The night before I got married, my mom handed me a present and told me to open it the next morning. So as the sun came up on my wedding day (surprise that the bride couldn’t sleep!), I was overcome with emotion as I discovered my life in a box. My mom had gone through our family’s Christmas ornaments and set aside the ones that were meaningful to me – they were mine now for my own family’s tree. I was a puddle as I sat there by myself, looking at all the tiny reminders of moments passed – my first Christmas, ornaments that were gifts from my grandparents, souvenirs from trips, sports figurines, and crafts I had made as a child. Everything I had experienced up until that point in my life was summed up in that box. And now I would take that part of my life forward as I began the next chapter with my new husband…
That was easily the most meaningful gift I have ever received from my parents. It was their way of saying, “This is what we have done for you and with you… now it’s your turn.” I was overwhelmed with gratitude and nostalgia… and I knew right then that I would give the same gift to my own children one day.
That was thirteen years ago. Here I am now with four precious daughters. As we decorated our tree this year, I was (once again) quite emotional. I am a bit of a softie anyhow, but hanging our ornaments always gets to me. Our family’s Christmas tree is not color-coordinated. It doesn’t have the most beautiful or bejeweled ornaments. But it has meaning. And I love that. To me, that’s what Christmas is all about.
Our Christmas tree tells our family’s story. Read below to see how… I hope this post inspires you to find ways to bring meaning into the ornaments that your family hangs as well. :)
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1. Have Your Child Paint an Ornament Each Year & Watch His/Her Artwork Improve
This is one of my favorite traditions! Each year my girls and I head to the paint-your-own-pottery place and have a big time. It’s so interesting to watch them – my oldest takes so much time with her work now, while my third daughter seems like she is trying to win a “who can paint their ornament the fastest” contest… which leads to her being bored because she’s already done; which then leads to her whining that that she wants to leave; which then leads to me telling her in no uncertain terms that she’s going to wait patiently while her sisters finish whether she likes it or not; which, of course, then leads me to question exactly why this is my favorite tradition again?!
But seriously, we all love this little mother/daughter outing, and they truly enjoy hanging their ornaments they have made each year on the tree. It’s fun to see how their artistic ability improves with age. Each ornament gets a little bit more detail-oriented… they giggle now when they look back at their work as a two-year-old! :)
In the picture below, you can see how my oldest daughter’s artwork changed every year, starting with age 2 and finishing with age 10.
2. Use Handprints & Footprints to Create Special Keepsakes
I’m a sucker for anything with a handprint or a footprint! I love to place my hand on top of those little baby handprints and remember how tiny my sweet girls were not so long ago.
I also like to do the mitten ornament at any young age. We have a lot of mittens on our tree. :) They make great gifts for grandparents, too.
We usually make ornaments like these at the pottery place, but you could also make some simple handprint/footprint ornaments using molding clay, paint on wood, heavy cardstock, or anything else that you can dream up!
3. Remember Life Moments
The ornament below was made (once again!) at one of those pottery places. I made one for each of my girls to mark the day she was baptized. I actually made these years after they were baptized, so don’t feel like you missed the boat on this one!
You can use ornaments to help you remember all of life’s big moments: your wedding day, the birth of your child(ren), their baptisms, graduations, and any other event that is dear to you.
4. Use a Trinket to Capture What’s Currently Important In Your Child’s Life
This idea is quite possibly one that you are already using in your own home. I know children often receive ornaments like the one below as gifts. It’s great to have trinket ornaments on your tree as reminders of what was once special in your child’s life. And more than that, be sure to write the child’s name, age, and the year somewhere on the ornament so you can remember the connection.
This train ornament conjures up so many memories for us… my oldest daughter was absolutely obsessed with Thomas the Train when she was two. OBSESSED. Who knew girls could love trains so much?! When her sister was born, in fact, she was given a battery-operated train as a big sister gift. To say that she was thrilled is an understatement. That first night she came into our bedroom, completely hysterical, because the train had gotten turned on, and her hair had proceeded to wrap in and out of the wheels while she was sleeping. That was fun trying to untangle that mess. Needless to say, we quickly instituted a “no sleeping with your trains” policy…
As you can see, each little trinket brings with it a story and memories. And as that ornament is hung on the tree, it will all come flooding back for you – and just for an instant, your child gets to be two again in your mind – and hers. :)
5. Use a Photo to Capture What’s Currently Important in Your Child’s Life
I love this idea perhaps even more than using a trinket ornament to bring back memories! You could also frame a picture to mark what’s happening in your child’s life.
