I have a box in my basement that warns my children not to put anything on top of it under penalty of death. And I am serious. Inside that plastic tub are my most cherished holiday memories. They are irreplaceable, and I will lose my ever-loving mind if anything happens to them. Everything in that box is a reminder of a happy time in my life. I live to open it every year at Christmas time.
You see, inside of that box are the gifts and ornaments that adorn my memory tree. Some are presents from our engagement and wedding. There are ornaments from family vacations and weekend getaways. We always grab an ornament when we visit a new place. But my most favorite memories are those that my children have made. Those are the things that are the most valuable both in my hands and my heart.
My memory tree started as a small pencil tree. I began it when my two oldest boys were young and started bringing home hand-made gifts for me. As my children and my family grew, so did the size of the tree. Now it is full-sized and has all four of my kids represented. There are pictures from their first Christmases and those from each year in school. I have a favorite glass ball decorated with my son’s fingerprints and there is one that made a Santa from his tiny little hand. Looking at this tree year after year gives me a chance to relive those innocent times.
Because my oldest is 13, there are a lot of ornaments on that tree that represent him. I have things that date back to his first Christmas when I dressed him in a precious Santa suit to show off his chubby chin and elfish grin. I still remember that day. He didn’t love that hat at seven months old, but somehow we tricked him into keeping it on, if only for a quick snap. He made me a special candy cane when he was in preschool that I carefully place on a branch each year. It warms my heart.
The Christmases that are filled with wonder and magic and true belief in Christmas miracles are so fleeting. Before you know if you have a kid asking for AirPods for Christmas instead of searching for your Elf On The Shelf. That little guy who gave you a beautiful homemade snowflake with his picture proudly displayed front and center will only be little so long. This tree is a way to preserve that time.
Eventually my children will stop making me ornaments for my tree, and that makes me sad. The oldest is in 8th grade and I highly doubt he is going into his high school years with scissors and a glue stick creating something special for his mommy. But I do still have a kindergartner, so I have a few years of arts and crafts to look forward to. And she is a girl who loves to do art, so maybe it will linger on a bit longer.
My mother inspired my memory tree. She has one in her family room that has magic dating back to the ’70s and an ornament I made in 1982 when I was just three years old. It is in pristine condition. She keeps things that way, and I try to copy that kind of care. You would never know that some of these treasures are more than 40 years old. There are Cabbage Patch Kids and Smurfs, handmade angels, and a family favorite of me in a Girl Scout uniform with the most ridiculous look on my face. My brothers have decided to fight over who will get that one in the will and testament.
I love to look at that tree because it brings me back to some of the most wonderful times of my life. Is there anything better than being a kid and presenting someone with something that you put all of your heart and soul into creating? I don’t think so. And the fact that my mother has held on to four children’s worth of memories for so many years is truly part of the Christmas magic at her house. My brothers and I are so lucky that she prioritized these keepsakes. It is equally as neat for our kids to be able to get a glimpse into what our little world was like oh so many years ago.
Right now, my tree makes my children beam with pride as they look at the beautiful gifts that they have made me. They aren’t old enough to appreciate that these ornaments and decorations are representative of their life as little kids. But one day, I hope that they will look back and remember these times fondly. As I do every year.
After my kids go to sleep during the Christmas season, I have been known to turn off all of the lights and gaze at my tree’s rainbow twinkling bulbs and have a good cry. It isn’t sad, it is thankful. I am beyond blessed to have the family that I do. My memory tree is a product of that love. It is proof positive that they care about me enough to use their little fingers to create something special. They can’t possibly understand how much that means to me.
We all have special memories of the holidays. My favorite way to remember is to display it for anyone who visits my home during the festive season. People love to look at my children’s crafted ornaments and to hear about why there is an ornament from this place or that. My tree is telling the story of our family, from engagement through fifteen years of marriage and counting.
It is not the kind of tree that you will find in a magazine or department store. My neighbors may not care about the NYC taxi cab or a Mickey Mouse 2018 ornament, but to me, it brings all of the Christmas magic. I hope that my children will continue to contribute lovingly to its branches for many years. But even when that homemade magic comes to an end, I will be able to gaze in the quiet darkness with the snow falling outside and step back in time to when life was truly the best.