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My Obsession With Christmas Ornaments And How Much They Strangely Mean To Me And My Life

My desire for documenting my life, specifically anything sentimental and happy is so extreme that I do wonder if it’s something I should unpack in therapy (also I need a therapist, not joking). What is behind my obsession for or need to document my life? Am I trying to prove something to myself? To others? To my future? Rewriting my past? Or is it just about appreciating and celebrating all the moments? For however long I can remember I’ve journaled (thus the birth of this blog because why not journal for millions to read!!!) and have made scrapbooks… Like not just when I was little. I even have a highly uncool college scrapbook. Heck, I made Brian a scrapbook when we were 21 years old of our “first year” as a couple. That’s not normal, guys, I realize that, and yet BOY do I love looking at that scrapbook. I kept every Death Cab For Cutie ticket stub, every birthday card from him, even a business card from the bar where he put on “When A Man Loves a Woman” on the jukebox and I knew that while he was too scared to say it, that he was telling me for the first time that he loved me (it was a well received soft pitch). I get that these things can be captured in photos now, but the tactile experience is far more emotionally satisfying to me and triggers the memory in a way more visceral way.

BUT I HAD NO IDEA THAT YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE COULD BE A LIVE, LIVING, SCRAPBOOK until this year. How? So simple. You just think about what big things happened that year and you buy an ornament that represents it. I get that scrapbooks are hard to keep up with (I have a really good “done is better than perfect” philosophy for my kids’ scrapbooks, no stickers or anything – I just shove things in sleeves). But ornaments? SO EASY AND FUN. You want to decorate your tree anyway. Your kids want to do crafts ANYWAY and once you see the excitement in their eyes as they pull out an ornament and say “Mama, mama, I remember this!!! this is when we went to Disneyland for the first time!!!” IT’S PURE JOY.

Before I get into the ornaments I must give you more of an emotional biography. I was too cool for ornaments, most of my life, and when I got them as a “gift” I would be like “cool, so…. yah, I’ll put this bright yellow rubber duck ornament on my perfectly curated tree”. I just didn’t GET IT. They are busy, often expensive, and ruin the vibe. Then last year as I was helping my friend trim her tree I got it. As she pulled out each ornament she told me a story behind it, and I was like, “Hold up. Wait. I’ve been missing a new memory hoarding opportunity my entire life??”. We didn’t do this as kids, probably because we lived in rural Oregon, before the internet and there were 6 kids which meant a LOT of annual ornaments. So I didn’t know it was a thing. In fact, I remember going to a Christmas store in Boston 15 years ago in August, prepping for a big holiday shoot (always in August), and seeing all the shoppers thinking “um I know why I’M here but WHY THE HELL ARE YOU ALL SHOPPING FOR CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST’. I thought it was SO weird and I definitely judged. I now know they were tourists and their kids were getting their “Boston” ornament (and looking back I’m like WHERE IS MY BOSTON ORNAMENT!!!??)

I may be swinging too far in the other direction, I know, I know, but last year we made so many ornaments as well as I documented the big moments for our family with custom ornaments. The tree is already dripping. But I don’t care. It is so fun for me and the kids, and even Brian was so excited to see our excitement. The kids SQUEAL for hours.

But what do you buy and how? How exactly do you commemorate your life in the form of an object hanging from a string on a branch? SO GLAD YOU ASKED/ARE STILL HERE. Well, there are NO rules, but I’ve created categories of what I like to document in the way of ornaments to help give you inspiration. Also, everything is from Etsy so go support a small business:)

Lifestyle And Passions

I bought a pot ornament for the year when soup became my lifestyle, a stack of books when Charlie started reading, and Birdie picked out a unicorn the year she became OBSESSED with yes, unicorns. This year we got a bike for Charlie because he’s mastered it, an art easel for Birdie, and a typewriter for Brian because he’s writing a novel. This is the year where I realized I was overscheduled and realized that I was happier not being a workaholic… Not sure what that looks like in the way of an ornament. Maybe I’ll shop for something that feels peaceful and calm? I dunno. Last year my friend got me an “Outlander” ornament, I bought myself a cute “Church” ornament because I started going to church and Brian got an awesome Shakespeare ornament because he was in an amazing production of Othello. You get it. Take inventory of your year and think about a way it can be represented in an ornament. My god, that sounds stupid, but just trust me, it’s fun.

