Decorate This Blog

November. Christmas is almost upon us.


It is true, I love the Christmas holidays somewhat less than I did when I was a child many years decades ago. The rising anticipation, culminating in a state of contented satiation on The Day, has become a steadily mounting background hum of anxiety, grim list making (the lists never get shorter; every time I check something as “done” there are two new things to add) and increasingly frantic activity, culminating in pure relief that it is finally OVER and I can go to bed on December 25 worried about… nothing at all. Ahhhh.

I do not dislike Christmas, mind you. It is just that the focus has changed, as it has for all of us former Santa-believers who have grown up and have become the Santas ourselves; and not only the Santas, but the shoppers, the planners, the decorators, the bakers (well, no, not me; I like my friends and family too much to inflict home-made cookies and cakes on them), the social directors, and the chefs that keep the trappings and traditions of the holidays going.

So sometimes I wonder if the work and stress and anxiety and rapidly diminishing planning time might one year make me decide to throw it all aside and just skip the whole thing. But I know that will not happen because the memories are still solid, and what makes Christmas real are the memories. Anything this time of year can trigger them: a snap of cold in the air, a few notes of a Christmas song, a whiff of evergreen.

Or: a decorated tree.

I have always loved Christmas ornaments. When my holiday memories are triggered, the first thing to pop up is decorating the tree with my sister and my parents, to the accompaniment of saccharine choral music on the stereo. [The Sounds of Christmas by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. Syrupy-sweet and cloying, but I thought it was SO beautiful then. Here is a review (they seem to like it). ] The strings of big old-fashioned lights, first laid out to test on the living room floor – a line of glowing colors on the rich Persian carpet. Ornaments, a mix of the old and the (then) new: the two oldest from my father’s childhood; baby ornaments for my sister and me with our names and birth dates written in glitter; some really ugly Styrofoam balls garishly done up with ribbon, sequins, fake pearls and straight pins, home-made by my aunt (we will speak no more of these); glow-in-the-dark “icicles” of hard white plastic, quite the thing at the time; and brand-new boxes of brightly colored balls, picked up by my dad on the way home from work, replacements for the inevitable breakage.

We had some little baskety things with spinning metal inserts that spun in the heat of those very hot old tree lights. The inserts still turned, if slowly, when we graduated to mini-lights. LED lights, though, cannot begin to budge the ones we have left. I do not care; I still hang them.

Ornament with Heat-Activated Spinner

We had some Shiny-Brites – everyone did back then. They are being reissued now by Christopher Radko, but we had the originals (and I still do!).

Our Original Shiny-Brites

And those two old ornaments – I wish I knew exactly HOW old they are. Are they pre-World War I, handblown in Germany? Or post war, factory-made in the US? Does it matter? I still have them, although I admit I do not have the nerve to actually hang them: I can hear my father saying “No, these are too delicate. I’ll hang them myself” just as he did every year of my childhood.

My Father’s Childhood Ornaments

My aunt’s homemade Styrofoam creations, however, no longer make the grade. They are allowed nowhere near our tree. Forgive me, Aunt Florrie.

As I grew up and started living in various dorms, apartments, and houses, I needed to acquire my own collection of ornaments. The first ones were by necessity on the less-expensive side (a.k.a. the sale shelves at the local Woolworth’s... who remembers Woolworth’s?) and other five-and-dimes (McCrory’s, anyone? Kresge’s? Newberry’s?) but many were pretty nice anyway, and I have kept a lot of them. Later I would haunt the Hallmark stores at their after-Christmas sales. Then I got into craft fairs and Scandinavian designs and, later still, brass, hand-blown glass, and pewter.

So obviously I have enough by now, right? But wait, there is more! Every year I still shop for pewter ornaments at the annual Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, PA;

Pewter ornaments from Christkindlmart

The annual pre-Christmas sale at Wheaton Arts in Millville, NJ;

Glass ornament from Wheaton ArtsOrnament from Wheaton ArtsOrnament from Wheaton Arts

and, when I travel, I often pick up something from wherever I am visiting:

Souvenir Ornament from Alexandria, VA)

or from museum shops:
Souvenir Ornament from Mt Vernon, VA

Makes for quite the hodgepodge. And that is how I like it.

So, how do I fit all those trinkets on my tree? I do not. I have not been able to do that for a long time, even in the years when my tree scraped the ceiling. I pick and choose: I concentrate on the handblown glass, the German pewter, and the brass, and fill in the gaps with sentimental favorites (the upside of having more ornaments than I know what to do with is that I can pick and choose my favorites; the downside is that they are really ALL my favorites).

Formal TreeI have good friends who have sort of solved this problem by always setting up two trees: a formal living room tree, elegantly decorated with all the special ornaments they have collected; and a family room tree which they keep fun and informal, with items from their own and their children’s childhoods, handmade ornaments, cartoon characters, and novelty pieces.
Informal Tree
I love visiting their house at Christmas -- I can spend a half-hour just browsing each tree.

I do not know about getting two big trees myself, though when my sons were small, I did something similar: we bought a couple of small artificial trees and set them up in their bedrooms. These provided places for the perfectly nice ornaments we did not have room for on the big tree, and for the strings of colored lights after we had switched to all-white; plus, they were something special for each of them.

I have also considered (though not too seriously) getting away from – or maybe it is completely giving in to? – the hodgepodge by setting up half-a-dozen or so tabletop trees to put in various rooms instead of the big living room one. After all, I have enough different kinds of ornaments that I could decorate each little tree with its own theme: angels on one, maybe, the 12 Days of Christmas on another; a rustic theme on this one, glass and brass on that… I kind of got into this idea the year a co-worker and I made Library-themed ornaments for the tree at the Robbinsville Branch. We glued reproductions of children’s book covers with themes of winter to craft foam and embellished them with glitter and tinsel. They came out great and we still use them at the branch:
Library Tree

The sheer number of items has diminished in the last few years as my sons grew up. I had been getting them each a new ornament every year since they were babies. When they grew up and had families of their own, they inherited the ornaments.

And that, of course, just leaves me room for MORE!

And with that, I will sign off. I am going ornament shopping.

Addendum: Robbinsville Branch Book Ornaments:

Polar Express Best Christmas Pageant Ever Twelve Cats of Christmas

Snow Dance how santa got his job Nutcracker

The Christmas We Moved to the BarnMouse Before Christmas

Are you interested in vintage ornaments? Here are some websites I looked at while writing this blog. I enjoyed them; you might too!

A brief history of ornaments, through the 1950s and 1960s

Glass ornaments of the 1940s and 1950s

Vintage plastic ornaments 1

Vintage plastic ornaments 2

All about Shiny-Brites

Barbara S.


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