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Christmas Traditions – Heirlooms

on December 13, 2012


What  springs to mind when you hear the word “heirloom”?  (Other than the fact that it’s one of those words that is terrifyingly easy to misspell.)  In some ways it seems to be implied that an heirloom is something that has monetary value.  Part of an “estate”. That implies money – right??  I was curious so I went to good old Merriam-Webster this morning. The second definition listed was:

Something of special value handed on from one generation to another.

“Special Value”.  Now that’s a horse of a different color.  (Does anyone else have the song from “The Wizard of Oz” going through their head now too?) I may value something that has very little monetary worth and probably looks meaningless to others.  I do in fact put high value in some things no one else would.  In my cutlery drawer I have a serving spoon that belonged to each of my grandmothers and each of my husband’s grandmothers.  Weird?  Maybe.  I can tell you, however,  that every time I pull one of those spoons out and use it I think about whichever lady it belonged to.  I think about the food they made and the meals we shared.  That is valuable to me. The memories. I realized today that the things I have in my house to celebrate Christmas are really no different.  None of them are expensive or grand but many of them hold a great value to me because they once belonged to someone else.  To me they are heirlooms.

I think I have mentioned before that my maternal grandmother loved Christmas.  She holly-ed and jolly-ed around for weeks.  Her entire house was decorated every year.  From her stash of Christmas decorations one of the things I received is this:

heirloom6(Isn’t it 70’s-licious?)  My grandmother’s twin sister made this for her and my grandmother had it displayed in her kitchen every year.  I can remember her getting it down one Christmas Eve and having me help her put cookies for Santa on the plate.  After I got it,  we used it as the special plate to leave cookies for Santa every year until we ran out of “Santa-believers” in our house.  Now it sits atop my china cabinet and waits for grandchildren who will need to leave out cookies on that special night.  It may just be a gift made in a ceramics class and given from one sister to another but to me it’s an heirloom.

The next one comes from my paternal grandmother.  She also loved Christmas, she was just a bit more subdued about it.  Because we were her only grandchildren and we lived on the same farm we spent a lot of time with her.  A lot of time. When I think of Christmases with this grandma I remember feeling “homey” and cozy. Her home was like our home.  One of the things I got from her Christmas collection was this:


(More ceramics!  They must have been popular during my grandparents “era”.)  This grandma made almost everything she used. I don’t know when she made this plate,  I just know she made it.  I remember it sitting out every year at Christmas and her using it to serve food on Christmas Day.  It sits in my china cabinet (the one that used to belong to the same grandmother) and makes me feel homey.  I don’t often use it to serve food because I am afraid it will get ruined.  It’s getting up there in age you know.  Then I realized Grandma would want it to be put to good use so I use it for things I know can’t hurt it.  Like crackers. Would it fetch much on E bay?  No, but to me it’s an heirloom.

I was so blessed to have had the opportunity to have relationships with my husband’s grandmothers also.  In fact they stepped in and “grandmothered” me for several years after my own grandmas passed away.  These women, though I spent fewer Christmases with them, also give me warm memories and I’ve acquired some heirlooms from them as well.

From my husband’s maternal grandmother this decoration joined our collection:


I’m not even sure where she got it but I found it in a box full of train memorabilia that my mother-in-law gave to my husband.  I snatched it up before my kids could.  You see, this grandmother loved trains because her father worked for the railroad.  She had lots and lots of trains in her home.  One of the reasons my family loves the movie “The Polar Express” is because we know Grandma would have loved it. (Unfortunately it came out the year after she passed away.)  This cute little  train sits on our piano every year and makes me smile.  It may not have cost whomever gave it to her  a lot to buy it,  but it has turned into an heirloom for my family.

My other Grandmother-in-law is the one who was with us the longest and just passed away two years ago this fall.  She was a sweet woman who loved spending time with her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.  She was also a collector.  One of the things I have that belonged to her is this:


She loved music boxes and snow globes. This is both and I love it.  I  have added it to my growing collection of nativities which overtakes the top shelf of my china cabinet every year.  That is where my special nativities are placed and this one is special.   Much like the my other grandma-in-law, I have no idea who gave this to her but I feel blessed that I have it.  I think of her and her sweet steady faith every time I see it.  It wouldn’t have fetched much at her estate sale but it is priceless to me.  An heirloom.