World Events and Movements

OOF. WHAT A YEAR AMIRIGHT. A lot happened and buying an ornament sounds stupid, but picture yourself 10 years from now pulling out your Santa with a mask on an ornament and saying, oh right. that was QUITE the year. I bought an RBG, BLM, Pandemic, and Biden/election ornaments.

Big Personal Or Professional Moments

This year we got pups and left our house in LA. Obviously, we need to have custom ornaments made to commemorate these huge life decisions. Did you get engaged? Married? Pregnant? Have a baby? Sell your House? Publish a book? Get a new job? There are so many custom ornament places on Etsy and you send them photos and they do drawings, painting, embroidery, etc. Or just get one that reminds you of the big life moment.

Don’t forget the name of who picked it out, and the date – this is CRUCIAL and if someone gets one for you put their name on the bottom and I PROMISE it will trigger the memory of that time/year. You will forget. We all forget. Your brain generally only remembers the heights of emotions that can permanently imprint. Will I forget that Birdie broke her arm? No. But will I remember that she was 4, that her cast was pink, and that we had to go to the hospital at the beginning of the lockdown which felt terrifying? Probably. GOTTA GO FIND A CAST ORNAMENT. 🙂

It was a big year. If we are lucky we will live ’til next year, commemorating what happened in our lives, what stuck out as important or extra fun, even if it’s in the form of a Christmas ornament cannot be a bad thing. Reflecting on your year, your life, once a year is probably good for everyone.

Now since we, the Hendersons, celebrate Christmas in our house I’d love to hear if there are ways to do this for other non-christian holidays. I know that our audience is diverse so if there are ideas on how to commemorate the years, please leave them in the comments. Sara has now inspired me to write and send Christmas cards, and I’m hoping to start collecting those as well. It’s a thing guys, a WHOLE THING. I can’t wait to show you our “no rules family tree” soon (editing the photos now).

Thanks for listening and bearing witness to the rantings of a middle-aged mom desperate to retain all the memories of this time with her small kids. I hope some of you can relate. xx

Opener Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Our Living Room, Dressed Up for the Holidays (With a ‘And How I Feel About It’ Running Commentary)


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73 thoughts on “My Obsession With Christmas Ornaments And How Much They Strangely Mean To Me And My Life

  1. Love this! I stumbled on a related Thanksgiving tradition. . .every year we write down things we are thankful for (the more specific and small the better) off and on in November on a wooden feather or leaf tag, which we hang on a cord as a ever-growing Thanksgiving banner. It is a tangible way to remember what we were thankful that year, like the year my daughter was thankful for the way ostriches run and big blueberries. It’s my favorite.

  2. This is definitely the way I grew up! On my tree there are ornaments that i got as a child, that my mom got from her mom, a bell that my dad got on his first trip to Santa’s lap! And we would usually get an ornament for Christmas most years. Given my childhood I always had the opposite reaction to your initial one Emily – I didn’t understand the perfectly curated trees with only one colour of globe that you always see in magazines and found them a little tacky! To be honest that style still only feels right in corporate lobbies to me!

    1. haha. I don’t think you are wrong. we have both this year (living room is more curated, family room is all personal). Both make me very happy 🙂

  3. I love this so much! I always get a little bummed to see people with their perfectly curated and styled trees. I believe a Christmas tree is definitely a way to tell a story about your family and like you hit on, capture memories. I am one of 7 kids and “St Nick” brought us each a new ornament every year so yes, we had ALL the memories on that tree and I still love to look at it when we visit. We do the same with our two kids now, and then I usually buy a family ornament for the year as well. This year is an Etsy find of our cartoon family wearing mask because, 2020.

    One of my best friends growing up was Jewish and loved decorating our tree with us, so we got her a couple little Hanukkah ornaments to hang alongside ours.

