Holiday Episodic Memories


Holiday Episodic Memories

We started getting into the holiday spirit at our house this weekend by decorating and putting up our Christmas tree. My kids love going through the totes of decorations and reminding themselves about all the stuff they haven’t seen for the past year. Decorating the tree is a great time because each of the kids has their own ornament box with their special ornaments in it. My husband and I decided to carry on a tradition in my family where we buy each child an ornament each year so by the time they grow up and leave home they have a collection of meaningful ornaments for their own tree. Some of their ornaments are gifts they have received from other people or decorations they have made in school. One of my favorite moments of the year is sitting in the living room with holiday music on and opening up those boxes. The kids excitedly open each one and talk about where they got or who gave it to them, and then find a special spot for it on the tree.

Every year at Christmastime I am reminded of the power and magic of episodic memories. There are so many elements of the season that trigger memories of the past – the taste of Christmas cookies, the smell of fresh pine, the decorations, the sounds of holiday music. All of those things bring floods of memories of holidays past, of the people who are dear to us, and the special moments and traditions that bind us together as families. Here are a few ideas for making memories this holiday season:
• Purchase or make an ornament together for your tree (or a decoration for your home). At the end of the season pack it away with a little note about when and where you got it / made it. Then when you get ready to decorate next year you can review the memory of your experience together.
• Make some cookies together and take time decorating them. Take pictures of your favorite ones for a scrapbook page, or review the experience when eating them over the next few days.
• Build anticipation by making a Count-down Chain. Make a paper chain with the number of links equal to the number of days left until Christmas day, New Year’s day, or whatever day is important for you. Each day you can take a moment to tear off one of the links together and share your anticipation of the special day getting closer.
• One of my favorite Christmas books is called The Sweet Smell of Christmas, by Patricia Scarry. We had this book while I was growing up and we would read it all the time during the holiday season. The book has scratch-and-sniff stickers throughout so you can smell different things on each page while you read the text. I had forgotten about that book until a couple of years ago I found it at a small bookstore in the area. When I opened it up and began smelling the stickers I was immediately brought back to my childhood – the scents were amazingly familiar and it brought back all kinds of warm memories of the holidays with my family. I know read this book with my own children and it has created all kinds of great memories for them as well. If you can find this book somewhere I highly recommend it!

I hope these ideas get you thinking about ways to encode meaningful memories this holiday season. If you have some memory-making ideas or stories you’d like to share please leave a comment – we want to hear from you!

Happy memory making,


  • December 5, 2007


    One of my favorite memories of Christmas as a child is piling into the cab of the truck (which had two bucket seats and a small wooden bench in between – my mom and dad sat in the seats, I sat on the wooden bench and my sister sat on my mom’s lap – illegal now I know) and drive over an hour to Hudsonville to search for that perfect tree! Every third year we not only had to find our own tree, but had to find the perfect tree for my grandparents as well so we could meet up with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins on a Sunday afternoon before Christmas to decorate their tree too. That was always the busiest weekend of the Christmas season as we always went in search of that perfect tree on the same day as the Christmas Parade in Middleville which we were all in. So we would come home strip off all of our parade clothes, have lunch and bundle up for the tree hunt. Then come home wait for mom and dad to get the tree up and the lights on and then just like you we each got a special ornament each year that we hung on the tree first. Each year as I decorate my own tree I think of this fun adventure and think it might be fun to try that again someday!


  • Marni
    December 5, 2007

    A couple of things seem to have become part of our traditional celebration over the last few years. 1) Music: A few years ago, the girls received a Chanukah CD and now love to listen to it each year, and 2) A public menorah lighting that our synagogue puts on at one particular mall here each year complete with traditional foods, music and entertainment. The girls look forward to going each year. There is another celebration each year Sat. night, but this conflicts with the hockey game, so….

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