Travel Traditions: Christmas Ornaments

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With Thanksgiving officially over, it’s time to decorate for Christmas! I was all for putting up our Christmas tree as soon as possible, but Jordan convinced me we should wait and keep our christmas ornaments stored until after Thanksgiving. No skipping holidays in this house! That, and the fact we spent the previous two weeks in the United States, there was no reason to decorate early. 

Last year, we bought all of our Christmas decorations new. I had initially convinced myself we didn’t need a Christmas tree at all, but being in the second lockdown and forced to stay at home changed my mind. We decked out our tree in gold, silver, and navy (see our Christmas tree last year here!). For this year, we have it easy. All we needed to do was take everything out of storage. But after decorating, I ended up putting most of our ornaments back in storage.

two red stockings with a gray background
Our stockings were hung on the mantle (entertainment console) with care

A few times on the blog, I’ve mentioned how Jordan and I collect Christmas ornaments from most places we travel. Some cities are more Christmas ornament friendly than others. In other cities, we sometimes find ourselves desperate and are forced to get creative. We often settle for keychains, trinkets, and even bracelets that we can make into ornaments. 

I only have a few requirements for my Christmas ornament standards.

  1. It was made locally, if possible.
  2. Not too fragile. I wouldn’t want it to get smashed in our luggage while traveling home!
  3. It has to either have the name of the place we visited or be unique enough we remember where we purchased it.
  4. Not too tacky. Not too touristy. Something that doesn’t scream, “I bought this in a cheap souvenir shop!” or “Even though I’m buying this in Portugal, it’s still made in China.” You get it.

With borders open for the second half of the year, Jordan and I often traveled, which meant a growing collection of Christmas ornaments for our tree. So this year, I decided to only decorate our tree with the ornaments we’ve purchased from our travels. I thought I would share our Christmas ornaments with you and their origins, as I have not written about many of our trips. 

Bruges, Belgium

Christmas ornament Brugge Belgium

Believe it or not, the store in Bruges did not advertise this as an ornament. It’s actually a suncatcher! It’s a wooden cutout of the cityscape with crushed amber pieces to reflect the light. It can reflect the Christmas lights on our tree instead.

Normandy, France

travel christmas ornaments cricket normandy
travel christmas ornaments red rememberance poppy normandy france
travel christmas ornaments etretat france

Jordan and I visited Normandy in July for a long weekend after Bastille Day. I haven’t written about Normandy, and I’m not sure that I will. We visited the D-Day beaches, Etretat, and Mont Saint-Michel. It was an emotional trip and hauntingly beautiful. While our Etretat ornament doesn’t fit my requirements (it’s just a keychain), our two other ornaments have more meaning.

The first ornament is a clicker, used by Allied troops in WW2 to covertly identify friend from foe. The second ornament is a red poppy, a symbol of remembrance to commemorate those soldiers who died in the war.

Reims, France

christmas ornament champagne cork bought while traveling reims france

Jordan and I spent a wonderful weekend with friends in the Champagne region of France. On one of those days, we took an all-day tour to two smaller champagne houses. We received an unused champagne cork as a keepsake while learning all about wine at the Gardet champagne houseAnd you know we turned that into an ornament!

Svalbard and Norway

christmas ornament bought while traveling svalbard norway
christmas ornament bought while traveling norway

This trip was from August 2020, but still one of my favorites. The first ornament was locally painted by someone who lived on Svalbard and reminded us of when we saw a polar bear in real life! The second ornament was a small trinket we converted into an ornament as it listed the majority of places we visited on our two-week trip throughout Norway.

Monaco

christmas ornament bought while traveling monaco

We visited Monaco for a weekend during one of our trips to the French Riviera this summer. Don’t be fooled; the bell has no specific meaning to Monaco. But it had the country name written on it and was pretty unique. This ornament meets 3 out of 4 of my requirements.

Lisbon, Portugal

christmas ornament bought while traveling lisbon portugal
christmas ornament bought while traveling lisbon portugal

Ah, Lisbon, how I loved this city. The city’s yellow trams are iconic throughout its narrow and windy streets. We couldn’t find any ornaments with the yellow tram, so we repurposed a trinket into an ornament. And you would never know the difference. We also went against our requirements and bought an extremely touristy ornament, but I still love it.

Mallorca

christmas ornament bought while traveling mallorca lizard bright colors

Jordan and I visited Mallorca for a much-needed rest and reset this summer. We spent a few days relaxing by the pool, taking walks on the beach, and treating ourselves to some downtime. This ornament is a magnet, and we never even saw a lizard. In this scenario, is an “ok” ornament better than no ornament at all? The pickings were slim!