    1. I love our family tree and I love the pretty trees, so I solved the problem by putting up 3 trees. I get to have my memories and creative fun.

  4. Since I’ve had kids, I always do a yearly picture ornament – I think those are the best! It’s so fun to look back at the pictures. So come August, when I’m out and about (not quite the same this year of course), I’m already on the hunt for the pic frame ornament, and when I see one I like, I grab it. Another neat one is my mom gave me a bunch of cookie cutters that belonged to my grandma (I’m the baker in the family). Well, they’re not necessarily something I would use to cut out cookie dough, but I made one into an ornament, and it’s perfect. So little “regular life” items that have meaning can also become ornaments.

    My mom also gave me a few years ago a Christmas Memories Book, it looks all vintage, red leather cover with gold writing. Each year you write where you went, who you saw, the best presents, funny moments, etc. I stick in our Christmas card (always pictures of the kids) – that’s a fun one too for memories.

  5. The solution, you realize, is to put up 2 trees (not necessarily big ones):

    1. The perfectly curated tree.
    2. The memory tree.

    Win, win. 😉

  6. I’m all about the balance of a classy/neutral/fancy tree with a few memories mixed in. I have ornaments from the year we got engaged, matured, bought a house, etc. They are all neutral so they fit with whatever color scheme/decor I’m doing. This year’s says “The Year We Stayed Home.”

  7. When my husband and I started traveling together 12+ years ago, we started buying a Christmas ornament in each place that we travelled. It’s one of two things we get everywhere we go (I also buy a ring from a local jeweler wherever we travel and rotate through those instead of a traditional wedding ring). It’s so fun to talk about all of our past trips as we pull the ornaments out each year. And I also love that our souvenirs don’t clutter up shelves, etc. throughout the year.

    1. I do this, too! I love unpacking all of my past trips every year, and it’s so much better than a bunch of random souvenir clutter on my shelves.

      1. I agree. like why collect shot glasses or magnets when you can once a year really engage fully and emotionally with the souvineer/memory?

    2. We collect Agatha Christie novels! They’re shockingly easy to find and inexpensive, in a different language representing the country – it’s really fun. But since we almost always travel in the winter I’m very disappointed we never thought to get ornaments…

  8. We usually have 1 or two yearly ornaments that we buy to sum up our year. If we went on a trip we always make sure to get an ornament. I always write the year on it somewhere too and then we also have ornaments for special things too, like each dog has an ornament, our kids have their own, when my dad passed away we got him a special ornament. I love putting them on every year, it’s such a special time!

  9. My parent’s tree is a collection of ornaments they each had when they got married, ornaments my mom had on her tree growing up, ornaments we collected when traveling, and ornaments that represent an interest or milestone. My brother and I also each received an ornament every year and had our own tree on which to put those ornaments. I still love collecting ornaments when I travel. I like seeing perfectly decorated, curated trees but I wouldn’t trade the memories my ornament collection brings for one.

  10. I’m thinking of having our annual holiday cards made into ornaments. Also, the benefit of giving ornaments each year to every family member, is when the kids are grown, they already have their own special collection. With so much heart. Already purchased several ornaments in honor of this year . . .

    1. thats a great idea. maybe family portrait ornaments annually? Oh don’t give me more ideas … 🙂

  11. In our family my grandmother bought all of the grandchildren a Hallmark ornament every year (they have dates on them) until their 18th birthday. And when I moved out, I was able to take all of my ornaments with me and was already set for my own tree. My mother has continued that tradition for my children. We also collect ornaments on our travels. We now have too many ornaments to fit on our one tree but setting up the tree is one of my favorite nights of the year because we sit and talk about all of the different memories as we pull out each ornament.

    1. My grandmother did the same thing, and now my mom gives her granddaughters an ornament each year (though not Hallmark, since there aren’t any around us anymore). Some years my 94 year old grandmother also gives the great-grandchildren ornaments, too. It’s such a great tradition!!!

  12. So sweet..

    We do ornaments from our travels. Being Jewish, and prior to us living together, I obviously didn’t have a tree. It makes me sad to think of the places we’ve been together that don’t have their ornaments represented. Every year I think, this will be the year I order a Niagara Falls ornament, but I never do.

