Almost everyone I know collects tomes from their travels; my best friend has nabbed thimbles since she was a kid, and brother has a colourful array of shot glasses, also amassed, in an unsurprising foreshadow, since he was a kid.
Much to my parents’ chagrin, I had a habit of collecting shells from all the beaches we spent our March Break weeks on. Once, in Sarasota, I brought a perfect, shiny conch shell back to the condo. The next day, we realized that not only did it stink, but there was still a live animal inside. I was totally excited. My parents were totally pissed. They humoured me and let me keep it in the freezer (questionable, but I feel as though I was relentlessly devoted to keeping my new prize), and smartly – and legally – refused to let me bring it on the plane home. I hope they took it back to the ocean and set it free, but a) I doubt it, and b) would it have even survived my attempts to extract it from its shell and plunge it into sub-zero temperatures? Doubtful.
Needless to say, after that, and years of bringing back plastic bags full of shells and sand (apparently this was totally kosher back in the early 90s), my parents essentially told me, “Ça suffit!”, collect something else. Fine. But what? There were a few indecisive years where I collected nothing more than postcards, photographs, memories, and some horrifically fluorescent over-sized clothing, but nothing I could attribute to a ‘collection’, per se.
The summer before I turned the big, so-grown-up thirteen, my family hit up a cruise to Alaska, and it was set to be the coolest place (ha, not literally) I’d ever been. Please remember that this was in 1997, and thus waaaaay before everyone and their dog had done an Alaskan cruise. It was totally unique and special, trust. So, in the middle of Ketchikan (or maybe Skagway), I turned to my mum and told her that I absolutely had to start a new souvenir collection in Alaska, because it was imperative that I had an item from there. Yes, I used the word imperative. Not.
So we considered the various options in the souvenir store: I didn’t want to collect keychains (I was twelve, I didn’t even have any keys), or spoons (boring), or thimbles (that was my friend’s thing), or magnets (my mum invested in an unmagnetic fridge the minute they were invented), and when I suggested shot glasses, she gave me a disapproving glare with a hint of terror at my potential impending alcoholism (regardless of the fact that by the time my brother was that age, he’d already collected a few boozy souvenirs). Anyway, we persisted through the store and found these adorable little plasticine-ish, cartoon-like angels that were Christmas tree ornaments.
Done. It was perfect, and I’ve been collecting Christmas tree ornaments ever since. Once again, my mother’s wisdom prevailed, and I’m so thankful I was smart enough to listen to her and ditch the boozy idea. The Alaska ornament is still my favourite, and I was totally heartbroken for about four years when I thought it, and the original ten or so ornaments, were missing (I found them this year as we were packing up the Christmas decorations and was so excited you’d have thought I’d found a box of Cadbury Creme Eggs).
I’ve got a host of other favourites, including ones my mum and best friend, the thimble collector, have given me, and can’t help but adore my little Santa bear clutching the Eiffel Tower, my little wooden viking Santa from Reykjavik, and my wooden pull-y Mozart doll from Vienna. I have managed to source some pretty awesome ornaments over the last fourteen years, and particularly love ones that are less ‘souvenir-y’ and more representative of the destination.
But you know the best thing about collecting Christmas tree ornaments? I have an excuse, every year, to get them out, use them all, and admire them for weeks, before putting them away again for another eleven months. It’s great – I never feel guilty that I’m storing random dust-collecting bits and bobs, and I know that I will always use and appreciate my tokens. Also, every Christmas, when it’s freezing and snowy, I get the chance to travel the world and escape the chaos, just a little.
What do you collect? Don’t say passport stamps, because, silly, we all do! I also started to collect destination stickers to cover my battered Heys carry-on, and am totally addicted to that too.