I never thought of them as particularly important. Nice to have over the holidays, certainly, Festive, even.

Spode, with the iconic Christmas tree in the center of the plates, bowls, platters. Gaily wrapped presents under that tree. Sprigs of holly scattered about and the green trim along the edges. The essence of traditions captured on porcelain.

The dishes became part of our family Christmas celebrations almost yearly for twenty-eight years. Pulled out of a dark cupboard a week before Christmas, washed and ready to be piled high with roast beef, ham, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and creamy baked mushrooms. After the New Year, the dishes, scrubbed clean with the Christmas tree still shining on porcelain, were put back into the dark cupboard.

The dishes remained constant but time changes family traditions. Children grow up, marry and have children of their own. When these children, our grandchildren, are babies and toddlers, everyone came home, over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. Grandchildren are content to sleep in Pac-and-plays and sit in high chairs for the meals.

In those twenty-eight years, not a dish was broken.

But change is persistent, more babies are born and the first and second born grow into teen-agers. Easier somehow for two grandparents to go over the river and down the turnpike than for families to load up grandchildren who have grown strangely tall and busy.

So this year, the twenty-ninth year, the dishes came out of the dark cupboard, and were lovingly wrapped in old newspapers. With black newsprint smeared on my fingertips, I packed each piece in boxes to take to my daughter for our family get-together on Christmas Eve at her home.

“Does this mean Nana is never having Christmas again?” asked one beautifully inquisitive granddaughter. There was a note of sadness in her voice.

I realized then how the Christmas tree plates had become a symbol of what is constant even as things change.

“No,” I answered her. “It means we are a family with traditions that can travel without being broken.” We are the family with very important traveling Christmas plates. Wherever Christmas is, the plates will be there. And everything will be intact, unbroken.