    Sometimes in the name of cheapness or availability we swap an ornament for a key chain that we hang, often adding a piece of ribbon instead of a metal key ring.

    1. B – I’ve used key chains for ornaments several times, “in the name of cheapness and availability” 🙂 Great minds…

    2. Keychains make great travel ornaments! I’ve also used a windchime, a small paper tag, and a fancy tassel when a place didn’t have an ornament.

    3. We do the travel thing too and sometimes the keychain options are better than the actual ornaments!

    4. I approve! We weren’t able to find “proper” ornaments in some destinations (cultural and/or seasonal reasons), so we would also improvise with a key chain or other small trinket that we rigged for hanging on the tree.

  13. can you please post the link to the customized ornaments of your family from last year? i’d love to do that for my family!

  14. My mom has always loved personal ornaments (which i despised when i was younger, but I get it now), but everything looks SO GOOD together because she has very clear preference for wood ornaments. Not everything on the tree is wood, but that more rustic vibe makes it so much easier to find ornaments I know she’ll love.

    1. Totally agree with this comment! Having a material theme helps make a collection feel so much more cohesive— like all rustic wooden ornaments, or all colorful glass.

  15. My parents have bought me an ornament as a Christmas gift every year of my life. As a kid, they were mainly focused around my interests, but as I got older a lot were gorgeous handmade ones found at arts & crafts fairs. When I graduated from college, I took them all to my first apartment and had a great start to decorating a tree. As an adult, now in my mid 40s, I buy an ornament from every trip I take. Since 2020 had no vacations and nothing too exciting to commemorate (that was positive), I was stuck on what to buy this year until I was in a store recently and saw…. a rainbow ornament! A symbol of hope for Covid was the perfect addition to the tree.
    I don’t collect much but my ornaments are a treasured possession. In fact, in the event of an emergency where I had to quickly evacuate, they are one of the first items I’d grab.

  16. We do this! When growing up we got an ornament every year, sometimes to commemorate the year or just something that represented what we were going through that year. I buy an ornament every year to commemorate the year, if there is something special (engagement, marriage, babies, house etc.) we get an ornament to remember that. I also get an ornament (and salt and pepper shakers) for every trip I go on or place I visit. It’s so fun remembering them all as I open the ornaments. I also have ones that are just pretty to fill things in but as time goes on the memory one’s take up more space and the others are left in their boxes. The first year my husband and I lived together and I had gotten some ornaments from trips we took he got so excited because there were memories together on the tree and it becomes more special every year.

  17. Oh, Emily… I haven’t even put a Christmas tree up in two years, because, well, because my ex-S.O. thinks it’s all BS, even though Christmas has always been my totally favourite time of year, always.

    I’m not putting it up this year either, since we’re still living in the same house – it’s complicated – and there’s Covid, which extraordinarily complicates a break up even more! Then, there’s chemo… and… How lucky am I?
    Seriously, I’m very lucky! In so many ways, I just need the next few months to pass quickly, very quickly!
    To be on my own, in peace and able to live my life and be my authentic self. (I’m still in there, somewhere.) 😊

    Next Christmas, he will not be living with me and I WILL be putting up a tree with ALL the decorations!!!

    I’m the youngest of 7 and inherited the family (plastic) tree. When it literally disintegrated, I saved several sprigs of plastic branch tips (see? You’re not the only one obsessed with memories!).

    I also inherited my great grandparents ‘ Christmas ornaments. They’re so, so fragile that they cannot possibly be hung (glass and beautiful, from Europe to the US to Australia). I’m thinking of framing them somehow, maybe in groups, in a shadow box frame?
    I have a bunch of handmade ornaments made by my older siblings, which I’m going to package up and give them next year.

    Soooo…. wallow in your memories and the making of more memories.
    Think of people who have been prevented from celebrating Christmas and know that each and every ornament IS SPECIAL, beyond words.

    It’s about the feelings. All. Of. Them!
    Christmas is about love, beyond religion.
    It’s about human beings being human.

