We have two trees each Christmas. The first I call my perfect tree. It’s the stately, real tree that fills our big front window. It is adorned with green, and red, and silver balls. I meticulously place its white lights. I carefully place each silver icicle. Red strands of beads drape the green branches. An angel sits at the top, perfectly perched. The twinkly lights make the whole room glow with Christmas spirit. The smell of a pine forest fills our loft, and I can’t help but just breathe it in. It’s beautiful and, well, perfect.
But it will never mean as much as my memory tree.
My memory tree is small. It sits downstairs in our family room. It is artificial. Quite puny. It fits in the tiny space next to our fireplace and has some bent and misshapen branches. But it is filled with memories. Its ornaments are not perfect – but they are OURS. They are our memories.
We put on Christmas music and decorate it slowly. As we do, we remember the places, people, and events that have made us who we are as a family. We put up a rocket ornament from our trip to the Kennedy Space Center and a panda bear from our adventure to China. A moose reminds us of Yellowstone, and a tugboat ornament takes us right back to all the rides we’ve had on Grandpa’s tugboat. We hang ornaments from when Mom and Dad were kids and tell our own children what is what like to be their age at Christmastime. We put up a Nutcracker to remember the years our daughters have danced in that ballet. We hang music note ornaments and think of the many piano and violin recitals we’ve cheered for each other in. We hang a silver heart with our wedding date on it and tell about the day we became a family. We put up homemade ornaments the kids make each year with their names and dates in their little handwriting. We dangle small ornaments that commemorate the births of each of our children, and a tiny glass heart that reminds us of our sweet, stillborn baby girl. All of what has made us who we are has somehow found a place on our memory tree. And when we decorate it, swapping stories and sharing memories, it can’t help but bring all the warmest feelings of Christmas right in with it.
No, my perfect tree could never take the place of my memory tree.
How To Make Your Own Memory Tree
1. Start by collecting an ornament on every vacation and significant outing you go on. Our kids are always on the lookout for our “vacation ornament” on every trip we go on. Finding the ornament has become a fun tradition in itself, kind of like a scavenger hunt.
2. Think about the things you do all the time – the sports teams, music lessons, and other activities that make up your lives, and get an ornament to represent them.
3. Collect things that are meaningful to your family. Be aware of the things happening in your family that you never want to forget, and find or make an ornament to represent them.
4. Your tree can’t be built in a day, or even a year. I am lucky – my family had a tree like this as I grew up, and when I got married my mom started my collection with ornaments from my own childhood. If you are just starting your memory tree, you may just have a miniature tabletop tree and a few ornaments. But it will grow and grow with each passing year.
6. As you decorate, share each memory. Tell stories. Take time to listen to each other. Let the tree become a visual reminder of who you are as a family.
7. The first night the tree is set up, let the kids sleep out by the Christmas tree. There’s nothing quite like the magic of a twinkling, glowing Christmas memory tree.
We have many, many traditions, but our memory tree is my favorite. Do you have any Christmas traditions your family loves?