More Than Decoration

Delicate wings and a flowing gown surround a sweet-faced angel bunny topping Madeleine Robins' holiday tree.

A bunny angel tree topper!

Holiday decorations are a big deal in my family. I have sisters who teach elementary school—they are decorating pros. But it was my mother and her sisters who took Christmas decorating to new heights, and started us on our ornament collections. My Aunt Sue loves making curious, crafty things (I have an awesome tuna can spray-painted and with a small scene set inside it.) But her goal was simply that by the time we hit twenty-one all the cousins would have enough ornaments to put on a small tree. We’ve all collected over the years, giving each other unusual ornaments, giving them to friends and neighbors, making them…you get the idea.

I’ve been sharing ornaments over on Facebook, and several of my BVC cohorts have volunteered special ornaments or decorations from their own homes. (They also understood that if they didn’t cough up a story, I would write a story about the decoration involving the Flying Spaghetti Monster, squids, and probably Cthulhu. Vonda N. McIntyre said “That I would like to read.”)

Cast lead elk masquerade as reindeer in this authentic Victorian decoration from James Hetney's family.

A Hetley family holiday

From James Hetley we have a real Victorian Christmas decoration—a mantel sleigh and rather impressive reindeer.

“I am attaching “Victorian mantel” with our old Santa and sleigh setup. These are inherited from my mother’s side, with cast lead reindeer. Which my wife, ever the naturalist, says are elk. But who’s counting….”

Madeleine Robins doesn’t buy ornaments, except for one—her tree topper.

“Here’s our tree topper: the angel bunny. It’s the only ornament I’ve ever bought (other than replacing glass bulbs and lights) and, at the time I bought it, it cost the earth in Then-Madeleine dollars. She has a faintly pinkish glow in this photo, but really, she’s all white except for the insides of her ears.”

Have you heard of the tradition of hanging a blown glass pickle on a tree for good luck in the coming year? Another tradition is having a bird’s nest somewhere in the tree. (A real bird’s nest was extra lucky.) In Mad’s family, they went a step further.

Every tree needs a bluebird sitting on eggs in a nest.

Every tree needs a bird in a nest.

“… it was traditional in my family to have a nest and bird (with eggs) on the tree (may have had something to do with the name?). So my father gave me this when we started having a tree of our own.”

From the Northwest Sara Stamey writes:

“Just got back from our end-of-crazy-quarter decompress trip to Maui, and here is a photo of a sweet mermaid ornament we got there. Thor feels she was watching over us during our snorkel trips. The bonus was getting to swim with a large manta ray who kept circling around us as it was filter-feeding on the reef.”

Stamey Mermaid

Stamey Mermaid


Pati Nagle lives in the heart of New Mexico, and throws herself into holidays with joy. This ornament holds a special place in her heart.

“This was a commemorative ornament issued by the U. S. Post Office in 1997. It was based on a beautiful stamp featuring an angel. I bought the ornament not only because I loved that stamp, but in honor of my marriage earlier that year. The marriage and the ornament are both going strong.”

The USPS angel from 1997 has special meaning for Pati Nagle. It honors a stamp she found beutiful, and the year of her marriage.

USPS angel ornament

Every year in Austin we have a Pow Wow–the real thing, various tribal members performing, explaining, sharing their heritage and their art. I went in search of a drum. I didn’t want anything decorated that could interfere with the sound, and I could not afford one large and deep enough for me. But I did stop to admire a beautiful, simple goatskin drum one artist had made. Among his wares he had a bowl of tiny drums, painted with symbols from First Nation lore. Several had turtles, both in color and as black line drawings, as well as deer, lizards, and a couple of Kokopellis. They weren’t selling as well as he’d hoped, perhaps because they were natural goatskin and had few colors, or only color as accent.

I bought up a dozen of them and gave them as gifts, to people who needed healing or other attributes of the symbols. I kept the simplest Kokopelli for myself. Whether wizard, shaman, or fertility symbol, he’s welcome on my tree. I wish I had the artist’s name to hand, but it is packed in my ornament box, so unless he recognizes his work, I’ll have to report back the next time I dive into the box.

Before I left, the artist told me he would not chance packing that ritual drum up and transporting it home, and he’d take XX for it. I went ten dollars over budget, and I have a wonderful drum. Two wonderful drums, actually!

2" diameter goatskin Native American drum with Kokopelli black ink drawing upon it.

Yes, it’s a real drum

As you may have guessed, my tree is a mixture of many, many faiths and traditions—as a storyteller’s tree should be. And for Vonda, I found this photo. Yes, I’m going to need one of these, too…

May your special days be spent with the people whom you love, who love you.



More Than Decoration — 9 Comments

  1. This is one of those years when I’m enjoying other people’s Christmas decorations. We took a Christmas Eve walk and admired the outside lights and decorated trees framed in windows. The ornaments in this post are the icing on the cake.

    • Several of my fans have gotten into the spirit and are posting some wonderful ornaments–one has seventy-five year old blown glass ornaments that never leave a glass case anymore!

      Yes, just walking in the local area has been lovely at night. But with this cold snap, our walking days may be curtailed unless I resurrect…blimp coat! I miss 37 1/2 Street, but new owners are leasing to students who don’t want to decorate like mad.

    • Pati, I just finished reading your “Kokopelli and the Virgin,” so this drum looks perfect for you. What a great read for the holidays! Kathi, so glad you found your drum and it found a home.

  2. We did have a real bird’s nest in our tree one year, but I don’t remember that year as being “lucky” in any spectacular way. On the other hand, we don’t know what doom missed us by *that* much . . .