    1. Maybe a small tree just for yourself this year??? Like tiny even, but just something that you can really enjoy and will give you a reminder of the you that’s still in there and hope for how different things will be a year from now.

    2. Rusty – you are breaking my heart in good and not so good ways. If your ex is an ex, then please give yourself the gift of a Christmas tree – maybe something easy, like a table-top tree, may a dollhouse sized tree, something that is just for you. You deserve it! And it will lift your spirits to see the tree, as well as to take back this part of yourself and your life. I know it may not be easy for you to do, but I hope that you can do it.

      And watch some Christmas movies! My personal favorites are vintage – The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. Released in 1947, it covertly addresses the horror of WWII and expressly speaks of the need for a “stretched out hand of tolerance,” all in the guise of a romantic comedy, mind you. That message is always relevant, especially so today. Also watch A Christmas Carol, the late thirties version which is pitch perfect. Finally, all decor fans should watch Christmas in Connecticut, with Barbara Stanwyck as a magazine writer who has created a fictional perfect home and family which her editor thinks is real. It is delightful. And the house is gorgeous with a perfect Christmas tree.

      I am sending warm thoughts and prayers your way.

    3. Put them up Rusty. Your grandparents would want to know they’re bringing you happiness and Joy. Put them at the top, make sure they’re secure, and sit back and let the memories envelope you. That’s what I do.

    4. Thank you so much for your kind, sweet suggestions.
      I can’t put a tree up, big or small, because it might be destroyed.
      I can’t take the chance.
      I’ll wait and next year will be beautiful.
      Peace and love prevail in the end. xx

      1. Thank you for sharing, Rusty. Wishing you health, ease and wellness (and a badass Christmas tree next year)!

  18. My mom did the same thing when we were growing up – our tree was a living, breathing scrapbook of our family life. For a wedding gift, my mom went through all of our ornaments and made a basket with my ornaments. She said it was heartbreaking to separate my ornaments from the rest of the family’s but she loves seeing my tree now with so many happy memories. I plan to do the same for my kids. Writing the date and initials somewhere on the ornament is a huge help!

  19. My husband and I started dating in high school and have now been together 23 years. Every trip we went on we would buy something to be a Christmas ornament, we do the same now with our kids! Some things are actual ornaments others are small things that we string up. So fun to talk about all those memories each year when we pull out the box of ornaments. My boys know more about our lives before them than I think they would otherwise. It’s my favorite tradition!

  20. While part of me would love the curated tree with beautiful vintage wooden ornaments and glass orbs, I enjoy each year decorating the tree with those ornaments that hold memories. My children are 12 and 15 and still enjoy decorating the tree with the ornaments from his dad’s family, the ones they made in preschool, the old German wooden ones from my parents, and the gifted ones. There is one that my dad brought from Jerusalem, made out of olive wood, one that I bought when my friend visited me in California, one from an elderly friend that passed away and so on. So much fun to put up the tree. It’s going to be interesting this year, as it’s the first year with a cat …..

  21. I grew up with the meaningful ornaments that didn’t match at all and that’s how our tree is too. My husband grew up with the well curated matchy match beautiful tree, but he quickly jumped on board to my way. I have to say my MIL’s tree is gorgeously perfect. Every ornament matches and is in perfect position and my SIL does an all white ornament tree, no color allowed. It’s beautiful too. They could be magazine trees. My MIL and SIL still look sideways at our tree that is filled with ornaments like R2D2 and Darth Vader (my sons’ favorites during the Star Wars years) or Indiana Jones (my oldest’s Halloween costume in 4th grade), a bowl of macaroni and cheese because that was all my daughter seemed to eat, or a Super Mario because that was all my kids played one year. Now that all three of my children are older; two in college and one in left in high school, I love decorating our tree! Their boxes of ornaments are so fun for them and for my husband and me! There are Thespian ornaments, soccer balls, graduation ornaments, college mascots, etc…it’s their stories. And we also pick up something from most vacations to document our family adventures too. I love our tree, and fill it with colored lights and enough pretty baubles to add sparkle. But to me the most beautiful part is the funny, kid ornaments that remind me of something special. This year I bought myself a fun little dumpster on Etsy that opens up and has a plastic operated fire and says 2020! Nothing more apt for 2020 than a burning dumpster fire!