Briançon, France

wooden ornament from Briancon France

We visited (and fell in love with) Briançon last fall. We purchased the locally-made ornament at a small shop on the main street. The store is special to us because it was one of the first times we felt confident having an organic conversation in French with strangers. 

Vienna, Austria

We visited Vienna for a weekend with a friend earlier this fall. I would like to think this ornament was locally painted or made, but I’m not so sure. Either way, it’s adorable!

Athens, Greece

silver bangle laurel leaves ancient greek goddess crown christmas ornament

Look closely for this one. With its laurel leaves in the shape of an ancient greek crown, one store originally advertised this as a bracelet. We couldn’t find any ornaments elsewhere in Athens and got creative. I think it looks pretty good as an ornament, don’t you?

Maldives

I guess it makes sense that a beach destination wouldn’t have a lot of options, considering the only thing on the island was our hotel. Luckily, there was a large shop at the airport to buy souvenirs. But there were zero Christmas ornaments, not even one! We deconstructed this keychain and turned it into two ornaments. The keychains said they were hand-carved locally. These are both meaningful to us as we had the opportunity to swim next to a whale shark and scuba dive with multiple sea turtles.

Prague, Czechia

locally made wooden ornament bought while traveling prague

This teeny-tiny ornament was locally made and sold at an artisan shop with other hand-made products. We visited Prague earlier this fall with a friend. I’ve had our Prague post completed for a couple of weeks now, but I’m trying to get one of Jordan’s photos uploaded before I share it out.

Brussels, Belgium

christmas ornament bought while traveling brussels belgium

Our Brussels ornament should be a container of french fries, but we will settle for this converted magnet.

Moustiers Sainte-Marie, France

Front Side
Back Side

Jordan and I had the most awesome weekend with friends over the summer near the Verdon Gorge in France. An adventure hike mentally and physically pushed us to new limits and left us with a euphoric feeling. I promise I will write about this one – it’s too good to skip. This ornament comes from the tiny town of Moustiers Sainte-Marie. The shop said it locally made it, but it’s no coincidence I’ve seen similar ornaments at other shops throughout France. Maybe someone locally made it in France, but not at the specific pottery shop. 

Disneyland Paris

red disneyland paris ornament

We visited Disneyland Paris in October with my parents (yes, they could finally come to visit!). This ornament was the only one of its kind in the store, and I found it haphazardly abandoned in a coffee mug. It’s special to us because my parents visited Disney World for their honeymoon and could visit Disneyland Paris almost precisely 40 years later for their wedding anniversary.

Nice, France

nice france iconic blue chair

If you’ve been to Nice, you know about their iconic blue chairs that are synonymous with the city. We visited Nice this summer during one of our stays in the French Riviera. These blue chairs are all over the boardwalk and enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. This chair ornament was originally a trinket we converted. But better than any other option we saw, which were no options at all!

Switzerland

swiss switzerland red fondue pot christmas ornament

Jordan and I have visited Switzerland a few times, but we didn’t purchase this ornament. I think we may have an ornament from our first trip in 2019 safety tucked away in storage. Our friend, Tanner, bought us this ornament while he traveled throughout Switzerland solo during the week. It was such a thoughtful gift and one of the prettiest ornaments on the tree. This reminds us not only of our trips to Switzerland, but also our friend’s stay with us in France. Jordan got the chance to make him homemade fondue at the house!

Stockholm, Sweden

sweden christmas ornament

Jordan and I met up with friends in Stockholm earlier this summer. Yes, another place I need to write about. We bought this ornament at a typical souvenir shop, but it looks homemade, right? It’s one of my favorite ornaments – I love the pattern!

Florence, Italy

florence italy christmas ornament red and yellow fleur-de-lis

On the same trip with my parents to Disneyland Paris, we spent a few days in Florence. I visited Florence with my sister a handful of years ago and fell in love with the city. I was so excited to bring my parents there! One of Florence’s key symbols is the fleur-de-lis. With an ornament shop conveniently next to our hotel, this one was a no-brainer.

We aren’t lucky enough to find ornaments from all the places we’ve visited. Some cities have zero options (looking at you, Barcelona), or I can’t even force something to work. In other cities, like many we have visited in France, we don’t even look for ornaments. We will probably buy a France ornament at the end of our expat assignment and say, “yeah, we were there.”

While our tree is a little barer, it’s full of cherished memories. Every time I look at the tree, I reminisce on all the good times we had together and with friends.

Our 2021 Christmas tree
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