When I was a baby, my mother started what I think is a really cool holiday tradition. We had lots of family ornaments for the Christmas tree, but each year she purchased one special ornament for each of us kids that would be ours and ours alone. It was usually elaborate and in some way either uniquely conceived of or made. She did this yearly until we were each twenty-one and when we left home to start our own, those ornaments went with us.

The only problem is for so many years my ornaments were hung alongside my brother's that I now have a paired association in my brain. Whenever I put mine up each year, I frantically start looking for a certain piece, certain that it's been lost or destroyed by squirrels in our attic, only to realize that the one I'm thinking of was not, in fact, MY ornament and is probably now at this moment hanging safely and serenely on my brother's tree... because it was HIS -- and there are no squirrels where he lives.

When The Dormouse reached her first Christmas, I decided it was a lovely tradition and one I would continue with my own children. I gave myself the added stressor of not only finding the perfect unique ornament, but also attempting to find an ornament that held some significance or was in some representative of the child that year. Apparently, I don't have enough stress around the holidays and must therefore manufacture some.

So now I spend not just the holiday season picking through shelf after shelf of ornaments, but the entire year as well... because you never know when you're going to find the Perfect Ornament That Was Smiled Upon By Angels and you shouldn't assume that it will not be in the next store you walk into just because it's July. And then you would need to buy it, hide it away somewhere because you're too lazy to put it up in the attic where all the other ornaments are stored and you forget about it. Then you buy five more Perfect Ornaments That Were Smiled Upon By Angels that you come across in the following five months because you forgot you already bought one and when December finally comes you cannot for the life of you decide which of the six ornaments you have will be THE ornament and then you keep them all and continually get them confused even though your child is only four and there aren't that many ornaments to remember. Or is that just me? KayforgetIsaidanything.
And don't think it's a solution to write it down either because pieces of paper get lost and/or eaten by squirrels in the attic.
I now know why my mother stopped the tradition when we reached our twenties. I imagine by the time my girls are in their teens I'll have to tattoo a list of what belongs to whom and in what year on the inside of my thigh.

After scouring stores' after holiday bins since last January, and finally turning to my old standby, Personal Shopper Google, I am pleased to announce I have indeed found the perfect ornaments this year.

This is The Dormouse's:

This is "The Dormouse" for several reasons. She is currently obsessed with fairies and dressing like a fairy; she recently cut her hair short similar to the style depicted here; and in the past six weeks I have heard enough requests for candy come out of her mouth to make me want to stick a fork in my ear just to drown out all sentences that begin with "MommacanI....". I'm sure The Dormouse would not at all mind having a lollipop permanently affixed to her right hand.

And this is The Caterpillar's:

I think you can guess why.

We also enjoy driving around and finding the tackiest and most overdone of all Christmas displays known to man. There are some good ones in this area and Forced Family Time in the car is great because the phone doesn't ring and I cannot no one can open the door and jump out. One year the Baltimore Sun published a driving map of the best privately owned houses with wry commentary about each. I was in heaven.

We often participate in some way for this one (although I still say it can't hold a candle to this one). One year The KingofHearts and I were Mary and Joseph in the live nativity. There were plastic Wise Men, plastic donkeys, plastic sheep, plastic shepherds, plastic camel, and a plastic baby Jesus, but a live Mary and Joseph. I still haven't figured that one out. But I'll wager anyone with a finsky that it was the only (semi-)live nativity any one's ever seen where Joseph puts his cold hands on Mary's neck as a joke and she elbows him in the stomach... all while doing their best to look angelic and happy. Man, it was cold as a witch's.... elbow... that night.

Another longstanding family tradition started one year when my father refurbished an old electric train set he had when he was a boy and gave it to my brother for Christmas. I loved to set up the train to run around the Christmas tree each year. We reinstated that tradition this year and neither The Dormouse nor The KingofHearts could be more pleased.

There was considerable time spent getting the train running again but The KingofHearts was up to the task despite the constant, "I'm so excited to see the train! Did you fix it yet? Is it working yet? How about now? Now? ... Now?" from The Dormouse.

There are, obviously, no directions for the putting together of a more than fifty year old train set and it'd been a long time since I'd even seen it. I did not remember enough to be a very helpful accomplice so there was a lot of trial an error in the form of "What does this do? Does this go here? Beats me." It was a little like our honeymoon [rimshot]. The KoH had to put a new cord on the power supply (squirrels... attic... you know the drill) but once he got that taken care of, all it needed was a good cleaning and he was like... well a kid with a new train set. Or was it a grown man with an old train set?

We also have some traditions that are new to the Wonderland Family. I love these ornaments that I made for The KingofHearts' and my first Christmas together and I insist every year that every single one of them be on the tree somewhere. They were cheap and required about one ounce of thought and creativity, not to mention fifteen minutes' assembly time, but they are still my favorite and I think they look way classier than any $10 bill could purchase now. If I could, I'd get two trees every year and decorate one entirely with these ornaments, white lights and nothing else.

My favorite tradition that we've created together comes from A Christmas Story. Every Christmas Day, we eat out. We have only two rules about this: It must be Chinese food and it must be someplace we've not been to before. It's a good thing we live in the Washington area because we might have to do quite a bit of driving if we lived in, say rural North Dakota or something. There are a lot of good reasons for going to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day. I do not have to cook. There is nothing else open. Someone else cleans up my dirty dishes. There is seldom a wait in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day. No cooking. Usually there's no Christmas Muzak in a Chinese restaurant. Did I mention I don't have to cook? And the cleaning up of the dishes?

We often have the entire place to ourselves and we've discovered some of our favorite places to eat by driving around and pointing to tiny hole-in-the-wall establishments and getting all Brigham Young-y about it: "Is this the place? No. There? No. How about there? Have we been there? Yes? OK, then drive on!"

I know that there are more traditional traditions out there. They don't really appeal to me. What I like are the serendipitous happenings that become tradition simply because they happened and we enjoyed them. That's what I strive for and that's what I'll remember.

That's the cool thing about traditions. They get to be exactly what you want them to be.