  22. We are all about the memorable ornaments. This year my friend (she designs laser-cut wood stuff) made an ornament that looks like a snowflake but is actually a fancy script saying “Fuck 2020” in a pattern. Obviously we got that one 🙂

    Also, a close friend moved to New Zealand this year, so I bought wooden kiwi (bird) ornaments and I’m sending one to her so we’ll both have one, thousands of miles apart.

    We don’t always get ones with names or dates on them, but we do remember picking them out and why we got them. Our tree won’t win any design awards by any stretch but it’s homey and personal.

  23. You get it!!! My mom has always been a nostalgic ornament hoarder and so I grew up loving that and not understanding at all the appeal of a tree with plain ornaments that were clearly all bought from the same place at the same time. I keep a little notebook in my ornament bin that describes when/where/who I got it from. Some of my favorites are a snare drum that my grandma gave me that she used to hang on her tree, a blue dove made by a potter at the artists’ community at Balboa Park (bought on a trip with a friend when I was 16), and an adorable cat ornament that my cat’s foster mom made for me!

    Regarding Christmas/holiday cards, my mom always saved an extra copy of the card. Now my sister and I have the whole collection of cards from when we were toddlers until we stopped sending them after college! Those are really fun to look back on.

  24. It is so nice to read this! I struggle with the desire for a pretty tree, but have all of the ornaments I was gifted every year growing up (and from my husband’s childhood) and my collection I’ve gathered over the years. Since college, the ornaments I buy when traveling tend to stick with the silver/gold/white/red color pallet so I can use them all on my tree and have memories for each while still having a cohesive look. But they don’t all fit the look, and I love my tree anyway. The memories of each ornament make me so happy. Now my 5 year old is getting into it too. She has her own small collection that she loves putting them on her own little tree. Then she digs through the collection of ornaments from when my husband and I were young and completes her masterpiece. It’s the best.

  25. My mom has always done a sentimental tree and I used to think it was tacky (during my “young-adult asserts opinions to demonstrate independence” phase), but now I love it.

    She also started a tradition of hanging a garland over each of the kids bedroom doors for us to hang our own ornaments on. We’re buying our first house this year and I’m really excited to finally get to have a tree with all of the ornaments that used to hang on that garland.

  26. Every year I take a photo of a few special ornaments and comment on what makes them special in an Instagram post and/or Chatbooks page so that there’s some documentation. Sometimes there’s a theme, like the many “peace” ornaments I have, or all of the ornaments that my dear sister in-law who passed away a few years ago picked out for us, or the angels that my mom picked for several of the annual ornaments I received as a kid. Those memories are the best part of decorating the tree, I love reminding my kiddo of the memories that go with all of them.

  27. We had a mix of ornaments growing up, many of which were damaged due to my siblings and I playing with them or poor storage and organization on the part of my parents. In college, I worked at Macy’s one year, and a Hallmark store another, so I invested in some ornaments. I wanted the perfectly curated tree, simply due to the lack of that type of decor growing up. However, by the time I could afford to create such a tree, I couldn’t part with ornaments I bought with hard earned money and that I stored and carried with me across my state and through many apartments and homes. I wish I had started the tradition of an ornament a year for my daughter, but she’s 16 now, and I certainly have a collection she can choose from when the time comes. I do love the memories many of my ornaments bring, the expensive hand blown glass ones, the handmade ones, the gifts, the ones from travels, and the very few that survived from my childhood.

  28. Hi Emily! I know of a great maker on Etsy for Birdie’s cast ornament – JudyCaron. My two youngest boys both broke bones right around Christmas several years ago and Judy made them the cutest personalized ornaments.
    I love this post. My husband and I both have yearly “commemoration” ornaments from our childhoods, and have carried on the tradition with our five kids. We now have way too many ornaments to fit on one tree (even a 10-foot-tall tree), but our family loves looking at the ornaments every December and taking a trip down memory lane 🙂

  29. My son is 40 and I still get him an ornament every year. Three of my favs are ones I sewed for him when I was pregnant. Being a firefighter, it has been quite easy to find special ones. As grumpy as a muscular ff can be, he loves his ornaments. I got to watch him decorate his own tree with his gf one year and it was so special to hear how HE remembered them! This year he’s getting a 3D dumpster fire! Appropriate, I think! Happy holidays….please stay well everyone!

