The Christmas Notebook: The Christmas tradition from a semi-nomadic family

Guest post by AmeliaJane

The “little orange notebook” of Christmas.
During this holiday season, with lots of Offbeat Homies out there getting ready for the winter, I was struck by the thought that many of you are probably getting ready to travel or spend the holidays someplace different than normal. And I thought of one of my family’s traditions that anyone can start, so I wanted to share it with you!

Every year around the end of November, my family starts decorating for Christmas. There are trees (yes treeS) and lights, ornaments and Santa figurines, but my favorite thing is a little orange spiral notebook. Let me explain…

When my parents were married, almost 36 years ago, my Dad had just enlisted in the Navy. As luck would have it, he got his first set of orders right at Christmas time. Unfortunately, this meant that every few years my family had to pick up and move across the country right at the height of the holiday season. Well, this did not sit well with my mother who worried about never being able to recall which location we were in each year, and thus the Christmas notebook was born!

My dad started to write down the date, location, and a few details about where and what we were doing each Christmas, and who we spent the holiday with. My mom took it even one step further. For every year in the notebook, we have a Christmas ornament with that year’s date on it (some came that way, some are hand written).

The result is that each year we all gather around an empty tree with cups of tea or hot chocolate and we go through, page by page, our family story. And the most wonderful thing is that we have all of our best and worst Christmas memories to share each year. From when my dad had to work, and he spent the night on the flight line singing Silent Night to his squadron mates over the walkie-talkies, to the year we all came down with food poisoning during a cross-country trip to my grandmothers.

Every year, every memory is read aloud and we laugh about the good and the bad and race to see who can find that year’s ornament in the many many boxes and hang it on the tree.

At the end of the night when we are finally done, our tree is decorated, not just with pretty bobbles, but with laughter and joy and the memories of all our different Christmases that we have spent in so many places and with so many friends both near and far.

It may have started as a way to keep track of our semi-nomadic life, but that little orange notebook has become one of the greatest parts of the holiday season for me.

What holiday traditions have YOU invented?

Comments on The Christmas Notebook: The Christmas tradition from a semi-nomadic family

  1. My MIL has a photo and list of everyone who has been at her house for passover every year. They are all in one album. It is fun to see the kids grow, and remember who the guests were in any given year.

  2. My father started a list when I was born, writing down descriptions of the ornaments I was given that year (all of the “Baby’s first…” ones). He did the same for my brother. Every year since then, he has gifted us each an ornament, dutifully writing it down on the list with the year. The original piece of paper is a much-folded scrap of letterhead from the job he had when I was born; the second is one of the many pads of green notepaper that my mother stockpiled beneath the phone in subsequent years. Somewhere between the two, the handwriting shifts from my father’s clean script to my clumsy childhood handwriting, which then morphs and grows, until (in more recent years) it winds up looking eerily similiar to his.

    The boy and I have our own place and our own tree now, covered with our combined ornament collections (he has at least one for each year as well), but my father still spends most of autumn searching for the perfect ornament gift. And I still dutifully add it to the list each year. I can’t open up that box of ornaments without taking a moment to pull out that worn list and thumb through it.

  3. I loooooove this! my family does something sort of similar. we are all spread out across the midwest and east coast, so we started mailing this scrapbook back and forth. each family unit decorates one page with whatever they want: letters, photos, etc, and we either mail it to each other or bring it with us when we visit.

  4. My favourite tradition that my parents started was that every Christmas morning, before we were allowed downstairs or ate or did anything, we took a picture of everyone who had spent the night on the stairs. We’ve got them dating back to when my older brothers were very young. It is awesome to look back and see how we’ve grown up each year, who has come in and out of lives, and remember those that have passed away. Last year was my first Christmas away from my family, and on my own with my husband and we took a picture on the stairs, it is a tradition I’m hoping to continue on with my family.

  5. I LOVE this tradition! It reminds me of a dear friend whose family owns a cabin and uses a “cabin guestbook” to do something very similar. Beginning in the 1920’s when her grandfather built the cabin, everyone who has stayed at the cabin has signed the guestbook and written a short description of their visit. All the children’s and grandchildren’s (and now great- and great-great-grandchildren’s) first trips are recorded in the guestbook. There’s a description of her sister’s wedding, which took place at the cabin. It’s a beautiful keepsake. Every time we visit, we pull out the old guestbooks (there are 4 of them now) and relive our favorite cabin trips.

