Ever since my kids were born, I’ve bought them a new ornament every year to hang on our Christmas tree. From their “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament and on, I set out to carefully create a collection for my kids to take with them when they leave home and celebrate Christmas on their own. I can’t remember if I heard of this idea somewhere long ago or if it all just unfolded in a natural way, but this tradition is one that will bring both my kids lasting memories of their childhood years and perhaps some details they might forget if it were not for these ornaments.
Each ornament I buy for my son or my daughter depicts something special they experienced, learned, or loved that particular year of their lives. I now have a freshman and senior in high school, so their collections are a vast assortment of ornaments that reflect the many different ages and stages of their growth.
My son grew up loving sports and has an ornament for each one he’s played through the years, along with special ornaments that commemorate interests he’s developed, or activities he’s enjoyed. When our local park put in pickleball courts, it quickly became our favorite activity to do together. That year, I searched for a pickleball ornament to memorialize the countless games we’ve played during every free afternoon we had. The year he read through the Harry Potter series inspired his love for books, so he has an ornament of a stack of books to document this significant development.
My daughter’s ornaments reflect her years of dancing and swimming, her love for Disney Princesses, the ocean, and her growing desire to travel. The year she asked me to baptize her in the ocean on Easter Sunday during our vacation in Florida, will forever be our favorite memory, honored by a special ornament, too. Growing her faith and serving those in need became her greatest priorities, as she has since spent years actively involved in our church’s ministries and mission work in our community and beyond. One of her favorite ornaments isn’t one I gave her, but instead, it’s a gingerbread man she made with the guests at the homeless center where she spends most of her time. I can’t beat that.
Every Christmas, we unpack the boxes of ornaments for them to hang on our tree, reminiscing about what my kids used to love and the experiences they’ve had throughout their lives. They laugh at some of the older ornaments realizing how much they’ve changed and we talk about all the memories that come with each one. I don’t think they see how significant these ornaments are just yet, but I hope they will when they are grown and gone and have these trinkets to treasure for the rest of their lives.
When my kids celebrate their own Christmases away from home, I dream of them putting up their trees and hanging each of their ornaments, while remembering their younger years. I imagine them sharing these memories with their own families and continuing this tradition with their kids, too. This will be our family’s growing legacy, detailing our history through carefully collected ornaments for generations to come.
This year, I started my quest for my kids’ ornaments in Hobby Lobby, where I began looking down the rows of intricate hanging symbols to see if any of them were a good fit for either of my kids. I had a few tentative ideas, but sometimes I discover something even better than what I planned. I quickly found the perfect ornament for my son. A weightlifter. I was thrilled to see this ornament that depicted a man lifting a barbell full of weights. After turning 14 years old back in late January, this was the pivotal year my growing athlete was finally allowed to lift weights. He is learning how to do it the right way by his wrestling coaches in the weight room during his first high school training season.
I continued my search, wondering what I could find for my girl. I figured I wouldn’t buy anything for her at the store and I would have to order something special online, but what? There are so many emotions, so many milestones and memories that come during the final year before your child launches out into the world, it’s impossible to pick one particular part of this critical chapter of her story.
I thought of a diploma, for obvious reasons, but that was too, common. I wanted something extraordinary, something that would somehow grasp the significance of her last year at home, or better yet, something that symbolized the profound calling for her future. My senior will be going to a Christian college several states away to prepare for missionary work around the world as a global pastor.
I thought about searching for an ornament that might symbolize her first mission trip in early March to El Salvador, a long-time dream of hers that finally came true. But her trip ended too soon, as she was emergently rushed out of the country and back to the states when the pandemic hit. There is no ornament that could describe both the immense fulfillment she felt while serving and the intense grief that struck when she was forced to flee without saying goodbye to the village residents she’d grown to love. There’s no ornament to accurately represent the heavy weight of that experience and the fears of facing a pandemic as a 16-year-old child, frantically finding flights back home to a country completely shut down.
Perhaps I might find an ornament that expressed how proud I am of her incredible character, her amazing accomplishments, and her passionate heart, but what ornament can show all that? I wanted to honor her presence in our lives through all these years and the relentless joy her father and I have had in raising her. I wanted to document the enormity of it all that you simply can’t capture in an ornament. It only comes through 18 years of our day-to-day life, full of countless moments that offered me the opportunity to tell her these things, over and over again. I can only hope and pray that they are planted so firmly in her heart, she won’t need an ornament to remember.
Looking at the final row of ornaments, assuming hers would not be there, I almost turned to walk away but one quickly caught my eye. I knelt down to take it off its hook and hold it in my hand. Yes. This is the one. The one that says it all. And at that moment, my eyes welled up in tears as I realized the depth of the double meaning behind it.
I stared at the gorgeous globe with “Joy to The World!” written across it.
My eyes welled up in tears, astounded by the immensity of this truth. Seeing that globe and those fateful words brought everything to light. This is the year I must let my girl go out into the world and begin life on her own. She’ll take her ornaments and hang them on her own tree, and when she sees this last one, I hope she remembers our joy in raising her and the joy she truly brings to the world.
Oh, Joy to the World, indeed.