an armadillo, a coyote and even a longhorn.
Horchler's most microscopic version of the Nativity was also purchased in Fort Worth. Measuring just 1 1/2 inches high and featuring a lone star in the sky, the scene is carved entirely from soapstone.
"I like it because it feels good in my hands," says Horchler.
Debby Rice, menorahs and family memories
For Debby Rice, the collection of menorahs she inherited from her late parents, Fort Worth residents Fay and Leon Brachman, are prized as much for their artistic merits as for their role in the celebration of Hanukkahs past.
In Rice's west Fort Worth house, seven menorahs celebrate the season. They remind her of her childhood, when each family member would have his or her own menorah to light each night of Hanukkah.
"These menorahs remind me of what a wonderful time it is to be thankful for a light's burning, for your family, and to make sure that other people are as lucky as you are," says Rice.
Her sentimental favorite, the one she first used when she was 4 years old, is the collection's most humble. She guesses that her parents probably purchased it in the gift shop of a local synagogue. Made of brass, it's very traditional in appearance, with the lions of Judah flanking each side.
"My mom used to have as many as 15 menorahs, but she really most preferred the little stupid ones," Rice says. "She really liked to light the cheap ones because often you could more easily find candles that fit them."
Rice's menorahs run the gamut from the whimsical to the magisterial. One done in black-tinted metal portrays musicians -- serving as the candleholders -- playing instruments, including a stand-up bass,
flute, French horn, violin and trombone. Another menorah, purchased by Rice's parents at a Judaic antiquities shop in the Old City of Jerusalem, is striking for its mechanical sophistication, ornateness and grandeur. Its candleholding arms move back and forth. Its base "feet" are carved into elaborate fish shapes. It features a Star of David in its center. And, finally, it measures an eye-catching 3 feet tall by 21/2 feet across, meaning that it often dominates a side of the Rices' fireplace.
"When I celebrate Hanukkah, I light the cute little one that was my first one," says Rice. "And I light the pretty one from the temple. But all of them make me think of my parents."
Andrew Marton is a Fort Worth-based freelance writer.