    Long story short, I LOVE the idea of starting this tradition with a Christmas notebook. Similar to a guestbook, but recording memories of an event rather than a place.

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. One of my cousins was an avid journal writer (possibly still is, I don’t know), and maybe fifteen years ago or so he gave every household that attends our big family Christmas Eve gathering binders with copies of all his Christmas Eve entries since he was young. A few old gag gifts became running gags in the following years, after we’d all read about them and been reminded, or found out about the ones we were too young to have been in on the first time.

  7. We had a similar tradition, but without the book! No ornament on the tree didn’t have some story behind it, or wasn’t a gift from someone, or wasn’t made by one of us kids. I’ve lways loved that our family Christmas tree told the story of our family, and have tried to continue that idea with my husband and I’s tree. I like the idea of the book though!

    When I first had my own adult tree, it felt so lame coming from that tradition to just buy a bunch of ornaments. My mom sent me some of my childhood ones, but I needed more. So, I did an ornament exchange with my friends. I made ornaments for them, and they made ornaments for me. It was great! I totally recommend that as a way to fill out your first tree with a BUNCH of ornaments that still feel like they have personal meaning.

  8. Oh, this is JUST what I was looking for! My boyfriend is Navy, we are talking marriage, and his orders come in a Dec/Jan timeframe. Something as easy and small as this to move with each new home is just perfect. 🙂

    • I’m so happy for you! a bunch of my military friends (and my air force boyfriend and I) have adopted the tradition from my family. I hope this is as great a way to keep Christmas traditions for you and yours as it has been for my family and I! And good luck and Cograts on any orders you guys get soon!

  9. I love this tradition!! My family and I have a holiday (usually at Thanksgiving, but sometimes at Christmas) that the 9 “kids” of the family (now aged 15-25) take a picture together. It started when the 4 eldest of us were little (then aged 3-6) and we were playing on my grandmother’s stairs and sticking our heads through the 1′ by 2′ rectangular lattice work that looks into the living room. It was cute when we were small, but now it’s a game of Tetris. We’ve finally managed to convince them to let us just take a group picture in front of the stairs, instead of on/through them.

  10. What a cute story and a great idea! My grandparents kept a photo album called “Christmas Thru The Years” that had every Christmas card they sent– starting when they got married in the early 1940s and going up until I was a preteen in the late 1990s. My favorite thing to do at Christmas is look through it and watch as various family members appear in the card photos– my uncle in the 40s, my mom in the 50s, my aunt and dad get married into the family in the 70s, my sister and I are born in the 80s… I love it!

    This year, I’m giving my husband a version of this– I took the Christmas card from last year (the year we were married) and this year and put them in a new scrapbook for our little family. I’m looking forward to updating it every year until it’s as fat as the one my grandma made.

  11. This.
    This is fantastic.

    We have a three-yearly rotation of my family, my husbands family and “ourselves”, and as such, I have seriously struggled with Christmas “traditions”. We now have a nearly 2-year old, and I’m still floundering. But this? This could work. Add in a photo of who you spent your Christmas Day with, and it would be an awesome record for years to come.

  12. How lovely! My family had a similar tradition, as a child growing up my family would always add a couple ornaments to our collection so that each year decorating the tree ended up being a fun opportunity to reminisce.
    When hubby and I got married 13 years ago, our first Xmas was a little depressing because I didn’t have any of those neat old ornaments from my childhood. So I bought a bunch of cheap/throwaway ornaments (mostly those generic and highly-fragile cheap glass balls) and a couple nicer commemorative ones, and every year since then I do the same thing as my parents did growing up.
    Since my son was born in 2011, we buy two ornaments each year: one for my/hubby’s collection, and one to start my son’s collection. When the time comes for him to move out on his own, I plan to give him a box with his ornament collection in it so that his first Xmas on his own doesn’t start of with such a barren tree.

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