The Tree Tradition: Preserving Childhood One Ornament at a Time

Today my kids and I took down our Christmas tree. Removing and boxing up all the ornaments is a lot less fun than putting them on the tree, but it gives me the chance to reminisce about the memories they hold. When I was a kid my parents bought me an ornament every year so that when I left the house as an adult, I wouldn’t have an empty Christmas tree. I’ve continued the tradition with my kids and my husband and as a result, our tree’s limbs are always heavy with ornaments, each with its own story to tell.

My kids love putting their collection on the tree each year. They’ve outgrown the toys and movies and TV shows that many of their ornaments represent, but it reminds them of what was important to them at that time in their lives. It puts things into perspective as they realize that with each year they change just a little, and the things that their world revolves around now will be only be a memory in a few years. But they’ll have a little reminder  – a Christmas tree full of them, in fact.

20140103-112415.jpgThis photo has one of my childhood ornaments, a seashell with a painting of my favorite of my husband’s assignments in the Coast Guard, and the first ornament I bought him 14 years ago. There is also the obligatory baby’s first Christmas ornament belonging to our eldest child. It was given to us by my sister-in-law, with whom she shares a middle name. There is a special one for my daughter whose birthday is December 25th, and a few that I’ve given to my kids over the years (that’s no ordinary owl, but Hedwig herself).

As my kids have gotten older, there has been less and less room for my own ornaments on the tree. The past few years they’ve stayed boxed up in the attic. But that’s ok. I look at them every year and choose one or two to put on the tree alongside those of my children. It could be my own baby’s first Christmas ornament, or the Strawberry Shortcake one from 1983, or the paper bag wreath that I made in preschool. Each one is special and important.

My 6 year old made me laugh back in November as we were putting the ornaments on the tree. He was complaining that he only has 6 ornaments while his sisters have more. That’s the whole idea, I told him. You have one ornament for every Christmas you have celebrated. And when you go off to college I’ll make sure you have a miniature tree to put in your dorm room. Your roommates may laugh at your choo-choo train and Buzz Lightyear ornaments but you won’t mind because you’ll know that they are more than just ornaments. They are a story of your childhood, and a little reminder of your family that you can take with you as you explore the world. And maybe some day, you’ll have a smile on your face as your child jumps for joy when you hand him a little piece of his childhood, in ornament form.

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