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The ornament swap

I was in my senior year of college when my older sister made the recommendation, and I couldn’t have been more relieved.

“Let’s me, you and brother do ornament swaps for Christmas. What do you think?”

I’m pretty sure the text message I sent her back included some profanity and that was that.

It’s not that we don’t love each other or care for one another. Our decision to focus only on ornaments formed out of our inability to stay connected as well as we would like and, if I’m honest, it was our confrontation with the fact that we didn’t have a solid foundation or understanding of what the hell one another truly liked and none of us wanted to waste the precious little funds we had on another polyester scarf or sadistically scented bottle of lotion that the other sibling would let gather dust. We at least knew each other that well.

Ornaments bring back memories of times past.
Ornaments bring back memories of times past.

I’m 34 now, which means we’ve been ornament swapping for 15 years now (oh GAWD I just looked at that number in the face). We’ve been through at least nine states and have collectively added six kiddos and numerous fur babies into the mix since we started. Every time I pull out our holiday decorations, I start salivating like my cat who hasn’t been fed since the day before: I just can’t wait to see what’s inside each carefully wrapped ball of cloth-soft newspaper. Each one brings back memories and the story my brother or sister jotted down in the card when they sent it.

“What’s this one from?” my oldest asks, holding up a delicate gold square the shape of Montana.

“That one is from Auntie Lacie and it’s the first one she got me, so I never forget my roots,” I said.

“S-I-S-T…Mama what’s this letter??” my youngest asks.

“That’s an E. That spells??” I prompt them.

“SISTERS!” My oldest shouts.

You don’t need me to tell you ornaments tell stories and bring families together, especially when your favorite people are far apart.

This year, more than ever, is a perfect year to enjoy your ornament-swapping tradition or if you don’t have one, to gather some friends or family members from far off places and start one.

Ornaments, I learned from a quick internet search (we publishers don’t have much time), have different meanings. Birds reflect happiness and joy while houses symbolize shelter and protection. A rabbit symbolizes peace with nature and an acorn – the current favorite obsession in the Windsor household – represents the gift of life or good luck.

And best of all, they’re carried by your favorite local Main Street boutique, bookstore and bakery (maybe that’s a stretch, but I’m going to head to every bakery to find out!). There’s no better way to support local businesses (the very ones that support your schools and nonprofits) and spread a little bit of Sonoma County holidays across the country…without the risk of COVID-19.

To get you started, here of some of the places I have found ornaments during my past five years here in Sonoma County:

Find Holiday trees decorated with ornaments you can purchase at your local gift stores throughout Sonoma County. These are at Galleria in Occidental.
Find Holiday trees decorated with ornaments you can purchase at your local gift stores throughout Sonoma County. These are at Galleria in Occidental.

• Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce (They have had wine goblets in the past, too!)

• My local Sebastopol Ace Hardware store

• Copperfield’s Bookstore

• The West County Holiday Craft Faire at the Sebastopol Grange

• All the shops in Duncans Mills, including Pig Alley

• Fabulous Women of Petaluma’s Festival of Trees

• Mr. Moon’s in Healdsburg

• The Dolphin Gift Shop, a little artist’s shop in Gualala on the North Coast

• The Gift Shop at the Tides in Bodega Bay

• Corrick’s Stationery, Gallery & Gifts in Santa Rosa (the largest selection you’ve ever seen!)

• Galleria in Occidental (and those amazing Santa statues!)

• Forestville Pharmacy in Forestville

What is your favorite place to buy ornaments – and more important, why?

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