A Lifetime in a Holiday Tree

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 were elementary school teachers—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 loved making curious, crafty things (I have an awesome tuna can spray-painted metallic green 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.

As you may have guessed, my tree is a mixture of many, many faiths and traditions—as a storyteller’s tree should be. I’ve been sharing ornaments over the Internet on social media, 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.”)

Woven ceramic-style ball of spaghetti, with googly eyes, and a meatball on either side of it.

Flying Spaghetti Monster!

Of course I had to find a Flying Spaghetti Monster for my tree, as the reference has been hard-coded into my recent life. This fine fellow came from an Etsy store in Florida. I could have had him with a Santa cap, but after many years of collecting, I have many wonderful Santas. I simply wanted a spaghetti monster. (Hope you like him, Vonda!)

The same artist also made yard flamingos, both festive and year round. (She doesn’t make zombie flamingos. . .yet. . . .) Flamingos are a big part of the mythos of my years down in Austin, TX. A local plant nursery ended up in court over their creative displays of flamingo flocks, changing with the seasons on their corner of Bee Caves and Loop 360.

Yard Flamingo Christmas ornament

Yard Flamingo

Art won, and as long as the nursery existed, we had yard flamingos announcing each holiday. I picked this little fellow up this year because doesn’t everyone need at least one yard flamingo? (In my case, on a holiday tree, not in a yard.) I also got flamingos for my niece and nephew, because collections. (I cannot imagine how many ornaments they will inherit.)

Memories, woven each year into a new pattern of color and light.

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.

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

Yes, it’s a real drum

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!

This Christmas my sisters and I have declared a truce–we simply don’t need any more ornaments. But I expect to get a new cat next year, and cats have an unhealthy interest in Christmas trees. So I picked up a few more ornaments for me.

This phoenix is from an artist on the Internet working in five different fragrant PNW woods. I also purchased a phoenix for one of my best friends, who relishes both beautiful and unusual on her tree.

A Phoenix in five varieties of wood

Phoenix Rising

We had not discussed ornaments this year, but when we last talked she admitted to buying us both ornaments at the Christmas Fairs in Germany. Her husband looked over and said “Why are you buying that?” She answered, “Kath-eee….” And he said, “Oh, of course.”

I would not be surprised to receive a Krampus ornament.

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


About Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Cat Kimbriel is working on a a contemporary fantasy about curses, ecological change, and very different ways of looking at the twilight worlds. She's still working on a short Nuala piece and mulling over a new Alfreda novel. You can find her fantasy & science fiction, including free samples, at her Book View Café bookshelf. These books can also be found at major online booksellers. Her personal blog is here, and you will find her on whatever social media currently interests her. Cat builds worlds that contain compassion and justice -- come join the journey.


A Lifetime in a Holiday Tree — 14 Comments

  1. That phoenix is charming!

    The ornaments I cherish most are the ones my kids made with their pictures all through elementary school.

    • More precious than gold, Sherwood. I was admiring the ones on my sister’s tree–some were drawings done by her children and turned into ornaments.

  2. I have a number of tatted and bobbin lace ornaments, all hand made by me or my lacemaking friends when I was active in the guild. We don’t do trees anymore, but I won’t get rid of the lace.

  3. UPDATE:

    Bwah-hah-hah! One of my sisters tried her hand at making dichromatic glass necklaces this year. She put the results on a holiday hook so the drop could be either a necklace OR a Christmas ornament.

    The holiday ornament embargo has been breached!

    Mastodons for everyone!