I recently came across a website of vintage Christmas ornaments. I’ve never thought of myself as ‘vintage’, even at 60 but when I recognized many of the ornaments I was taken back to one of my earliest Christmas recollections.
It was 1959. I was five. My mother had made me a red velvet Christmas dress. When I ran my small hand over the skirt, it felt like icing sugar and made me shiver. The dress made me feel special somehow and almost pretty. The crinoline underneath was scratchy but my white leotards protected my legs. My mom had also bought me shiny black shoes that clicked when I walked. I loved that sound. Still do.
It was Christmas eve and we were decorating our tree. That’s what we did back then in vintage days. We didn’t decorate our tree weeks before as many do now rather, it was always on Christmas eve. I was excited because I was allowed to wear my red velvet dress and new shoes. I felt grown up but I’d soon realize, I’d always be the baby of the family.
I remember my mother draping a cluster of tinsel over my small hand. Each strand was supposed to be placed on a branch of its own. I recall taking a clump at a time and lumping it on the scant branches until my dad came along to show me how it was meant to be done—strand by painful strand. I’m sure to this day assigning me tinsel was a trick to keep me busy while my four siblings got to handle the beautiful glass ornaments. Delicate, colourful and intricately detailed, many were indented with star and oval shapes so the lights on the tree danced from within them.
I wanted very badly to hang one of the glass ornaments on the tree. “Not this year Marla dear. They are very delicate and if it broke in your hand you might get cut.” That was the trouble with being the youngest. I didn’t get to do the things everyone else did. Being only 5 with two brothers 10 and 12 was one thing. Having them snicker, point and call me a baby was another. I refused to cry and instead put my nose in the air and continued my very important tinsel job all the while holding back tears. My sisters were 15 and 18. Even they nodded in agreement, maybe next year I could be trusted not to break one.
When all was said and done and the last of the precious ornaments, and tinsel, had been strategically placed my dad scooped me up in his arms and said, “I have a very special job for you but you have to be very careful, okay?” I nodded eagerly without even knowing what the special job was. For a brief moment I imagined the most beautiful of all the glass ornaments being placed in my hand while my siblings stood, mouths open wide in disbelief. Ha. I think I even heard harp music. But that wasn’t my special job. Holding me in one arm dad reached out the other to my mother and she placed the very special item in his hand.
A pure white figure with a soft cloud-like skirt took my breath away. As I stared at her heart shaped face she stared back at me like Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. In one hand she held a silver wand with a glittering star on the end. Her hair was white and fluffy with waves that were topped off with a golden halo. I held her carefully in both hands as my dad boosted me up to do my special job and place the angel upon the treetop, with a little of his help.
My brothers were dumbfounded. Without looking at them I grinned from ear to ear knowing full well, they were watching. Even my sisters were a little taken aback that ‘I’ got to place the angel on the tree. At least, I’d like to think that was the case. In truth I’m sure they were thrilled for me but it is fun to conjure up a memory or two when you’re the ‘baby’ of the family. Even at 60.
Whenever I see vintage ornaments it all comes rushing back—Christmas, family, and childhood. And while my husband and I and our three grown children have built traditions and memories of our own, I will always hold those first memories near and dear to my heart.
Do you have a special Christmas memory to share?
Wishing you and yours all the magic and blessings of the Christmas season.