As a December baby, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. My family would go pick out a tree on the evening of my birthday, then we’d spend all night decorating it, listening to carols, drinking hot cocoa and reminiscing over Christmases past.

This year, my husband Tucker and I are spending our first Christmas in our first house, just blocks from the house I came home to 26 years ago on a frigid December night.

As always, we picked out a real tree. Because we’ve lived in apartments and always traveled for the holidays until this year, we don’t have many ornaments, making the ones we do have extra special.

Starting with a base of white lights – not the LED ones – we carefully unwrap the ornaments that we’ve collected over the years, a variety of handmade and vintage, some personalized with special dates or collected on trips.

We have a few bread dough ornaments that have been passed down to us from my in-laws. The tradition of bread dough figurines, or masapán, originated in Calderón in Ecuador. The women of Ecuador have been making dough art for generations as a holiday tradition, and it’s spread throughout the world. In my husband’s family, they personalize them for special occasions – a birth, a wedding – or for a favorite hobby.

This year, my mom gave me all my ornaments I made as a kid at school: me with a shaving cream Santa beard, the year I cut my own bangs, and plenty of glitter glue.

We’ve collected ornaments from a Christmas market in Quebec, an island off the coast of Mexico, a mission trip to the Czech Republic, a snowy trip to Vermont, and look forward to collecting so many more in the years ahead.

Finally, after the initial shedding of needles has finished, we wrap the base of the tree in a quilted skirt handmade by Tucker’s Auntie Ann. She gifted it to us for our wedding, and we moved to New York the next day. So far from home, adjusting to married life and new jobs in a new town, decorating with such personal gifts was incredibly comforting.

I haven’t found the perfect tree topper yet, that one piece that steals the show. Growing up, my mom had an angel tree topper, which I always thought looked like her. My sister and I were always super careful when placing it on top of the tree because we knew how much it meant to her. One year for Halloween, my mom made me a crown for a Glenda the Good Witch costume out of the box her angel came in, and I felt really special. Someday I hope to come across a tree topper that is just as cherished.

As we enter this holiday season, I’m feeling nostalgic for all the ways life has changed recently. Mostly, I’m feeling thankful for my family, my community, and being back home in Kansas City.