Most of the ornaments on our Christmas tree are store-bought, but a few homemade ones have survived a dozen moves, sticky toddler fingers, and several Labrador Retrievers. I still have the Lifesaver doll made with yarn arms and a Styrofoam head. The Lifesavers are more than 40 years old and probably don’t qualify as food anymore. There’s also the wise man made of Popsicle sticks that was hastily painted at the end of a Sunday school lesson. These handmade ornaments from my childhood are not exactly “museum quality,” but they mean a lot to me.
My great-grandmother made stunningly beautiful ornaments — shoeboxes full of 16-sided German stars made from strips of paper, dipped in wax, and sprinkled with glitter. When I was a kid, we would cover our tree with them, and they would spin and glimmer in the tree lights.
My great-grandmother considered their design and execution a family secret. I wonder what she would think about the fact that anyone can learn to make these stars from the internet now.
Regrettably, her stars are all gone, lost to damp basements and cleaning frenzies. I’m sure I could fill a shoebox with new ones, but they wouldn’t be the ones my grandmother made.
Take care of those old ornaments. You never know who might cherish them decades later.
Below is an article we found in the December 1, 1933, issue of Country Gentleman. When Mary Frances Shinn wrote it, I’m sure she never imagined that Christmas decorations made from spools and clothespins might one day become family heirlooms.
Do you have a special Christmas ornament or other holiday decoration with a family story behind it? We’d love to hear about it. Please share your story in the Comments section at the end of this article.
Sparkling Tree Ornaments
CHRISTMAS comes but once a year, and why not — even if you never have before — celebrate it this year with a tree gayly trimmed with many bright-colored ornaments and balls, tinsel and colored lights! From the simplicity of the earliest decorated trees ornaments have gradually become more lavish, reflecting the decoration of the period; and since modern decoration and clothes are dependent upon the gay nineties for much inspiration, it is natural that tree ornaments should be, also. Being easy to make, there is a decided satisfaction in creating tricky ornaments. Foundations are ridiculously within reach of most housekeepers, such as discarded spools, pill boxes, small evaporated milk cans, clothespins, Cellophane—white and colored, saved from package wrapping—gold and silver tin foil, green and white wire, ribbons, cords, old gift and Christmas cards, heavy gay-colored papers, white crêpe paper, and cotton wool. A Christmas tree topped with a big star follows traditional ideas, and here is one that may be made in a twinkling. Some pieces of COUNTRY purple and gold cardboard form the star, outlined with clipped Cellophane taken from choice pieces of fruit. Another ornament that will add color to the tree is a drum, made by covering a small milk can with gay colored paper. Two holes close together at the top and side of the can are punched with a can opener, through which a string hanger is run. Or dress some clothespins to resemble a peasant girl or a butterfly. A spool makes a foundation for a small Christmas tree base. Cover it and wire some graduated strips of narrow paper together at right angles to form a tree. It’s easy, too, to make a pill box dressy with a rose-colored paper cover. Cut tinfoil star decorations for the front and back, cut white Cellophane to form a long narrow tail, which is pulled through slits in the top and bottom of the box. Fake bonbons that are “everlasting” are made of scrap paper rolled over clipped white Cellophane, tied with a bit of ribbon. An up-to-date-cut-out from a gift card may be pasted over it. And of course, cornucopias are always welcome as containers for homemade goodies of all kinds.