Making Christmas Memories

By Nancy Robards Thompson


Merry Christmas Eve!

When the Norwegian and I bought our first house, my dad gave me the family Christmas ornaments. After my mom passed away, he opted for a permanently lit and decorated four-foot tree made entirely of pinecones. He could take it out of its crate and display it. No fuss. No muss.¬† It was perfect for him and I was thrilled to have custody of all the old Christmas treasures. Each ornament told a story, and every year, I would take them out and reminisce. Some were beautiful and others – the Santa face that my brother and I used to argue over whose year it was to hang it; the ratty opaque glass balls that we’d decorated with glitter long ago; Rudolph, whose nose had lost its glow over the years – had grown tired and faded over the years. Their beauty was definitely in the memories.

One year, after we’d decorated the tree, I was on the other side of the house and heard a terrible¬†CRASH. We’d just moved our china and crystal into a new china cabinet. I was certain one of the shelves had given way and I would see all my dishes in pieces all over the tile floor.

Not so. It was the tree.

The best we can figure out is that my cat had tried to climb the tree and in the process knocked it over. All of my childhood ornaments were broken beyond repair. As I stood there digesting the enormity of the mishap, I found myself wishing that it had been the china. That could’ve been replaced, but not the faded old ornaments. But then I had this moment of complete clarity: I could either come totally undone or I could clean up the mess, right the tree and move on.

While it made me sad to lose those pieces, I decided to seize the moment to make a fresh start. We went out and purchased new ornaments to fill in the holes left by the ones we lost and continued to add to the collection over the years. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were making new memories of our own. Every year we continue to pick out ornaments that represent something significant that happened in the past year. The year we moved into our new house, it was a key-shaped ornament with the date. This year it was musical notes to represent a significant musical accomplishment our daughter achieved. As we were decorating the tree earlier this month, I found myself reminiscing about the memories attached to the newer ornaments. They were no longer “replacements,” they had earned their place on our “family tree.”

Do you have any longstanding traditions or special ornaments that mean a lot to you? Or have you had to improvise and create new traditions for yourself and/or your family?


CELEBRATION’S FAMILY, book five in Nancy’s Celebrations, Inc. Special Edition mini-series will be available in February 2014.

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16 Responses to Making Christmas Memories

  1. N; Hugs on losing those childhood ornaments that must have been hard. But I really love the way you moved on and created new memories with your ornaments. :)

    Like you, we purchase ornaments throughout the year if we visit someplace special so we can always remember it.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Sandi in OH says:

    I can understand your despair of losing your childhood ornaments. Our tree has a few of my childhood ornaments, ornaments the boys made in school, friends have given us, from our grandchildren and from our travels. We traveled to South Dakota and found our one and only Ohio ornament. We have ornaments from the five lighthouses of SC, Garden of the Gods, National Zoo, Disney World. We travel a lot now that we are retired. We almost have more ornaments than space on the tree.

  3. Joanna Sims says:

    Hi Nancy,

    This was a lovely post. My mom, who was not as sentimental as I, decided it was time to clean out the attic. I was away at college, but when I came home for the holiday break, I discovered that all of the holiday decorations I had held so dear in my childhood were gone. In their place was a tiny shelf Christmas tree covered in little red velvet bows and simple white lights. I was devastated.
    But, later, I realized that Mom had taught me a valuable lesson about letting go of the past and looking to the future. I hope you have a Merry Christmas!


  4. amy o'neal says:

    the only thing we’ve always done was. the family comes down to the house about 9am we unwrap presents then have a Christmas breakfast :)

  5. Michelle Major says:

    Hi Nancy – I can imagine what you felt looking at those broken ornaments but what a lovely new tradition to buy ornaments that represented your year. Decorating the tree is one of my favorite parts of the holidays mostly because of re-visiting memories with the ornaments. We all have our favorites. And the tree is one my hubby and I bought when we were first married – way too small for our current space and years worth of ornaments but I can’t seem to make myself get a new one since that skinny tree has been with us from the beginning! Have a fabulous Christmas!!

  6. Dyan says:

    Hugs to you and thumbs up for such a positive response! Merry Christmas to you!!!

  7. linda s says:

    Letting go can be so hard. After living 15 years in the same house, when we moved overseas we had to reduce our worldly goods to 15 packing boxes, airline size for two adults and two kids. The treasures were stored in a small storage locker. It was agony but eventually I realized how little I missed all the stuff. And I had room to buy new stuff. ;-) Merry Christmas.

  8. Oh, Nancy. So sad to lose all those old treasures. But you’re right. You’ll have new ones. And the story itself is a treasure, a lesson in letting go. Beautiful. I buy–or maybe someone gives me–one new ornament yearly now. And it is fun to hang each one on the tree and remember the year and the place–even the moment that I got it.

  9. Jan Jackson says:

    Love this story, Nancy. My grandmother always used to say, “no great loss without some small gain”. Grannies are usually right, and you turned your loss into a big gain!
    My grandmother is gone now, but her wisdom lives on, and I used one of her roasting pans to cook my rib roast in today. That’s our Christmas tradition. I started it 25 years ago. We call it the ‘roast beast like in the Grinch! LOL! And I must make my famous fudge every year. It’s been a great day and another year of memories. Merry Christmas!

  10. Jane Squires says:

    Right in the front of my memory tree is the ornament Christina Rimmer sent me and I have loved looking at it all season. All my ornaments are keepsakes but I lost some once when we moved from Arizona to Ill. My husband dropped box – I was physically ill after a miscarriage. He felt so bad. I told him they were memories – the memories would still be there – just not the ornaments. People are more important than things. This year I have enjoyed looking at pictures of my niece making sugar cookies with her 10 year old and remembering when she made sugar cookies with me around 4 years up. She is using my Grandma’s (Her Great Grandma’ s recipe). So there are ways to keep things alive.

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