Why A New Ornament Every Year Is My Favorite Christmas Tradition

A tree turned life story to read each year.

person hanging a nutcracker ornament on a christmas tree

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I grew up the oldest of four siblings, so, as you can imagine, the holiday season was quite a feat at our house. Between school parties, cookie swaps, choir concerts, and road trips to see loved ones, there was little to no spare time amid the hustle—but my parents always made a point to carve out space for memory making.

Baking cookies (looking at you, peanut butter kisses), watching Elf in matching pajamas, decorating gingerbread houses, sipping hot chocolate whilst admiring Christmas lights—you name it, we probably did it. But perhaps my favorite tradition of all begins with an ornament.

My father has always been adamant no trace of Christmas should grace the house until after Thanksgiving (although, up for debate). Quickly following Turkey Day, we’d kick off the holiday season with a trip to the Christmas tree farm.

But before we'd cut down our festive fir, my parents found time to drag all of us children to the mall—which any suburb-dweller knows to be a brave endeavor come Christmas time. But we did it anyway, year after year. My parents would hand us each a few dollar bills and set us loose with one simple instruction: Find an ornament that represented our year.

We’d spend hours scouring stores and perusing pop-ups selling enamel ornaments as we reflected on the year behind us. Without even realizing it at the time, this was an intentional play by my parents. The older I get, the more I realize we were doing much more than just shopping for ornaments.

Once we each had carefully selected our ornament for the year, we finally got to put up the tree. In my family, this doesn’t just take a couple hours—it’s a whole day’s affair, one that’s full of reminiscing and lingering conversations as we carefully fill our tree with a slew of eclectic ornaments that don’t coordinate, whatsoever.

My mother would occasionally jot notes to remind us why we chose the one we did for a specific season of life. Now, as we comb through our collection, we’re reminded of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.

A few of my favorite ornaments to unwrap each year include a pair of porcelain angels to commemorate my first Christmas as a big sister, a yellow star I made in my kindergarten art class, an enamel poodle I bought on a 13th birthday trip to New York City, a spatula for the year I learned how to bake cupcakes, a sparkly pink shoe for when I went through a “fashion” phase, and a Chip 'n Dale bobble head as memorabilia of a family vacation to Disney World.

For 11 months out of the year, our ornaments sit stowed in a box tucked in the corner of a basement storage room. But when it finally comes time to unbox and carefully place each one on a flimsy fir branch, I’m reminded of the grand story of my life, all of our lives, as they come together on one evergreen.

And for every year that passes, our tree grows fuller with memories from the years we carry. It’s chaotic and colorful and completely mismatched, but we’ve always liked it just that way—because decor that has meaning is the most beautiful kind.

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