As the older clump of kids grew up they no longer wanted dolls and Legos and games for Christmas, instead asking for music CD's and clothing and some sort of bracket for their snowboard bindings. I missed putting toys under the tree. So I gathered up the residual teddy bears in the house. I had a couple from my childhood. Even teenagers keep a few stuffed animals in their rooms. And put them under the tree.
Around the same time, whether during the holidays or later that year I don't remember now, I stumbled across a teddy bear at the thrift store that had obviously been extremely well loved at one time but was now sitting sad, alone, and abandoned in a shop. I knew he would never be purchased. People would ignore him in favor of less worn, newer looking toys. Images of the velveteen rabbit, the brave little toaster, and the island of misfit toys bubbled up into my head and I couldn't leave him there to such an ignoble end.
After that I kept an eye out for abandoned bears. Within a few years there were so many bears they spread out from underneath the tree and covered the hearth. Eventually they filled bookshelves. Larger ones were "throw pillows" on the couches and beds. The tiniest ones were given a small tree of their own that they climbed and sat in until the branches were barely visible.
A Christmas long ago when William was still shorter than me. Look at all the bears! Look at all the gifts!!
There were an insane number of bears at the peek of the tradition. Mostly old bears, even a few "collectibles", but newer unique bears had found their way into the mix as well. You couldn't sit down without hugging a bear or having one topple onto your head or into your lap, but the family loved it. The bears quietly hibernated in big storage boxes all the rest of the year but they were not to be forgotten come the holidays, when their real life forest counterparts were settling in for their winter sleep.
It was the cats that put an end to the bear's yearly visit. There was a point in our life when we had a very large and changing cat population. The reasons are multiple and I won't bother even starting, but what pet owners can tell you is when you add new pets to a home, there's a temporary territorial scuffle. With cats, you can get spraying behaviors. Since we were in a state of constant change for a while, the bears ended up in the cross fire and I decided to leave them safely packed away until things settled down. The kids grew up, moved out, and stopped asking about the bears, or only asked after the fact "hey, why didn't you put the bears out?" and the tradition died out except for the teensiest bears clinging to their bear tree. That's gone up every year except this one. Our cat population is now stable but still large (again, long story) and it's probably safe to bring out at least some of the teddies but with the family mostly grown, I've never gotten back into the habit.
I thought about rekindling the tradition this year but didn't have the time. I did drag a box of bears in after Christmas for my granddaughter Joli to play with one evening when she was fussing about being forced to stay baby gated in the living room. She had so much fun pulling them out of the box. Maybe next year the bears will return.