I’ve never really been much of a shopper. When I travel, I enjoy looking around in shops and markets and seeing all the interesting and novel items on display, but I’ve never really felt a burning need to take any of it home. Part of this is practical; I don’t want to have to carry more than I have to and I don’t want to have to worry about fragile items in my bag for the rest of the trip. I’ve also never had a large house so I don’t have a lot of space to put all the things that I could bring home. And then there’s the cost factor. On many of my early trips I was travelling on a crazy tight budget of $35-50 per day, which didn’t leave a lot of money left over for trinkets and knick knacks.
I do have a few souvenirs of my early travels, though. There are some shelves in our living room with some small items that caught my eye over the years; carved wooden animals from Africa, a few Venetian glass ornaments, embroidery from Eastern Europe, a set of Russian nesting dolls, etc. But even that adds up. It’s a problem many travelers have; you want to bring home a little something to remind you of your trip, but your really don’t know what to do with it when you finally get it home.
Well, a few years back I noticed that some of the most practical souvenirs that I have brought home were a few Christmas tree ornaments that I’ve acquired over the years. Every year they’d come out when we put the tree up and I’d reminisce about the country where I bought them and lovingly find a spot on the tree for each one. Think about it; Christmas decorations are the one thing that you can bring out for a month or two of the year, then pack away until the next year knowing they won’t get forgotten or lost in the back of the storage room because there will always be another Christmas coming. I hadn’t really been making a point of collecting Christmas tree ornaments before now, but this last year I made a special point of looking for ornaments everywhere we went.
Here’s our collection for this year. The unicorn at the top is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; it’s from the famous Unicorn Tapestries featured in their Medieval Cloisters and one of our favourite pieces of art. On the left is a little shell and woven straw angel from Hawaii. It’s a little tacky in a 1950’s Tiki room sort of way, but so is a lot of Hawaii, so I fell in love with it when I saw it. Then we have a few things from our Epic Europe Adventure. There’s a painted glass ball from Siena with a scene from the Campo on it and a Murano glass gondola with Santa from Venice. It looks a bit silly, but the kids liked it. I also found a little ceramic ornament with a couple in traditional Croatian clothes under an umbrella in Dubrovnic and a lovely hanging globe in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I have no idea whether the Turkish ornament is supposed to be a Christmas tree ornament or not, but it’s the right size and shape and I have no idea what else you’d do with an ornament like that.
All these ornaments were very small and easy to carry home although I tried to wait until the end of each trip in order to minimize the time I’d have to worry about breaking the fragile ones. They were all quite reasonably priced as well, although my budget isn’t quite as tight as it used to be.
My Christmas tree would never make the pages of any design magazine or grace the home decor section of a department store. Instead of coordinating ornaments and trendy colour schemes it’s a mishmash of gift ornaments, childhood favourites, handmade preschool ornaments and other treasures. And now our year’s travels are up on the tree in ornaments for us to enjoy and remember. I’m looking forward to taking them out and putting them up every year, and to adding new ones as well. Hopefully its the start of a great new Christmas tradition.