My future in-laws' Christmas tree is like a time capsule for each member of the family. For over three decades, they have exchanged Christmas ornaments as annual gifts to one another-- tiny little representations of the preceding year's biggest events and interests. The ornaments range from stunningly elegant to colorfully kitschy, reflecting decades of changing scenery, attitudes, and family dynamics.
When my fiance joined my little family last year, we celebrated Christmas Eve by exchanging ornaments with one another and with our daughter-- christening our first tree together as "ours," and continuing the tradition passed down for decades through my partner's family line. I plan on continuing this beautiful tradition for the rest of our lives together.
An ornament exchange is a meaningful tradition for many reasons. Chief among them is the mere fact that it is a tradition, and that family traditions are what build the foundation of a tight-knit, closely bonded family. There's something wonderful and special about having an annual tradition repeated every Christmas-- something that the whole family comes to expect, love, and appreciate.
I also find the family tradition of exchanging ornaments beautiful because of its way of capturing years of memories. On his parents' tree, my fiance has an ornament of a mother and baby rabbit-- the first ornament his parents gave him. He also has reflections of his own changing interests through childhood and beyond: the Incredible Hulk one year, Star Wars figurines a few times, a graduate's hat. Their tree contains souvenir ornaments from family vacations, reminders of inside jokes, and representations of the family itself.
Last year, I gave my fiance an ivory-colored ornament in the shape of a mermaid, because we share a love of mermaids, and it was one of the first conversations that bonded us. My fiance gave me a tiny replica of the Cat in the Hat, because I adore Dr. Seuss, and we presented our daughter with a realistic resin ornament of a triceratops, reflecting her then-obsessive interest in dinosaurs.
This year, I'll be giving my daughter, who has outgrown her dinosaur phase and has turned into a crazy cat girl, a hand-painted ornament that looks just like her beloved pet cat. I got my partner an ornament in the shape of a sushi roll-- an ode to our first date and our most common date destination. I'm not supposed to know that my fiance has already gotten me a TARDIS ornament, in honor of our shared favorite television show, Doctor Who. Ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, I look forward to seeing these ornaments and remembering what they meant to us and why.
One day, I want to be able to look at my own family's Christmas tree the way I imagine my in-laws look at theirs: a collection of beautiful memories of times gone by, a living shadow-box containing decades of memories of family, life, and love. I want to be able to look at our tree and see the struggles and the triumphs, the joys and the sorrows, the laughter and the tears, that make up our life as a family. I want to be able to look at our Christmas tree and see who we are, who we once were, and what ties us together as a family.
Do you exchange ornaments with your family members around the holidays? Share your own stories and traditions below!
Juniper Russo is a Parenting Guru for Yahoo! Shine and a full-time freelance writer. When she's not busy keeping up with her bright, eccentric four-year-old daughter, she writes about a diverse array of topics including health, activism, science, and parenting.