17 Wonderful Reader Stories About Unique Holiday Heirlooms - Atlas Obscura

17 Wonderful Reader Stories About Unique Holiday Heirlooms

‘Tis the season for emotionally significant decorations.

What does your most beloved holiday decoration look like?
What does your most beloved holiday decoration look like? JD Hancock/CC BY 2.0

Many of the best holiday decorations are ultimately more like artifacts, cheerful objects that are passed down within families and accumulate sentimental attachment with each passing year. Recently we asked Atlas Obscura readers to show us their personal holiday heirlooms, and the spirit of the season was in full force in every response.

You sent us stories about all sorts of magical trinkets and heart-warming ornaments, each one doing its part to help make your holidays special. Among them were Christmas lanterns, a hanukiah made from welded coins, and a… Sasquatch. For those still looking to get into the spirit of the season, you’ll find some of our favorite submissions below. Oh, and happy holidays!

Joan Winslow/Used with Permission

Christmas Lantern Ornament

“This lantern ornament once lit up. It belonged to my mother’s grandmother, and has survived multiple moves, for over a century. It joins all the other glass ornaments I inherited from the elderly women in my Detroit neighborhood growing up, from all over Europe. It is history on a Christmas tree with a Shiva on top.” — Joan Winslow, Salt Lake City, Utah


Nitza/Used with Permission

Heirloom Hanukiah

“The hanukiah is made of old silver coins from various countries, some going back to the 18th century. The story is that in the village in Poland, near the Ukraine border, members of the congregation supported the rabbi by giving him money. Sometimes the rabbi would bless a few coins and return them to the donor. Since blessed coins were special, they were saved. Eventually, looking for a way to display them, the crafting of the hanukiah was commissioned. In the 1950s, when oil was replaced by candles, the hanukiah started to come apart. We think the flames were too hot. Whenever a repair was attempted, the solder would melt and it would fall apart even more because the silver conducted the heat. In the 1990s we found a jeweler who knew the ‘cold solder’ method required to repair it. By then, some of the coins had been lost. The jeweler used his own coin for a foot, so that the hanukiah would stand. The coin is from Uruguay.” — Nitza, Connecticut


Valerie Gotaskie/Used with Permission

Grandfather’s Crèche

“My grandfather made a crèche, which our German-American family always called a ‘crib,’ in 1935. He made it from discarded orange crates (roof and floor) and rods used to ship tires, and added electric bulbs to illuminate it. My mother was in kindergarten at the time and was so thrilled that she went to school and told all the nuns, who, of course, roped my grandfather into making one for the convent. She treasured it for her whole life in Kansas City, Missouri, and before she died, she passed it on to me. We decorate at the beginning of Advent, but we only put the figure of Jesus in on Christmas Eve. I have a picture of me putting the figure in every year throughout my childhood, and have carried on the tradition with my daughter.” — Valerie Gotaskie, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Amy Dahn/Used with Permission

Dad’s Christmas Village

“Before my dad passed away in 1997, he made a small holiday village using balsa wood for both my sister and me. He added a snow blanket and small items like snow-covered evergreen trees, small street lights, and an ice skating pond with a bridge over it. It is my most cherished holiday item. It wouldn’t feel like Christmas without it. I am planning on handing it down to one of my children, who have always enjoyed it. It makes me feel close to my father at the holidays!” — Amy Dahn, Aurora, Illinois


Blair Frodelius/Used with Permission

Homemade Advent Tree

“My wife and I made this from scratch for one of our first Christmases together. She designed it, and we both cut it out and assembled it. Everything is made from wood, and hand painted by both of us. We used this for many years in our first house, when we had six kids growing up. After a decade, almost all of the kids knew which picture would be shown each day.” — Blair Frodelius, Syracuse, New York


Carol Hyman/Used with Permission

My Moose Menorah

“It was made by an artist out of an old Chevy pickup hood.” — Carol Hyman, Baltimore, Maryland


David Elms/Used with Permission

Christmas Tree Angel

“This porcelain doll was first put on top of a Christmas tree for my grandfather’s first birthday in 1901. She has had several outfits over the ages, and this one since 1974. Five generations have now enjoyed Christmas with her overview.” — David Elms, Newmarket, Ontario


