Ornament purchased in Palm Springs a few weeks ago.
Madelyn and I always look for the exact same souvenir, no matter where we are in the world, and no matter what time of year. We are perpetually on the hunt for unique, place-specific Christmas ornaments.
Christmas ornaments make the perfect souvenirs, because every year when we pull them out of storage and lovingly unwrap them, we are reminded of the place and time when we purchased each one. It's like unwrapping lots of little time capsules that transport us back to each trip. The ornaments trigger memories and we talk about the things we did on our travels while we decorate the tree.
A hand-painted coconut shell showing the Bio-Luminescent Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico; a teepee from the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona; a hand-carved gourd from Roatan, Honduras; a blown glass tree from Venice, Italy; a wood carving from Sanibel Island, Florida; a painted glass orb from Paris, France
Christmas ornaments are surprisingly easy to find, even in the summer. Nearly every souvenir shop or museum store carries them. However, since we like to support local artists, we always try to find hand-crafted pieces. Even in small towns, we usually succeed. The coconut shell and gourd above were both found at roadside stands, the others in hotel lobbies or museum shops. Purchasing pieces made by locals makes them even more special to us, as we can then also reminisce about the people from whom we bought them.
A tin heart from Santa Fe, New Mexico; a hula girl from Kauai, Hawaii; an angel carved from conch shell from the Bahamas
Sometimes we find beautiful, locally made ornaments without the location included. In those cases, such as the pink tin heart above, we simply write the place on the back with Sharpie. If it's possible to do so without damaging an ornament, I also try to write the year someplace inconspicuous.
Other times, it seems appropriate to just go with a mass-produced, souvenir shop item such as the kitschy hula girl above. We just knew she had to hang on our tree, even if she was made in China.
A terra-cotta bulb from Ensenada, Mexico; a ceramic bell from Sorrento, Italy; a terra-cotta bulb from Costa Maya, Mexico
Madelyn finds the hunt for the perfect ornament a fun part of traveling to each new place. And seeing them all again once each year really helps us remember and appreciate our trips. One of her favorites is the orange bell above from a store called La Campanella (the bell store!) in Sorrento, Italy, which we just stumbled upon accidentally. Our name means "bell" in Italian, so she thought it was really cool to have a store "named after us," chock full of bells. She spent a long time picking out the perfect little bell (which actually wasn't an ornament, until I affixed some yarn).
I like collecting ornaments because they actually have a purpose, unlike so many other souvenirs. They can also be displayed and enjoyed for a few weeks, without cluttering up the house the rest of the year. So when Madelyn wants that little Eiffel Tower statue or cable car keychain, I can say, "no - let's find an ornament instead," and she happily agrees.
We are already excited about what treasures for our tree we might uncover this summer in France!
Jennifer and Madelyn