Passing Down (Possibly Unwanted) Christmas Traditions

As a child, our Christmas trees were decorated with very old glass ornaments. I hated them – I hated the way they were aged and not new. I wished for a different tree with modern decorations, colored lights and sparkly garland. Instead we had a very old-style German tree. My dad would get a live root-bound evergreen that he placed in a large wooden tub and my mom would lovingly adorn it with old-fashioned candle lights, our old German ornaments and very carefully placed silver tinsel. As a child of the 1970’s – this was such a drag for me. I can remember helping my mom decorate our tree and I would “accidentally” drop an ornament or two on occasion, with the hope that I would break enough of them and force us to get new ones. This didn’t work — they weren’t that easy to break on a carpeted floor. In particular, I remember hating the faces on the figural ornaments — I can recall thinking that their faces looked so ugly and creepy that their presence on our tree ruined it completely. I always made sure to hang those in the back. However, my mom would review my work and rearrange my placement after the fact. I would get so frustrated – there was nothing I could do to stop the creation of what I thought was the ugliest Christmas tree in existence. When the holidays were over, my dad would plant the tree in our backyard. Now, I can fully understand and embrace all of what my parents were doing – but at the time, all I could do was shrug my shoulders in disgust and dream of someday owning my own, far superior, tree.

Sometime in my 20s, when the long-awaited moment came for me to decorate my own tree, I experimented with a few new ideas: themed trees, monochromatic trees, a tree decorated entirely with dried flowers, but they all left me feeling flat. I had no real connection to these trees and many times, I would donate my decorations to Goodwill in January because I didn’t want to use them again the following year.

The big surprise came to me when I got married and started a family — it was then that I suddenly yearned to recreate the Christmas Tree from my youth. I wanted to feel something when I looked at my tree – to be warmed inside. I set out to build my own collection of vintage ornaments, much like the ones I detested as a child. I scoured garage sales, flea markets, antique stores, and spent hours searching on EBay (which was my best resource) trying to piece together the tree from my memory.  I have amassed quite a collection – I think I have at least two thousand now and the German figurals are, ironically, my favorite. When I had my first daughter, my mom gave me a few jewels from her collection – I was in heaven.

Here I am now and I have a Christmas tree that is loaded with old glass ornaments and I love it, but my kids hate it. Every year, as we decorate our Christmas tree, I tell my kids about the hatred I had for my old family tree and my secret attempts at sabotaging my mother’s efforts. They roll their eyes and hang the ornaments in boredom – they don’t see the humor in it.

Sometimes I wonder (worry) how my kids are processing all of this – am I creating a strange hate-love cycle of family Christmas trees?  To soften the effects of this yearly event, I’ve chosen to do a few things differently. We have an artificial gold tree, instead of a live one (I had to put a funky, updated twist on it) and my kids have their own small trees in their bedrooms that they are free to decorate as they wish.

When our daughters are older, they will inherit my large assortment of vintage ornaments – maybe they’ll grow to appreciate this gesture, maybe not. I would imagine that by that time my collection will be quite valuable. I suppose they could always sell them all and use the cash to pay for therapy.

Family Chic

Some of my favorite ornaments are the indents from the 1960s and earlier – I especially like the pink ones.

Family Chic

When my mom gave me all of the old glass bead garlands we hung on our family tree, I was absolutely thrilled. Even though some of the beads are broken from years of use, I hang them anyway.

Family Chic

The figurals I hated as a child are now proudly placed on the front of the tree.

Family Chic

I always keep an eye out for unusual shapes.

Family Chic

Some of my pieces are newer reproductions like this glass stork made in Germany – I bought it when I was pregnant with my younger daughter.

Family Chic

You just can't beat the charm of well-loved glass ornaments.

Family Chic

Christmas morning.


  1. Heather C  January 3, 2013

    I love them, especially the pink indented ones like you said. I laughed at the thought of your kids selling them later on to pay for therapy 😉

    I unfortunately lost my childhood christmas decorations in a move. I think about it every Christmas and it makes me sad. But now each Christmas we make ornaments with our daughter (5) to keep and cherish as she grows! I think your kids will cherish those memories with you when they are older 🙂

    • camilla  January 3, 2013

      Heather – How lovely to make ornaments with your daughter every year – far better than anything purchased! Such beautiful memories you are creating. Happy New Year! All the best, Camilla

  2. Susan  January 3, 2013

    Lovely, lovely post.

    • camilla  January 3, 2013

      Thanks Susan – Happy New Year to you! xoxo C

  3. catie  January 3, 2013

    old things are best.
    and handmade.
    old handmade things are the BEST best.
    have a look at these sweet vintage glass ornaments:
    there are two, and maybe their sweetness could change your daughters’ minds???

  4. Darcie  January 4, 2013

    Loved this post, Camilla. I think what your daughters will end up cherishing are the stories you tell from your own childhood (especially the ones when you were such a bad child to attempt breaking the ugly ornaments on the carpeted floor!). The ornaments are the memories.

  5. Usha  January 5, 2013

    All handme-downs from our parsents will b e treasured at some point in time…Your tree will constantly be a reminder of your parents…with their special tree decorations…

  6. Juliette  January 17, 2013

    Très beau post plein de tendresse et de poésie. Merci pour ce beau moment partagé