Elisabeth Vitouch/Used with Permission

Self-Stitched Advent Calendar

“I started to make this calendar 45 years ago, when my eldest son was 2 years old, waiting for Christmas to come. Now I use it for my grandchildren!” — Elisabeth Vitouch, Vienna, Austria


Linda Hubbard/Used with Permission

Ceramic Christmas Tree

“My wonderful mother-in-law at the time, Frances, made and gave me the tree in the early 1970s. Her son and I weren’t married long but there was a grandson, and Frances and I stayed close throughout the rest of her life. The tree is the first to come out of the garage, first out of the box, and always takes its place in the living room where its lights are reflected in the window. It would not be Christmas without it!” — Linda Hubbard, Menlo Park, California


Lori Gibbs/Used with Permission

Christmas Spinner

“This spinner ornament had to hang above a lightbulb so the heat would make it spin. My mom said that it was Christmas magic that made it spin when I was little. It’s from the early ’60s. — Lori Gibbs


Luke Phillips/Used with Permission

Sasquatch Statue

“Once, as my dad and I were driving from Columbus, Ohio, back to the D.C. area, we passed a big outdoor statue shop in the middle of rural Ohio. Finding a three-foot-or-so Sasquatch statue, we bought it and brought it home as a gag. The next Christmas, we put it in our family’s almost-life-sized glowing nativity scene, inside the manger and right behind Baby Jesus’s cradle, there to watch over Our Lord and Savior and protect him from the prying Romans just as Chewbacca protected Han Solo in a galaxy far, far away. There’s no particular reason we do this. Perhaps it is a mere testament to my family’s absurdist sense of humor surrounding issues of tradition and modernity. I like to think that while Balthasar, Melchoir, and Caspar traveled from Ethiopia and India and Persia to bring Jesus frankincense, myrrh, and gold, Sasquatch also saw the bright star and trekked from Cascadia, across continents and oceans, to bring Baby Jesus a gift of cedar-smoked salmon from the Pacific Northwest, and we merely do homage to that. In any case, though the statue itself does not look like a Christmas heirloom, we contextualize it into one every year.” — Luke Phillips, Northern Virginia


Mike Whittaker/Used with Permission

Raccoon Jingle Bell Ornament

“It’s something that I’ve had since I was a child. We stopped getting ornaments as presents fairly young, so I’ve had the same ones for almost 30 years.” — Mike Whittaker, Pottstown, Pennsylvania


Michelle Kirby/Used with Permission

Little Angel Ornament

“This little angel belonged to my grandmother and I remember it in her tree every year when I was growing up. It’s a little piece of my grandma that I get to have for the holiday.” — Michelle Kirby, Coos Bay, Oregon


Nancy Helman/Used with Permission

A Two-Foot, Handmade Star of David

“My father and uncle made it in our basement in 1958. Both of them had no clue as to what they were doing, judging by the wonderful cussing back and forth to each other. I remember it clearly, as they were having so much fun putting this together. I’m so blessed to have the star, and the precious memories each year. By the way, it still has the same faulty electrical wiring, that I refuse to change out.” — Nancy Helman, Santa Fe, New Mexico


Regina Dunn/Used with Permission

A Small, Satin Christmas Tree Ornament

“My husband saw it laying in a muddy ditch when we were walking in Puerto Natales, Chile. He picked it up and washed it off. It had a few dents in it and the ribbon on it was damaged. But, in spite of its flaws, it had a charm to it and we kept it. Because we found it together in a very cool place, and it became a special ornament to us. We put it on our Bodhisattva statue each Christmas season to celebrate the beauty in simplicity.” — Regina Dunn, DeLand, Florida


Suzan Lowitz/Used with Permission

1946 Hanukkah Prayer Book and Menorah

“My parents had a Hanukkah children’s prayer book from 1946, and a lovely menorah, probably from the same era. My brother and I still use them.” — Suzan Lowitz, Los Angeles, California


Valerie Henderson/Used with Permission

Embroidered Felt Christmas Ornaments

“My mother made these in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I learned to embroider very young, and always enjoyed it. I still have some of my favorite and most challenging projects. My mother did many handcrafts including sewing, knitting, crochet, and embroidery throughout my life. These handmade decorations are well crafted, colorful, and various classic shapes. My mother passed away in 2017 at the age of 86.” — Valerie Henderson, Salinas, California

If you have a story of your own holiday heirloom to share, head over to our community forums and tell us about it!

Responses have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.