The last few years have felt weird to most of us. The holiday traditions that we once looked forward to have changed—some slightly, some dramatically. Gatherings moved outdoors or stopped altogether. In the chaos and crazy of the holidays, I always find a sense of peace during this time, especially in recent years. I have one family tradition that I just couldn’t stop and I plan to pass down through multiple generations: the collection of meaningful Christmas tree ornaments.
Many years ago when I was a teenager, I started collecting ornaments, which was a huge improvement over the shot glass collection I had started. (In my defense, those were inexpensive gift store buys.) These ornaments came from places I had visited, people in my life, or marked special occasions.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Each year as we carry the heavy plastic tubs down from the attic, my anticipation starts to bubble. My husband will tell you I’m like a kid when it comes to Christmas, and I am all about decorating the tree. As we gently unwrap each ornament and adorn the tree, my family of three exchanges memories about each ornament.
“Hey Mom, remember when we went to Pearl Harbor?”
“Chris, I love reading this letter from your parents every year about the ornament your dad made, using wood from the tree in their backyard.”
“This one is from when my mom and I went to the Vatican when we were visiting Katie.”
“Your Uncle Matt brought this over to our house one afternoon. He was so excited and proud of himself, it was a Superbaby ornament for your first Christmas. You had endured a lot of medical stuff by Christmas that first year.”
“Make sure to put that one near the top, in the center. It’s my favorite for sure.” I held up a school photograph of my son that was attached to an angel’s body adorned with white feathers and a gold pipe cleaner halo. It was an ornament he had made in the first grade.
A Gift that Keeps On Giving
There are ornaments handmade by our son, and picture ornaments from our summer vacations or visits to relatives. There is a “baby’s first Christmas” for each of us. Each of the ornaments that decorate our tree has a special meaning.
My in-loves gave me a bag of containing my husband’s childhood ornaments when we were first married. Most of the ornaments were gifts from a close friend who was like family to them. I don’t know if my mother-in-love knew it then, but that was one of the greatest gifts she gave me. Considering my own tradition of collecting ornaments, being able to get a piece of my husband’s childhood was extra special.
Those ornaments are from a collection where the year is part of the design, and I remember noticing that he was only missing a few years to complete the collection from his birth. For Valentine’s Day the next year, I found the ornaments from each of the five years between his birth and when the ornament collection was started by his “Aunt” Roxanne in 1986. I was even able to find a “baby’s first Christmas” one for him too.
A few years ago, after hearing about “Aunt” Roxanne, I asked my husband her whereabouts and how long it had been since he had talked to her. I tracked her down (thank you for internet search engines) and mailed her a letter telling her about how special the ornaments are to us and that I appreciate her giving those to him all those years ago. We have become Christmas pen pals, sharing the years’ events and I always comment on one of the ornaments that she gave him.
What Makes Christmas Tree Ornaments Special
As we unpack the ornaments each year and smile at the memories, it is a truly special time. Some of those ornaments have been glued or mended over the years, but we’ve shared our tradition with our son. Each time we go on vacation, the three of us stand in a gift store or a craft market to peruse the selections of ornaments, finding the one that best reflects our trip.
It’s not about the ornaments themselves but about the love for the people behind the memories. The people who gifted the ornaments or who shared their time with us. The love among family and friends, the memories and stories of those in our lives past and present, and those who have gone before us. Our Christmas tree represents not only the season but a cherished lifetime of love.
The next time you are on vacation or celebrating a milestone, think about the feelings you have right then. That happiness, joy, and the anticipation of good times ahead can be preserved to experience year after year, as you reminisce with an ornament during the holiday season.