The World on a Christmas Tree

A simple travel tradition has created a special Christmas family ritual.  
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A decade long trinket collection from the writer’s trips around the world, has found a spot on the family’s Christmas tree decor. Photo by: Yanlev/Shutterstock

About a decade ago, my husband, Luis, and I took a lot of last-minute spontaneous trips. We were based in the U.K and weekends, bank holidays or last-minute flight deals saw us making trips across the country or to mainland Europe. We saw the opera in Verona, did a pilgrimage of Mozart’s house in Salzburg, and were awed by the grandeur of the Alhambra.

Everywhere we went, Luis would bring back a little trinket “for the tree.”

This was a tradition going back to the time when he started travelling as a young doctor in the 1990s and early 2000s in Goa. Temple bells from Nepal, a red tasselled good-luck charm from Hong Kong’s street market, a mini-Eiffel tower from Paris, and tiny porcelain Delft shoes from Holland.

The thoughtfully chosen treecharms—as I call them—from our travels together soon joined his pile. From Brussels, we brought home a tiny “Manneken Pis,” a reminder of that irreverent statue of a naked boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. The original statue (now in the Museum of the City of Brussels) dates back to 1618 or 1619. The current statue is a replica and to me, a sign of a city’s sense of humour. The little boy dons several costumes, festive and otherwise, through the year and you never know what he might be wearing when you visit.

From Singapore, we have an unlikely trinket. A visit to the Asian Civilization Museum left us entranced. Its themed galleries on trade, shipwrecks, religions, and Christian art hold a fascinating collection of artefacts. Our visit coincided with an exhibition on Port Cities and being from Goa and Mumbai, we wanted to learn more. A souvenir from the exhibition was a baggage tag asking “Where do you come from?” In this intensely globalised and shrinking world, ‘home’ could be anywhere.

The World on a Christmas Tree

The writer’s treecharms include temple bells from Nepal, a red tasselled good-luck charm from Hong Kong’s street market, a mini-Eiffel tower from Paris, and tiny porcelain Delft shoes from Holland. Photos by: Chryselle D’Silva Dias

In 2006, we took a trip to Venice and a day trip to Murano was the highlight. The beautiful houses on the water leave Instagrammer’s panting, but what really is fascinating is the art of making hand-blown glass objects. Long before we married, Luis took a solo trip to Venice and Murano where he picked up a delicate bunch of glass grapes. The little round marbles of frosted and clear glass glow in the light on our Christmas tree reminding us always of the golden light on the island, filtering through all the glass.

Most recently, we have been exploring India and charms from home have been added to our tree. From Spiti valley, Luis came back with a woven tassel made by the women part of Shen, an initiative raises funds for snow leopard conservation and supplements the livelihood of locals. From Fort Kochi, we brought back a Kathakali dancer to remind us of the evening we watched the dancers convey a million emotions with just a raised eyebrow. With our busy lives (and a child), we no longer have the luxury of just setting off on a whim, but when we do travel, we always return with a tangible memory that adorns our tree.  Every Christmas, it’s exciting to open that shoe box and unveil these memories. “Remember this?” we say excitedly, sharing incidents and anecdotes. My almost 10-year-old son is an eager audience to our stories, some of which he features in as well now. He doesn’t have a favourite story yet, but I hope that this becomes one of the traditions that he takes up as he grows.

Our tree is not like the perfect ones I admire on Pinterest, but it is full of cherished reminders of fun times and special places.

  • Chryselle D'Silva Dias is a freelance writer based in Goa who loves discovering everyday things in new places. She loves cities but also longs for green open spaces. Her favorite travel spots have good vegetarian food, decent public transport and excellent bookshops.

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