By Maureen Hart
It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I am in the process of putting up our Christmas tree. It always puts me in a nostalgic mood as I take out the ornaments collected throughout the years. Our living room tree has a gold theme. When I married John over nine years ago, he had plain gold balls on this tree.
Being an ornament aficionado, that wasn’t good enough for me, so I sorted through all of my other ornaments to find anything with gold or brass. Surprisingly, there were quite a few, and then I began adding (any excuse to buy more holiday ornaments).
Many of them are quite meaningful—official White House ornaments from our friend Michael; brass ornaments from the Union League of Philadelphia; a gold cannon from Gettysburg; an enamel pineapple from our honeymoon in Newport; a Lenox tiered cake with gold script saying “Our First Christmas Together”; and ones my daughter Rebecca has bought on her travels, keeping in mind our theme (the latest just in from her trip to Thailand!).
Upstairs in our library, I put together a tree tribute to the British Isles – leprechauns, Scots guards, Beefeaters, Big Ben, Shakespeare, tea cups, Buckingham Palace, and a tartan ribbon bow on top. Our library has a British atmosphere – we call it the Churchill Room, so the tree fits the theme.
We used to have a pencil tree in the den, filled with family ornaments. I turned that tree over to John’s son Johnny, who lives next door to us and was starting from scratch ornament-wise. He has the Hart mementos from Disney World, Radio City Music Hall, Rehobeth Beach, Hilton Head, and some handmade items from grade school, not to mention examples of their passion for cars, trains, and golf.
My penchant for tree decorating is nothing new. I was enthusiastic from childhood—we had one of those old-fashioned real pine trees with shiny ornaments and lots of what we called icicles, better known as tinsel. I thought it was really magical lit up with those larger multi-colored light bulbs. By the way, I just read an article saying that the icicles had a lead component and went out of favor in the Sixties. You can still buy them, of course, but they are made of some kind of plastic. I stopped using them years ago when we had a dog who thought they were lots of fun to drag around the house and also enjoy as a snack!
My own first tree is one that makes me cringe in remembrance. I had a studio apartment in Wilkes-Barre after college and I had to buy an artificial tree because I lived in a high rise and there were safety regulations. (Ironically, it was not fire but flood waters from Tropical Storm Agnes that later caused me to flee the building!). Anyway, in keeping with the period (the Seventies), I used blue twinkle lights and blue, green and white satin ornaments. In retrospect, it was not my finest Yule project.
Later, when I got married, we always had a real tree, complete with debate about how tall it should be. (Somehow trees look smaller in a field than they do in the house.)
I began my collection of ornaments from our travels—a dried floral creation from Hawaii, little straw donkey from Mexico, a royal coach from London, and an Eiffel Tower from Paris. I also used one of my daughter’s tiny white Mary Jane shoes as an ornament, along with her baby rattle. Adding vintage glass Italian ornaments which belonged to Jorge’s aunt, along with some silver balls with hand-painted pink roses that came from my grandmother, I came up with a Victorian themed tree accented with silk pink, white and burgundy roses, and dried baby breath. I really thought it was breath-taking, and I rather miss it. I really do like using silk flowers, baby breath, and ribbon on my trees..
While that formal creation stood in our living room, I used an artificial tree in our TV Room with a children’s theme—rocking horses, metal bicycles, stuffed animals, nutcrackers, tiny dolls, candy canes and more. In the kitchen, I put up a 3-foot tree using cinnamon sticks, cookie cutters, gingerbread ornaments and fruit.
I put 2-foot trees in our bedrooms (Rebecca’s was blue and white in tribute to our Nittany Lions), and another small tree on our sun porch with an animal theme –cats, puppies, giraffe, hippo, lions, elephant, and moose. The tree in my bedroom was in burgundy and gold, to match the decor of the room.
I pretty much love any kind of Christmas tree—formal and fancy, primitive or plain. I enjoy the decorating and the collecting. Most of all, I enjoy the reminiscing about the provenance of the decorations and the wonderful times we have spent together in the light of those trees.
I’ve seen some favorite trees over the years that were not my own. One friend used all shiny silver ornaments tied with tartan bows and then added cinnamon sticks. Another used Charlie Brown and Snoopy ornaments to reflect their favorites.
I really think trees should reflect the taste and passions and history of the owner. It can be an old-fashioned tree with cranberry and popcorn and Grandma’s ornaments, or a Penn State or Notre Dame tree, or a very fashionable tree in mauve and purple or turquoise and red. It’s a great thing if it reflects who you are as an individual or a family.
And, of course, if you just want to throw up a little table top version with a couple of ornaments that’s fine, too. Whatever you do, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. And for my Jewish friends, a very Happy Hanukkah as well! (I won’t even get into the many designs possible for your menorah!)
And, since we won’t publish again until after New Year’s, have a safe and joyous celebration to see in 2017!