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Amid the e-cards and video visits, some things can never get digitized. In honour of the holidays, six Canadians from the design world offer up their most cherished holiday heirlooms – and why they come out year after year.

A glimpse into toyland

“This antique German music box has been in our family for more than 100 years. My great-great-grandfather bought it in the late 1890s at FAO Schwarz in New York and took it home to his children in Virginia. It has been has been passed down for several generations. When you turn the crank, all the dolls play with their toys to the tune of the German Christmas carol O du frohliche. It’s only brought out and played at Christmas. My favourite part is the doll that pushes the pram back and forth – and the beautiful little dolls’ clothes.” – Virginia Johnson, textile designer and artist

It’s the little things

“I don’t have a lot of physical heirlooms – my family lived humbly and we weren’t able to bring a lot of material things when we emigrated [from Iran]. We’ve kept our traditions close instead. My holiday heirloom is actually a family tradition: the adults would wrap sweets – candies and dried fruit and nuts – in little packages and hide them in the Christmas tree for the kids. It’s actually an ancient Armenian custom, tied to our Anatolian ancestry. Fruit is the primary decoration on Armenian Christmas trees and tables, and it features prominently in our celebrations. One packet would also include a coin, and whoever found the coin got to unwrap the present under the tree. It’s a modest ritual, but it brought us together. When we shared these small treats, we all felt rich because we had one another.” – Evik Asatoorian, founder of Rudsak

Downhill all the way

“The sleigh is around 60 years old – used by my dad when he was a kid. It’s strictly an ornament now, but I love looking at it and wondering how it was enjoyed in its prime. I smile when I think about my dad as a kid and that this must have been the GT Snow Racer of its time. I love the stamped metal work and steering mechanism.” – Evan Bare, furniture designer

Alight with love

“I clearly remember my grandmother covering her head with a silk kerchief, gracefully waving her hands above the flames of the candles in the silver candelabra that her mother gave to her, and then covering her eyes to recite the blessing over the candles. My grandmother, Ann Levy, was an observant Jewish woman who grew up in the early 1920s in Peterborough, Ont., and later in Montreal at a time when anti-Semitism was rampant and where your religion was quietly observed and vehemently protected. Yet despite this upbringing, she never ceased to amaze us. Each of her children and grandchildren proceeded to choose partners outside of her faith. We feared non-acceptance and at worse, alienation. However, she welcomed each and every one of them as if waving her hands over their heads and enveloping them too in her prayer. On the surface, it’s a traditional icon. But for me, this candelabra – whether we take it out for Chanukah or Rosh Hashanah, Christmas or Easter – symbolizes the beautiful world of acceptance and diversity that I grew up in and in which I continue to live and raise my own family.” – Shauna Levy, president, Design Exchange

Food for thought

“I use my mother’s traditional special dishes and cutlery with more contemporary pieces that I have acquired over the years. I love the engraved letter ‘R’ for Rosenberg. It is a very personal and elegant script that speaks to the elegance of my mother. I have always kept my maiden name and identified myself with my family name. The cutlery helps to create an elegant and special place setting. It is from Birks – it was a wedding present from my mother’s family, about 75 years ago. We use it at all family meals and celebrations. To me it represents my family and friends coming together and spending quality time together. Meals bring us together, they nourish us, and they allow us to slow down and appreciate each other and the things we have to be grateful for.” – Janet Rosenberg, landscape architect

Personal touch

“These ornaments are a physical manifestation of love and care. The ones pictured here were made by my mother and one of my best friends in high school, Charlotte. They remind us of what is truly important in life – not only at this time of year, but throughout the days – and always prompt me to stop and think of the people I have met and loved over the years, and our great fortune to live in Canada where we are free to choose our friends and live closely with our families.” – Meg Graham, principal of architecture firm Superkül