Happy Holidays

Collecting Vintage Christmas

I guess it was only natural that my collecting of Christmas tree ornaments would expand into collecting other kinds of Christmas items. That, at least, is what other collectors have told me. A love of Christmas doesn’t stop at the tree and I have gone on to collect other kinds of Christmas decor.

Nothing I have collected has much monetary value. I collect for the joy that a piece brings me — things I recognize and remember from my childhood. Or pieces picked up on our travels that remind me of the places we’ve been. Sometimes I will pick something up simply because I like it.

The range of available Christmas items in the second hand market is vast. Searching for one particular item can be an overwhelming chore. I have nevertheless, managed to find a few desired pieces this way. A long search resulted in finding a duplicate of the long lost aluminum star that topped my childhood Christmas tree.

A persistent search through millions of Christmas items manufactured and sold over decades, is often what it takes. It also helps to know exactly what you want and to describe it using the right search terms. It took several years before I finally found another childhood memory – pink plastic reindeer ornaments that I remember my father purchasing at the five and dime store for 10 cents each. I was able to give one to each of my siblings and keep one for my own tree.

Mid-century elves have an impish look in their eyes…

The first non-tree related vintage items of my collection were gifted to me by my mother-in-law. Newly wed we had few Christmas items to decorate our new home and a budget so tight that the purchase of a cut tree and a few inexpensive ornaments was a splurge. My mother-in-law passed on to me several of her outdated decor items from the 1950s and 60s –things that she no longer used. They included white “sugar” style bells, knee hugging elves, and a couple of bottlebrush wreaths.

A set of miniature gnomes and bottle brush trees had been brought home from World War II by her father. Marked with a price of 39 cents and the words “Made in East Germany USSR zone” I was surprised to discover many years later, that these little men fashioned from pine cones and cotton are the most valuable pieces in my collection today.

pinecone gnomes
My daughter’s great grandfather brought these little pine cone men home from Germany after WWII.

I sometimes have no idea what I want until I see it. A photo on Pinterest or Ebay will spark a memory inside of me and if the piece isn’t too pricey I might buy it. Otherwise, I add it to my mental list and keep an eye out for it in the future.

After 40+ years of collecting I have what, to many people, would be a hodge podge of unrelated items in my Christmas boxes. I enjoy each and every one of them and look forward to displaying them in my own way each December. This year in particular, although Covid-19 will prevent others from seeing them, I will enjoy decorating for myself and my husband who really does like the festive look of the house, even if he does think I’m more than a little “Christmas crazy.”

My vintage card collection reminds me that for a kid growing up in the 60s, one of the fun things about December was running to the mailbox just as the mailman was arriving, to see how many holiday cards would come each day. The envelopes, sometimes red or green, were easy to distinguish from other more common types of mail. Just seeing the handwritten addresses were a promise of the joy hidden inside. I would race the bundle into the house (in those days it was not unusual to get what could be described as a “bundle” of cards each day). My mother would open each one and read what was often a few well wishes written in the available white space of the card. Sometimes a letter would be enclosed. I cared for none of that at the time. For me, it was the card itself that was the treasure. All of those bright, happy pictures of Santa and his reindeer or perhaps an angel overlooking the baby Jesus in his manger became our beautiful home decor. My father always hung two strings that stretched across the length of our dining room wall. This is where I would hang each day’s newly arrived cards, Fussing with their order and placement, I gave those I liked best the most prominent center positions. The others – those I considered the dull and boring – the black and white landscapes or those with a simple “Seasons Greetings” emblazoned across the face of the card – were relegated a place off to the side.

A vintage child’s sled stands by the front door. An embroidered Santa pillow, discovered in a thrift shop, took someone many hours to complete. Nesting Santas were purchased at a street market in Budapest. The vintage choir boys and Noel candle holders were Ebay finds.

Before plastic window clings became the fashion, we had stencils and something called window wax to keep kids busy for an afternoon. We also had cardboard die-cuts to brighten up the front door or the front of the refrigerator.

I love a snow globe that plays a holiday tune.
Blow molds, both large and small, were popular decorations for mid-century families.
I once received a gift of wooden soldiers from an aunt. At some point they were lost or donated away and I have been trying for several years to replace them. I have a set that look like this but they are not quite right and i continue to search.

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