How one P.E.I. woman is keeping her loved ones close with a 'family tree' this Christmas

·3 min read
Coleen Kelly has been making the ornaments for around 30 years. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News - image credit)
Coleen Kelly has been making the ornaments for around 30 years. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News - image credit)

It's certainly not as large as the famous Rockefeller tree in New York City but it's every bit as magical.

With just enough charm to take your breath away, what it lacks in enormity it makes up for in memories.

"This ornament is one of my husband and I, and it was actually the first photo that we ever had taken together, which is kind of neat," said Coleen Kelly.

"It was in a photo booth."

Her tree is filled with photos — roughly 75 of them. And while the old saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words," looking at the seven-foot tree, one could argue each image is worth of a lot more.

"It all began probably 25 to 30 years ago when I first started deciding that I wanted to make something special and unique for family for Christmas gifts," she said.

Handmade ornaments

So Kelly started creating ornaments — each with a special photo inside. They're pictures of parents, siblings, spouses, nieces, nephews, and friends.

"Some of my older ones may not be on the tree just because they're more delicate but most of the ones on this tree are probably 25-plus years old."

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News

Including one very special ornament near the top of the tree, just under the star.

"It's one of my sisters-in-law who unfortunately passed away the year we were building our home," she said, pointing to a picture of two women beaming with crowns that read "Happy New Year."

"So of course, that is kind of always up near the top of our tree, and anyway, it certainly means a lot."

'They really enjoy the tree'

This isn't the only Christmas tree in the Kelly household — but it is particularly cherished.

"It's one of the first things that go up at Christmas time and it means a lot for sure because it's the photos of people that we care about."

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News

Visitors and strangers alike tend to be fascinated by what is essentially a large photo album.

Last Christmas, Kelly created a Facebook group to help bring people and ideas together during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent post of her tree left several members in awe.

"A lot of people feel the same way I do … that it's such a unique idea," she said. "They really enjoy the tree as well."

Growing tradition

Kelly is still making the ornaments. She also — as originally intended — gives them out as gifts.

"My nephew who ... has been hosting us for Christmas the last few years, when we go to his place, the ornaments I've made for them have been dispersed through their trees," she said.

"That means a lot."

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News

A neighbour has picked up on the tradition too.

"I think it's fabulous," said Kelly.

"I try to get together with friends around the holidays for crafting and that sort of idea ... she'll be the one each year who will say, you know, let's get together and make more of the ornaments."

Looking at the tree, Kelly smiles.

"It just makes me think of what Christmas is all about," she said.

"I enjoy getting together with family, with friends, with the whole idea of decorating, because I enjoy it and all that goes along with Christmas."

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