In the ornament below, I used a picture of my daughter playing dress-up and carrying a microphone. She literally played like this every single day, singing songs and performing for us. I simply printed out a description of this on cardstock and taped it to the back of the ornament.
You can also find some nice ornaments here and where you upload the photo, and the ornament comes ready to hang on the tree. There are also some really special ornaments here where the photo is printed on wood. I have ordered these many times to give as gifts and for our own tree. (I often even order these for our own family after Christmas.)
6. Purchase Ornaments Each Time You Go on a Trip
Every time we go on a trip, my family knows that I am going to seek out an ornament in the gift shop! I always write the year and oftentimes a short note as well to help us remember the vacation.
The ornament below was purchased when my daughter and I went to New York City together when she turned 6. There was no room to write anything, so I actually left the small tag on the ornament and wrote on the back of it, describing how we had taken this special mother/daughter trip.
The ornament below could quite possibly be the cheesiest one on our tree, but my husband and I laugh every time we hang it up! I wrote a note on the bottom of the boat to help us remember our trip with a few other couples. We had gone on a cruise and we were so excited for our “romantic excursion along the coastline” in Mexico where each couple would operate their own motor boat and then picnic on an island. It was definitely an afternoon to remember, but not quite in the way that we had pictured! (imagine rough seas, a guide who whipped through the waves at top speed without looking back, and three water-logged couples who literally submerged more than once – good times. Best line of the day was when I said something about hanging onto my handle for dear life and my friend replied, “You had handles?!”)
7. Hang an Ornament to Remember Each Place You’ve Lived
I gave my husband the ornament below when we celebrated our first Christmas in our new home. Using a paint pen, I wrote a note on the back. I also wrote “1999” on the front if you look closely, and our address is actually written on the red section at the bottom, but I hid that part. :) I’m a big fan of starting with a basic ornament, and then personalizing it!
This ornament reminds me of the time I lived in New York City. It’s fun to have ornaments from all your stops in life!
8. Frame the Picture you Use in Your Holiday Card Each Year
Another way to personalize your tree is to frame the picture you use in your holiday card each year. If you line them up, you can watch your life evolve in an instant! Be sure to write the year somewhere on the ornament!
*Update to this post in 2017: I have ornaments like these all over our tree now! Love them.
9. Take a Picture Every Christmas Eve (in Pajamas!)
Our girls love to wear matching pajamas each Christmas Eve, and then they have a “sister sleepover” so they can wake up together. We always snap a picture just before bedtime. I’m not sure much can top Christmas Eve in the excitement department, so it’s a fun picture each time – lots of big smiles!
We get matching Christmas pajamas every year. In recent years, even my husband and I have joined the fun on that front! Such a fun tradition, and great for photo ops, too!
Find a large selection of Christmas pajamas here where the entire family can match!
Find a large selection of boys’ Christmas pjs here.
Find a large selection of girls’ Christmas pjs here.
10. Remember Loved Ones Who Have Passed
This is another wonderful tradition in our house. Each year we hang ornaments that remind us of those we love dearly but who are no longer with us. Christmas is a time for family and remembering all that is truly important – and that certainly includes those we keep close to us in our heart. Even our sweet dog that we miss so much has an ornament.
11. Cherish the Ornaments Your Children Have Made
My children made the ornaments below. I can’t say that I save every glitter-covered, gluey ornament that I’ve ever been given (even though I know they were all made with love and pride!), but I definitely save some of the special ones – or the ones that really show me the stage that my child was at during that particular holiday season.
As our girls get older, the handmade ornaments seem to become even more special. So before you toss this year’s crafts when you’re taking down the tree (because all the handmade ornaments make the cut at least the first year, right?!), pause for a second and ask yourself if some might be worth keeping. Even though you might not think they make your tree “beautiful” right now, someday you might consider them to be some of the most precious ornaments you could ever dream of having.