I scored a brand new heirloom this year.  While at my parents-in-law’s home for “Saturday Thanksgiving” my mother-in-law asked us to go through some things she no longer wants or uses and see if we wanted them or could use them.  Because we are downsizing for our upcoming move I wasn’t expecting to take anything until she pulled out a box marked “Grandma Lee’s Nativity”.  It belonged to my husband’s great-grandmother. I of course never met this grandmother but my husband has fond memories of going to visit her and his great-grandpa when they shared a room in the nursing home.  He has told me some of those memories.  I double checked with my mother-in-law to make sure that she meant to pull that out to give away.  She did. This year my heirloom collection expanded when I snatched up that box, brought it home and arranged my newest treasure with my other nativities.

heirloom4Again this may have not cost a lot when it was first purchased but it is a family heirloom to us.  Something passed on through my husband’s family. Something that holds special value.

I guess value depends on how you look at things.  While I have a tendency to like the most expensive variety of something when I am shopping, the things I own which are most valuable to me are the things that are probably worth the least monetarily.  They are priceless to me because of the people they represent. I’d much rather have my heirlooms based on relationships than price tags because when all is said and done the “stuff” is just “stuff”. It’s the people in our lives that give us the most happiness.  I hope that have passed this feeling on to my own children.  I know that I’ve told them all the stories behind each heirloom in our home.  They seem to listen.  I think I have.

They are already bickering over who gets what after I die. 


Because today is “Heirloom Day” today’s mugs are heirlooms….to me anyway.

heirloom1This set of mugs belonged to my maternal grandmother and my mother, knowing my love of all things mugs, gave them to me after my grandfather passed away and grandma was moved to an Alzheimer’s unit.  As I’ve mentioned grandma loved all things Christmas.  She also loved all things Hallmark (probably because my uncle works at corp headquarters for them) and these are Hallmark Christmas mugs. BONUS!  Though the saying is a bit “overused” now it was brand new at the time.  She loved it.  Though she was all about Santa and fun she was also all about celebrating the birth of her Savior.   These mugs represent a time before my grandmother got sick and forgot she loved Christmas. They remind me of how she was when I was little.  I remember her buying these mugs and loving them.  She bought two so that my grandpa would have one when they had their morning “coffee break” together every day. I smile every time I use one of these mugs.  I smile bigger when my husband uses the other one at the same time.  I love not only the woman but the relationship that they represent to me.


6 responses to “Christmas Traditions – Heirlooms

  1. Mrs H says:

    I know what you mean re objects w value because they retain / call back memories of people and times we love. we have a totally kitsch 6 inch high Santa, all glitz and silliness. my parents gave it to us as a joke while we lived in Australia, and now I love bringing it out each year to bring back the memories of that time and my dad.

    • wedelmom says:

      Exactly what I’m talking about. We have a singing santa in our family room that I’ve only allowed to remain in my house because it was a funny gift from a good friend long ago. That’s the good stuff isn’t it?

  2. Janelle says:

    I have many such treasures, special because of their stories. Thanks for sharing yours!

  3. These are great heirlooms! I know exactly what you mean! I think I’ve told you before how I use my grandma’s pyrex mixing bowls when I cook and it reminds me of her! The most fought after object when my mom is willing to part with it is going to be an old soda bottle! She has used the same one for over 40 years when making her angel food cakes…she puts the pan on it when it is cooling! I’m sure it has no monetary value or very little but we all love her angel food cakes so much so it will be a great reminder!

    • wedelmom says:

      I knew you would understand my spoon collection. 😉 It’s the little things that trigger some of the best memories.
      Fight hard for that pop bottle. It’s hard to find ANY glass bottle for an angel food cake any more. I’ve contemplated buying the little “stand” thing they sell now but couldn’t make myself do it.

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