Necessity is the mother of invention. Or, so they tell us. For my friend Deb, and her parents Betty and Bob, necessity is not only the mother of invention, but also the creation of a true family heirloom. For those of you with aging parents, or those just wanting to “downsize” your holiday decorations, I have an option for you. Create an ornament tree. By turning your treasured ornaments into something new, you’ll be creating a family heirloom. One that celebrates the history of each and every ornament on the tree you create with your loved ones.
A few weeks ago Deb’s parents decided that setting up the tree and dragging up box after box of Christmas ornaments wasn’t a good idea. Steep stairs, heavy boxes and trips up and down a ladder just didn’t make sense anymore. But, the stories those ornaments told! They’re a family treasure and a part of its history. Some came to life a generation ago, made by Bob’s mother, “Annie B.” Others commemorated an event at church, work or a social function. Still others had been made by family or friends. Deb didn’t want to see her parents lose all of that- was it possible to hold onto the past while creating something new and different? Of course it is- you can do it too!
The brainstorm wasn’t mine. It was Deb’s- I give her full credit. She came to me last week, relaying the angst her parents felt over their decision not to put up a Christmas tree. She had an idea: turn their cherished ornaments into something new and fabulous. An ornament tree. You see, last year I made an ornament tree for Deb. It’s over 3 feet tall, all shiny and glittery. Deb adores it and puts it up around Thanksgiving and it stays up way past New Years Eve. It thrills me that she loves it so much and I desperately wanted to give Betty and Bob the same feeling. We planned to create their new family heirloom on Wednesday. I told Deb to ask her parents to pick out about 50 ornaments that they loved best. The ones that have a story, the ones that conjure an image or evoke a feeling, even with closed eyes. Deb was on it.
The next part was easy- a visit to the craft store for a cone-shaped piece of Styrofoam. I had Deb buy the biggest one they had- a whopping 24” tall. I also asked her to purchase inexpensive ornaments that were similar in color to her parent’s favorite ornaments. We needed 2 or 3 dozen of the large, round glass ornaments, 4 or 5 dozen of the medium sized ones and lots of smaller ones for filling in the small gaps. I wanted to be a part of this creation too, so I shared some of my own ornaments, too. Finally, we needed glue sticks. Lots and lots of glue sticks.
On a sunny, unseasonably warm Wednesday we began. The glue gun was warm and Deb was my assistant. She held the ornaments in place as I built the tree from the bottom up. Betty watched carefully, describing each and every ornament as we began. “Annie B” was Bob’s mother who, Deb says, I would have adored. She was a “take charge” kind of woman who loved a project. In fact, Bob would mutter “Annie B” under his breath to Deb on the days we worked in Deb’s garden. I learned of my similarity to Annie B as I was gluing the tree that day. Annie B used pearl pins and crystals to adorn silk balls in deep tones of lavender. As Betty held the ornament she told us that, like Annie B, jewel tones are what she loves best. Deb and I slowly worked our way up the Styrofoam tree, asking Betty to describe each ornament. One came from a church function. There was another Betty in her church group, so she was referred to as “Betty B.” The bright red ornament that bears her name adorns the new tree- it’s from her friends at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church. Another dates from 1994 and was given to Bob at Christmas from one of his civic groups.
Time flew as I filled the glue gun with cartridge after cartridge of glue. Deb asked where the pale pink ornament adorned with ribbons came from. What about the dark green one with turquoise and gold trim? “That was Annie B, too. Most women don’t get along with their Mothers-in-law. I was lucky to have Annie B, the best Mother-in-law of all.” As the hours flew, Deb asked her Mom more questions. I was privy to many heartfelt memories and touching stories. Betty remembered everything. Smiling, she remembered those early years of marriage to Bob. Watching her children grow. The immense joy that grandchildren bring. Before we knew it, 3 hours had passed. And it was time for lunch. Then, Betty had to go to physical therapy.
After Betty left, Deb joined me and fired up her glue gun, too. We could visualize the finished product and really got down to business. We added smaller ornaments, filling up every space we could find. We took gold stars and, with hot glue, scattered them all over the tree, as if they were sprinkled from above. We placed a small gold tree topper in the center, adding Chihuly-esque gold swirls to give it a modern feel. Standing back, we smiled. We were finished and it was fabulous. We had taken ornaments from a time when Bob and Betty were young. Each ornament commemorated an event or evoked the memory of family, fun and friends. In a single afternoon we created a one-of-a-kind heirloom that, each Christmas, celebrates a loving couple and their well-lived life.
I feel so blessed to have had a small part in the creation of Betty and Bob’s new Christmas tree. I loved hearing about each ornament, the story it told and the cherished place it held on the tree. If you, your parents or friends are lamenting over the inability to be able to put up a traditional Christmas tree, I’ve got an idea for you. Create an ornament tree. Pull 50 or 60 of your favorite ornaments out of their boxes and do something different. Glue them to Styrofoam. Expect to spend most of the day with a glue gun in hand. You’ll be giving the recipient a real treasure- but, in actuality, you’ll be getting the treasure. A time to block out the world, spending it with someone you love, creating new Christmas memories. As I watched Betty smile, describing each detail, I also watched Deb, in deep contemplation, cherishing everything that her Mom had to say. I feel so special to have been there, a small part of creating a new heirloom.
Want to create an ornament tree? It’s easy, follow the steps in the photographs.
#1. A Styrofoam cone. For first timers, I suggest something about a foot tall.
#2. Ornaments. About half to 2/3rds should be family treasures
#3. Purchased ornaments. Buy large, medium and small glass ornaments in colors that are similar to those from previous Christmases. You will also need small ornaments to fill in the small spaces. We especially liked gold stars.
#4. Glue gun and glue. I am not joking here- I went through over 50 glue sticks!
#5. A circle (I use cardboard) about 3” larger than the dimension of the bottom of the cone.
Expect to devote 3 or 4 hours to this project. If you are making this for your parents or grandparents, why not make it a party and invite your siblings?