12. Hang Ornaments to Help You Remember How/Where You Spent Each Christmas
We don’t travel for Christmas anymore, but there was a time when each holiday was spent with family elsewhere. So I started hanging picture-ornaments to help us remember how we celebrated Christmas each year. I would write on the back of the ornament or even insert a piece of paper describing what we did and where…
The shot below was taken when my family was suited up by my dad in his plethora of warm camouflage apparel, and we headed on four-wheelers back to see his new deer stand! (You can’t make this stuff up.) It really was a great day, zipping through snow-covered trails on that bright, sunny Christmas afternoon. And it was fun to see my husband (who is more of a city boy) outfitted in hunting gear, too! :)
13. Give (& Receive) Ornaments as Gifts to Make Memories
The ornament below is so dear to me. My good friend made it, and others like it, for our wedding gift. Back then, we hardly had any ornaments for our tree, aside from the ones my parents had just given me, of course. I used to resort to candy canes and red bows to fill our tree at the time!
I thought it was so touching that my friend took time out of her busy life to make my husband and me these cute ornaments to help us celebrate our marriage. They were among the few ornaments on our tree that had meaning back then, and now they are just as special. They remind me of how our tree used to be sparse and simple, and now it’s full with mementos of our life together. I’m also reminded of our wedding day, and of course, I’m reminded of my thoughtful friend who is still one of the greatest people in my life.
I absolutely love to receive ornaments as gifts. They are like a little memory in a box. And for that reason, I also love to give ornaments. I hope those that receive them from us enjoy these keepsakes, too, and realize that I intend for the gift to be much more than a little trinket for their tree…
A BIRTHDAY ORNAMENT FOR A DECEMBER BIRTHDAY:
My daughter’s friend has a birthday right after Christmas, and they take their Christmas ornaments off their tree just after the holiday and then it becomes a “birthday tree. What a fun idea! They add a birthday banner and she has special birthday ornaments.
My daughter made this one for her below to add to her collection. We simply printed a picture, rolled it up, and then inserted it in a glass ball. On the back side there is another picture as well when they were really little. (Tip: print the pictures on one piece of paper so they don’t overlap and cover each other, though! We learned that the hard way and had to start over. We also stuck some pipe cleaners inside to help hold everything in place). My daughter then used a paint pen to personalize the ornament. I think it made a sweet little gift for her dear friend with a December birthday. :)
14. Capture Life’s Little Moments that Stand Out in Your Mind
We joke that my third daughter has “mommy-itis.” Ever since she was a baby, I’ve somehow had the power to make everything better just by being there. (If only I could always wave my magic wand to keep her safe and happy throughout life!) This photo was taken after she got upset while taking pictures on the beach.
I finally gave up on trying to capture the perfect shot of my children with the brilliant sky behind them, and my cousin instead snapped this one. It reminds me of how sometimes the best moments are the unexpected ones… I love how my daughter used to curve right over my shoulder and bury her head in my neck, and suddenly all was right in the world. This ornament brings me back to that stage that I now miss so much.
15. Hang Your Own Keepsake Ornaments From Years Ago
This ornament was in the box my mom gave me on my wedding day. I figure skated as a little girl, and I used to proudly hang this ornament on our tree each year. This figurine reminds me of my days of ice shows and competitions, a part of my life that was once so important to me.
16. Use Pictures of Mom and Dad with Each Child
My girls love their photo ornaments with my husband and me, and these will make perfect additions to their “ornament box” that they receive one day from us. So often, pictures are taken of just your child – or they’re with their siblings – or they’re with their entire family. It’s pretty rare (at least in our family) to have shots of just one of our kids with each of us. So these are extra special to our girls. I know someday these ornaments will mean the world to them – they already do. Wouldn’t you love to have an ornament with a picture of yourself and your mom or dad when you were a child?
17. And Finally… Use Humor!
We think this ornament is an absolute classic. It was a gift back in 2005, and we still laugh so hard every time we hang it up. It’s always placed in a prominent position so we can see it easily, and people who look at our tree always comment on it. It’s certainly a conversation piece! :)
If this ornament isn’t the best example of how your tree doesn’t have to be “perfect”, then I don’t know what is! The holidays should be a time of joy and laughter, and this great ornament certainly helps to spread some holiday cheer each year in our house!
All in all, I think our tree is still beautiful with all the mismatched ornaments! It lights up our home, and it fills our hearts with love and memories. I hope you can find some ways to let your tree tell your family’s story, too!
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