  30. Before my kids were born, I read that someone bought their own children an ornament each year, and then when your child grows up and moves out, they have an ornament collection for their own tree. Our state fair has a booth with ornaments and they write the name and year on them. So every year my kids pick an ornament that reminds them of what they are into (ex. soccer, basketball, fishing, beach time, pets) and get it dated. Every year when we pull them out to put on the tree, it IS a tree full of memories. We also have the footprint ornaments from our two dogs that passed away as well as picture frame ornaments with pictures of their grandpa’s and grandma who have passed away. I also bought the buys a nutcracker each year and my daughter a music box. They’ll be set if they ever move out, ha!

  31. I’m not alone! When we travel (back in olden days), we hunt for an ornament that sums up the place – even if we have to get a keychain and modify it – which leads to such fun memories when we decorate and undecorate. Travel ornaments are complemented by many handmade Santas and snowmen. No balls for our tree.

  32. I’ve always collection ornaments. I love them, gift them and can’t get enough of them. I do a main tree and then do an angel tree because of all the angel ornaments I collected. Was also thinking of other themes to try. I’m a writer so was thinking writing ornaments (pens, papers books, typewriter, etc. One thing I did is every year my kids picked ornaments that they liked, similar to yours. Now they are grown, and I still buy them ornaments so they can have special ones on their trees. (I kept all the ornaments on mine over the years despite one kid thinking I should give her all ornaments (Sorry, couldn’t bear to). Last year I had a grandson, and he too, will get an ornament from me every year.

    Twenty-five years ago, my plan was to not have any ball or generic ornaments but rather a tree filled with all the special ones. I still love some balls and other ornaments but my tree is mostly filled with all the ornaments each family member got every year for their whole lives. Most have the year, so my kids can now look and say, Oh yeah, I got this when I was ten or 15 or 1. Talk about sentimental.

  33. My husband and I both grew up in houses full of sentimental trees (my mom still has a construction paper Christmas ball with my face in the middle from 32 years ago) and we have carried the tradition on in our house. We have an ornament to represent all the places we’ve lived (6 homes in different cities/states in our relationship), amazing trips we’ve taken, things with the kids, and ornaments we’ve gotten for each other over the years to represent each other. It makes trimming the tree so much fun! I have always longed to live in a house with space for 2 trees – the big sappy sentimental tree, and the designer beautiful to look at tree. Someday… but for now, we love taking the trip down memory lane, and I find it makes un-trimming the tree a little more fun too!

    1. I think you can do both on one tree! I love vintage ornaments, so I have a collection of vintage mercury glass garlands and ornaments. The foundation of our tree is the silver garlands and silver mercury glass balls. Once that’s up, the ornaments my daughter and I have collected over the years (still can’t stop!) go up – lots of :sacred” ornaments, cat ornaments, angel ornaments, doll ornaments (because she collects dolls), handmade ornaments and so on. It always looks magical. And the foundation of silver mercury glass garlands and balls adds a structure that somehow allows all of the one-off ornaments to shine even more.

  34. We got an ornament each year growing up with the idea that when we were grown up, we could have a lifetime of special ornaments to take with us for our own trees! I’m 32 and have spent my adult life moving and traveling, so I haven’t actually taken mine yet, but I have started collecting ornaments from each place I visit. Now my husband and I exchange ornaments that mark milestones from our year! I’m also extremely sentimental, and my ornament collection gives me a way to express that with intention without letting it take over my whole life and home.

