The "dinosaur photos" are the most treasured decorations in Erinn Danielson's family. The tradition started in 1997 when her 4-year-old cousin Drew refused to smile for any Christmas photos, preferring to make "T. rex fingers" and growl at the camera. After coaxing failed, the family made a deal: Everyone would make dinosaur faces in one photo, if Drew would smile for the next one. Drew outgrew his dinosaur phase, but the tradition continues every Christmas Eve. No presents are opened until the dinosaur photo is taken.


On Dec. 14, 1977, Julie Halvorson, then 18, gave birth to a baby girl -- and gave her up for adoption. That Christmas, Julie's mother gave her an ornament, a little girl kneeling in prayer inside a wreath. Every Christmas since, Julie hangs that ornament in a special spot, a reminder of her daughter. Now married with three sons, Julie met her daughter nine years ago and attended her wedding in Colorado. Last year, Julie found an identical ornament online and sent it to her daughter, with the story of why it was so special.


After Traci Kubisiak bought her first house and needed Christmas decorations, her grandpa told her about an upcoming estate sale with lots of holiday decor. When Traci arrived, she found a tree for $5. The "catch" was that the buyer had to take all the decorations along with it. Traci jumped at the bargain, but soon discovered that the ornaments were, well, odd. This straw one makes everyone laugh, she said. It's always the first one on her tree because it reminds her of her grandpa, who died several years ago, and his sense of humor.


Kate Halverson's Norwegian grandfather loved Christmas and was in charge of decorating the family home. In 1918, shortly before his first shared Christmas with his new bride, he met an elderly woman in St. Paul who made yarn dolls representing different nationalities. He could afford only two, so he bought them, a pair at a time, for at least a dozen years until he had a "United Nations." Kate displays them on her tree and cherishes them for their workmanship and diversity.



Back in the 1950s, Ann Templin's mother started knitting Christmas stockings for family members, using a kit that came with yarn, beads, ribbons and bells. Now 90, she's made more than 50 stockings in the same pattern and is working on two more this year for the two newest members of the family. She never made one for herself, Ann said. So as the oldest of her three daughters and the only one who could knit, Ann made one for her mother. This year, she's creating a photo book about "The Stocking," and vows to keep the tradition going when her mother is no longer able to knit.


When Susan Lloyd and her family lived in Austria for a year, they learned about the custom of hanging a "lucky mushroom" on the tree. They brought one back to the United States, but their Springer spaniel pulled it off and destroyed it. "We were all sad," she said, so she combed stores looking for a replacement, without success. Then on Christmas Eve, the family opened a small box. Their son, Stephen, had made a papier mâché mushroom as a surprise, to restore the family's luck. "It's been on the tree for more than 25 years and always brings smiles," Susan said.


In 1948, twin sisters Sandra, left, and Susan Merriman, then 12 and living in Clear Lake, Iowa, posed for a photo while decorating their Christmas tree. Both moved to the Twin Cities, married and each raised four children. Forty years later, in St. Paul, Sandra Bjorndahl and Susan Torgerson re-created the pose for another keepsake photo. "We are now 75 years young and living in White Bear Lake," Sandra writes. "We need to take another picture."


In the early 1920s, Patricia Jung's grandfather made a "log" cabin, using a wooden evaporated milk box for a base and nailing small twigs to it for siding and trim. Originally it was a doll house for Patricia's mother, but after she outgrew dolls, it became a Nativity scene. Patricia remembers playing with it every year when she was a child, and after her mother passed it on to her, her children did the same. "Now our grandchildren look forward to it each and every year," she writes.


Back in the early 1900s, long before Department 56 introduced its Christmas villages, Debbie Anthony's family started creating their own, using boxes layered in steps under white sheets or quilt batting, with mirrors for skating rinks. Debbie has practiced this tradition in her own home for 34 years. The photo shows her Grandma Martin with her village from 1968.


It's been 45 Christmases since a fifth-grader named Kenny presented Ruth Anfinson Bures with a handmade bell ornament. She was his student music teacher at the time, and her student teaching had not been a happy experience. "The supervisor didn't think much of my teaching skills and said so," Ruth recalled. "I even began to doubt them myself." But Kenny's gift gave her hope that she might be able to reach children and share the joy of music. Now "mostly retired from a lifetime of, yes, teaching music, I remain deeply grateful for his gift, remembering how it inspired me and hoping someone somewhere loves, performs or appreciates music more because of my teaching."