Retro Christmas, part III

2006, 2008

My last post was written specifically for a contest, and was considerably shorter than my usual stuff. In fact, I’d actually written a much longer post and wound up condensing it to fit within the parameters. But it bothers me. Not that it’s short, but that it’s so severely edited. Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year (admittedly, along with most of the other major holidays) and I felt bad about short-changing it. So, here is the rest of that blog post, albeit RE-edited so as to eliminate redundancy.


A previous post was about decorating your house for the holidays in a retro style, with the help of brand-new items from the fine folks at Vermont Country Store. I myself have a silver tinsel tree that I bought from Target a few years back and a felt tree skirt from… I don’t recall from where. But those are attempts to recreate a Christmas that I never experienced, a Christmas built from fond memories of my family’s actual traditions mixed with healthy doses of aluminum trees from Charles Schulz and Jean Shepherd and the fashions of Edith Head as seen in Holiday Inn and White Christmas.

My own, actual Christmas memories include felt stockings decorated with glued-on sequins, real Christmas trees, and the molded (plastic? glass?) Santa figurine that I always hung from the center of our dining room’s opal-glass chandelier. And yes, hanging it involved me climbing onto the dining room table. Sorry, mom and dad! It was my father’s task to deal with the tangled strings of lights each year, but I relished the opportunity to “help” him hang them once the bulbs and fuses had been tested and replaced. There were a few years where we had only white mini-lights on the tree, but most years we used strand after strand of multicolored lights. My favorite lights, though, were the single strand of Paramount bubble lights that must have been a hand-me-down from my grandparents. You can see them in the photo in my previous post, hung at kid-pleasing level.

Our tree was decorated every year with a mishmash of ornaments that had been collected from my grandparents, family friends, and one particular Brownie project involving glue and glitter (that ornament gets placed on my father’s tree every year to this day). There were paper chains that my sister and I made each year. The glass grape clusters which my sister and I threw away when they developed mold, only to later discover (too late) that they’d merely been sprayed with artificial snow. The red-and-white mushroom ornaments that my mom carved from Styrofoam, which we hung toward the bottom of the tree so that cats could swat at something that wasn’t glass (and yet every year, we’d lose at least a couple of glass ornaments to the cats anyway). The buxom craft-dough “cherubim,” another of my mom’s creative holiday projects.

And oh, my mom’s projects. Her sugar cookies were legendary. Batch after batch of dough would be mixed, chilled, rolled out, and cut. Even “naked,” her cookies were tastier than most. But then magic happened: time consuming, painstaking magic. Bowls of royal icing all over the kitchen, dyed brilliant colors. Each cookie was a blank canvas, and what my mother did with them was truly art. Glassy-smooth garnet-red hearts with white “lace” overlays. Icy-blue bells, each one different, and embellished with silver dragées. Elephants, iced pink and “draped” with hand-painted paisley (paisley!) rugs over their backs, complete with tiny, piped-on fringe. My mom had one antique cookie cutter which created the shape of a prim woman with her hair in a bun and her hands on her hips, and mom would decorate each one with a different blouse and skirt, and she never ran out of patterns for her icing textiles. With no exaggeration, I can say that Martha and her minions have NOTHING on what my mom was doing with cookies 30 years ago.


Mom stopped making her cookies years ago, citing the very valid reason of not wanting to go through the incredible effort, nor of wanting to compromise and do a half-assed job of it. Since I now travel each year for Christmas, I’ve been putting up an artificial tree to eliminate any vacation fire hazard. The last few years have been all about color-coordination, while I built up my own stash of ornaments one year at a time.

I wanted to get a real tree this year, like we always had growing up, but my budget insisted that I use one of the artificial trees stashed in my basement. That’s okay. I hung as many ornaments as would fit, but I keep cramming in a few more. And I bought tinsel at an estate sale! I placed it high enough to be out of the cats’ reach. And when night falls, I don’t turn on any other lights, and I let the tree light up the living room. And I smile whenever I look at it.

2 Replies to “Retro Christmas, part III”

  1. I LOVE THIS POST!!!!!!
    It makes me want to leave work this instant and run home, stopping to pick up a tree, and re-create the wonderful Christmas memories of my own!
    Glass Grapes that mold!!! Who knew!!!??? 😀


  2. I added small multicolored lights to my artificial tree this year: how did I go 15 years without them? They make such a difference. And I do the same thing, going about in the evenings with naught but the tree and my outside icicle lights to light my way. 🙂


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