  35. My family does this and I still have the ornaments that I received from my mother as a child all the way until I got married. She’s passed, but her memory lives on in the ornaments. I started it with my children and it’s so fun thinking of which item to choose. One of my daughter’s best ornaments is a globe because it’s the year she, or we… all survived her AP world history. Others are drivers license ornaments and before/after photos of the dreaded braces. The girls are 19 and 21 now, but I know they will continue this with their children. They each store their own ornaments in a special box so they are ready to go with them when the time comes. I keep most of the handmade ones. I don’t think I can let those go.

  36. In addition to collecting ornaments from our travels, my husband and I gift each other an ornament during the holidays. It started after he gave me an ornament to mark our engagement. We are supposed to find something that commemorates a highlight from the past year. It is so fun to see what we each come up with, and it is definitely a lot of fun to reminisce while we decorate the Christmas tree!

  37. “Ornaments” was the theme of my New Year’s Eve wedding to my ex. At the wedding, guests signed/drew on/wrote on ornaments in our color palate, so it was the best of both worlds. We got to read loving and silly messages from loved ones but from far away our tree still looked pretty!

    The best though was at the bridal shower we asked everyone to get me an ornament that represented them. It was also a game – I had to guess who got me each one. My aunt got me a big red barn because she lived on a farm, a friend got me an Oreo because we would have “movie & oreos” days when we were feeling down, my childhood neighbors got me an ice cream cone to represent walking to Miller Bros Ice Cream in the summer. It was the BEST!

  38. My grandma has given each of us grandchildren an ornament every year since we were born. When we moved into our own places and started our own families, we brought great memories with us. I travel all over the world for work, and I’m always on the lookout for things to hang on our tree. Finger puppets turned ornaments from Latvia are among my favorites!

  39. Hi Emily!

    Longtime reader, first time commenter. I just want to say that yes, for many people 2020 was a year of mask wearing and toilet paper shortages, and I get that. That’s where I was before my dad died. For many of us like me though, who have lost someone to or because of the virus, the lives lost and the profound grief and trauma can feel invisible, lost under the jokes about staying inside and zoom meetings. I’m sorry if this comes off as rude, I just think it’s important to acknowledge how many human lives have been lost. I feel like that isn’t getting seen as much as it should. I don’t know what I’m asking for… maybe it would’ve been nice to include a couple “in memory of” type ornaments for those who lost someone this year (if you did and I missed it, I’m sorry. Grief brain is real)

    Thank you for all you do, you have inspired me so much over the years.

    1. My condolences, Sarah. My cousin always has a smaller “Angel” tree with ornaments for all the family members (including pets) and good friends who are no longer with us. The angel tree always goes up first and on that night and throughout the season, so many wonderful memories are shared.
      The first Christmas after my mom passed away, a friend of hers gave me a beautiful ornament with her photo and a beautiful verse that brought me to tears. It was too soon and I just couldn’t put it on my tree. Enough time has passed that I’m looking forward to hanging it up this year. I hope you will have that healing in your life, too.

  40. Starting when my nieces & nephews were born, I got them Christmas ornaments commemorating an event in their lives each year – Halloween costumes, sports, travel, etc. The idea was that when they moved out to their first homes, they would each have ornaments of their childhoods for their first Christmas tree.

  41. Tonight I bought two blue ornaments, One for my sis, and one for myself, to commemorate the Blue Wave we have dreamed about for four long years.

  42. Oh thank goodness you’ve finally seen the light! I actually find designy trees annoying because I’m always like, “Who needs a color scheme when you have a zillion sentimental ornaments?!”

  43. So many memories wrapped up in those ornaments. Some acquired on my life journey and a few from grandparents, greatgrandparents, and creative friends.
    Several sets of ornaments help unify to style of our tree: traditional straw, light wood snowflakes, and a mountain of various off-white paper stars. My 3rd grade teacher (over 30 yes ago), taught us a star pattern and they are the perfect light ornament for branch tips.
    My favorite newer theme is realistic birds. My folks were gifted a pair of wire footed real feathered doves and my father always found just the right perched from them together. Luckily my husband recorded my late father explaining the family stories behind some of the oldest ornaments.
    I just adore my ornament collection and the hand- decorated are the best!
    We celebrate winter solstice and Jul, so our decor is generally winter leaning vs. religious or Santa.

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