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More than Just a Decoration: Part 2

Grandma’s last gift was likely purchased a few years before I discovered it deep in the recesses of her basement, just days after she passed away. That last gift is one I’ll always cherish. | JOE SHEAD

Almost everyone has that one holiday decoration that you cherish more than the others. Perhaps it’s a family heirloom or something that reminds you of your childhood. Or maybe it’s something you made yourself. We asked a few of our writers to talk about their favorite decorations, and they didn’t disappoint.

One Last Gift from Grandma

My grandma was a hot mess. As a boy, I wouldn’t have described her as such, but now that I’m more or less an adult, I see it. She was a packrat. I mean a bona fide hoarder. You had to navigate a narrow goat path to get around her house and in her old age, her knees gave her problems, which made it all the more difficult for her to hobble through the tunnels she had created through her home.

Plus she was chronically late. I knew that even as a boy. In childish naivety, I would wait at the window for Grandma to arrive to take us to the lake or wherever our adventure might lead, but I soon learned I should add at least an hour to the pre-appointed time. And when she did arrive, it would take several minutes for her to move around the overflowing mass of junk in her old Buick to make room for my brothers and I.

I say this not to rag on Grandma, but to paint a picture of her. Whether good, bad or otherwise, these qualities were just Grandma, and I loved her for who she was. I see (unfortunately) some of those same traits in myself. I guess maybe some of Grandma rubbed off on me. Grandma always laughed at my nonsensical sense of humor, and I know I was her favorite. The twinkle in her eye when she looked at me gave it away.

At Christmas, Grandma always made her homemade Chex Mix, which she called “Nuts and Bolts.” She made this treat long before it became popular, and hers is the best I’ve ever had. Nothing else comes close. Everyone in the family would get a gallon bag of Nuts and Bolts for Christmas.

On Christmas Day, Grandma was always fashionably late. Plus, she would arrive without wrapping our gifts, so she would skulk away to some quiet corner of the house to wrap them. Usually, my brothers and I got the same thing, so we hustled to unwrap the gift first while the identity was still a surprise.

We lost Grandma last year, two weeks before Christmas. As we took on the monumental task of going through a lifetime collection of junk piled to the ceiling in her home, basement and storage unit, we first grabbed the multitude of Christmas decorations we didn’t intend to keep, so we could donate them and let someone put them to good use for the Christmas season.

For days we toiled at cleaning out Grandma’s home. Some items we kept, some we donated and others we hung onto to sell in a never-ending garage sale.

As we went through unending boxes of dishes, gardening equipment, clothing and other Grandma items, one tiny gift caught my eye. It was a tiny snowman ornament with a bell inside, wrapped in tissue paper. Written on the paper was the inscription, “Joe here is your male Snow Bell. Love Gram.”

Given the location where we found it buried on a table far back in the basement, I suspect it was intended to be given years earlier. But what impeccable timing!

Looking back, I can’t recall many of the Christmas presents Grandma ever gave me, but I’ll always cherish the last one.

Making a Christmas Legacy with Vintage Handmade Ornaments

One of my favourite Christmas memories was decades ago when a friend asked if I’d like to take an evening course with her on making fancy Christmas ornaments.

Admittedly, it wasn’t of particular interest to me, but I said “Sure, why not.” I was already a knitter but one who strictly followed a pattern, so making these ornaments would test my creative skills—I was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone as there was no pattern to follow. For the next four weeks during a cold November, we drove out to a nearby rural community centre to attend the course.

We learned to make an eclectic mix of elegant handmade Christmas ornaments using satin-covered balls in various colours and shapes. Nowadays, I see on Etsy similar ornaments listed as vintage, some selling for over $100. We made ornaments with sparkling sequins, crystals, beads and fancy ribbons that were anchored with little straight pins onto 3-inch diameter satin balls.

This Victorian-style swanky Christmas ornament was a style reminiscent of some of the famous jewelled Fabergé eggs. | SUBMITTED

One of my favourites was the 4-inch angels we made using bell-shaped Styrofoam balls decorated with sequins for clothing, accented with ribbons and topped by a pre-made plastic angel with wings. Another favourite was the swanky Victorian-style ornaments made with hundreds of beads, sequins and fancy ribbons pinned on a white or coloured satin ball, about 3 inches in diameter, a style reminiscent of the famous jewelled Fabergé eggs. And then there was the pinecone-shaped shapes that were completely covered in round bright sequins (pinned starting from bottom upwards) topped with a colourful ribbon tree hanger.

One style we made used artwork from a napkin that was transposed onto a Styrofoam oval and framed on the sides with colourful ribbon and beads. Easy to make, though I can’t remember now how we got the napkin design onto the Styrofoam ball.

The handmade fancy decorations I made were a far cry from the first ornaments we had after coming to Canada. I remember those Christmases when our real tree (cut from a nearby bush) was decorated with colourful glass ornaments (that would shatter when dropped) and European-style clip-on candleholders that held white, short candles that were actually lit.

The vintage ornaments I made back in the 1970s are now family heirlooms; a Christmas legacy to pass on to my children and grandson in the years to come. And for me, that makes them super special.

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