How We Started a Christmas Ornament Tradition

I like to think that I’m a very logical, facts-based person. But the truth is that sometimes I can be very sentimental.

Christmas is definitely one of those times. I love the feeling of being with family and having our own traditions that make Christmas special for us.

One thing that makes Christmas special for me is having ornaments that hold special memories for us.

I love a beautiful, well-curated Christmas tree as much as anyone else, but when it comes to our tree in our own house, I’d much rather have it be filled with things that remind me of our family’s history.

That, to me, is much more beautiful than any perfect, storebought arrangement will ever be.

The importance of traditions

Holiday traditions are so, so important. Traditions help form the fabric of who we are as a family, a culture, and individuals.

  • They connect us with friends and family and make us feel like we belong.
  • They help us maintain and pass on our value systems.
  • They help us to remember and be thankful for the important parts of our history.

Our family memories, values, and sense of unity are important things my husband and I want to encourage in our children. That’s why traditions will always be a valuable part of how we celebrate holidays.

And our Christmas tree ornament tradition perfectly reflects our desire for the role of traditions in our home.

Our Christmas ornament tradition

On our first Christmas as a married couple in 2010, we decided to start a yearly Christmas ornament tradition. Neither of us had any tree ornaments of our own (though my mother later decided to surprise us with some she’d bought on clearance).

We wanted our tree to uniquely represent us, so we bought a handful of simple ornaments and then one ornament to represent the year that had just passed.

We decided this was going to be one of our Christmas traditions–each year we’d buy a unique ornament to help us remember where we’d been.

Thinking about what we’re going to buy is half the fun! That’s when we reflect on the year and what stood out to us both individually and as a family.

our first pick for our Christmas ornament tradition

Our first year, we bought a “J” ornament to represent our marriage–both our first names begin with J, and my husband’s last name (which I took when we married) also begins with J. We’ve continued the “J” names with our children, so it perfectly represented us and our family.

Our second year we completed our Masters degrees and bought an ornament from the university we graduated from.

Some other ornaments we’ve put on our tree:

  • a house for the first house we bought together
  • a key for the second house we bought
  • a teddy bear after our first miscarriage
  • a ball with our son’s birth stats (a gift from my husband’s parents)
  • a baby girl ornament for our daughter
Baby Bean--the third ornament in our Christmas ornament tradition.

How we decorate our tree

$40 Thrift-Store Tree!

We’re thrifty and got our tree at the local secondhand store. Growing up my family always had a real tree, so having an artificial tree has been a difficult adjustment for me.

But considering that we always got our trees for free (we’d cut it down in the woods behind our house), spending $40 on a tree we can use only once was a bit harder for me to swallow than spending $40 on one we could use over and over again.

First we wrap lights around the trunk. Years ago one of my husband’s coworkers told him putting the lights on this way makes it look like the tree is lit from the inside.

Trunk-tastic lighting

Next we wrap another string around the outside.


Then we hang the generic ornaments–the balls, angels, candy canes (I feel like it’s not a Christmas tree without candy canes), and any others.

Can't forget the ornaments!

And finally we put up the special family ornaments.

I love getting these ornaments out when it’s time to put them on the tree and finding a special place for each one. It gives us an opportunity to talk and remember together. And as our children get older, it’s also becoming our way of bringing them in to our family’s history.

It makes them feel like they’re a part of where they came from.

Other Christmas traditions

We have a few other things we do that make Christmas feel really special.

I grew up with stockings, so it doesn’t feel like Christmas for me without them.

We also have two nativity sets–as Christians, it’s important for us to remember why we’re celebrating Christmas. We have one that we put up in a decorative place where the kids can’t reach it.

I love having a mantle at Christmastime!

And we have a second, kid-friendly one that the kids can play with. We always put that one away with the Christmas decorations so that it feels like a special toy for them when Christmas rolls around.

I would also like to start something like Kim talks about at The Resourceful Mama. Her family’s Christmas ornament tradition is similar to ours–they get a unique ornament each year–but the ornaments are for the kids, not for the entire family.

I love this idea and think it would make a perfect complement to what we already do.

Each kid has his or her own collection of ornaments that celebrate that child’s special memories. And when they go away to make homes of their own, they’ll have a starting stash of ornaments to decorate their trees with.

She also mentions writing down the memories in a book. Right now ours are just stored in our heads, but I think writing them down would be a great way to make sure we don’t forget the memories connected with each of the ornaments.

Slowing down for Christmas

Sometimes Christmas can feel not-so-special because there’s so much frenzy and hustle and bustle. In our family we like to take the special things slowly so that we can all fully enjoy the experience.

That’s why we take our time remembering together over the ornaments as we put them on the tree.

On Christmas morning we all open our stockings before we have breakfast. (It takes the edge off the waiting for the little ones!)

Then, after breakfast we gather round to read the Christmas story from the Bible.

After we read the Christmas story, we open presents. But we don’t just open them all at once.

As we open presents, we all take turns (youngest to oldest–which means I’m always last, haha!) so that everyone can enjoy and appreciate everyone’s gifts together. I think this method of opening gifts helps make Christmas feel much more meaningful and unified.

What are your Christmas traditions?

How about you? Do you have special Christmas traditions? Special Christmas ornament traditions? Let me know in the comments below!

Our first year of marriage we decided to start a Christmas ornament tradition that would help to unify us as a family and help us remember our past. As our children are getting older, we're able to make them a part of it too, and it's been a wonderful way to make Christmas special for our family.

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The kitties (when they were still with us) enjoyed Christmas too–it meant warm fires in the fireplace.

Basking in the glow of a dwindling fire

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