Out of the boxes and the tissue paper they come, to be hung ever so gently in special spots upon the Christmas tree.
No out-of-the-way bottom branches will do for these wondrous orbs and trinkets. These are our very favorite ornaments, you see, the ones we hold just a bit more dear for whatever the reason.
Today, with trees all a-twinkle and Christmas Day nearly upon us, we asked a few Top of Utah residents to share their stories about their favorite decorations for dressing up the Tannenbaum.
Bandit, Little Annie, Sugar Bear, Sugar and Kiki are never far from LeAnn Gilbert’s thoughts at Christmastime.
Photographs of these five beloved pets who have passed away over the years are featured on the tree during every holiday season at Gilbert’s home.
“I’m a big pet person; I absolutely love my dogs and cats,” says Gilbert, of Brigham City. “When I lose them, I always put their picture on my tree — it’s kind of a memory tree.”
The pictures of the four dogs and one cat (that’s Kiki) join other memory-related ornaments, including those purchased on Gilbert’s travels to England or elsewhere, or those given to the former schoolteacher by her students.
“When I put up my tree, I think of Christmases past and memories that make me feel good,” says Gilbert, who, with her husband Sonny, creates the light displays Fantasy at the Bay in Willard and ZooLights in Salt Lake City.
Another favorite, too heavy for the tree, is a 12-inch-tall Santa figurine that Gilbert’s mother used to put out every holiday. Every time Gilbert looks at Mr. Claus stepping into his chimney, she remembers being a kid and “that magical feeling of Christmas.”
A grown son
Cowboy poet Jan Erickson only has eyes for a tiny mirror ornament bearing a photograph of one of his sons.
“This is the only ornament I ever look for when the Christmas tree goes up,” says the Kaysville resident, of the handcrafted item that son Wynn made when he was just 4 years old.
The year was 1983 and Wynn, now 33, created the tree decoration, edged with a bit of ribbon, in a class at church. The middle of the mirror’s reflective surface was scratched off and a photo of the child placed behind it.
“It’s just him sort of smiling through the mirror,” says Erickson, who likes the handmade aspect of this item over any commercial ornaments on the family tree.
The mirror doesn’t hang in any particular place on the tree, Erickson says: “I have to go looking for it every time.”
Nowadays, Erickson says it’s fun to show the ornament off to his grandchildren — Wynn’s own four children, ages 2 to 8 — and tell them, “There’s Daddy.”
Here’s a new look for Santa — a big nose and Groucho Marx glasses.
Joel Layton was smitten the moment he first laid eyes on this “Groucho Santa” about 20 years ago at an after-Christmas sale.
“I’m very much a big film buff and I’ve always loved the Marx brothers,” says Layton, who, with wife Lilli Randall, runs the Art House Cinema 502 on Ogden’s Historic 25th Street.
“It always just struck me as just an ideal ornament,” he says. Even though the Hallmark-quality figurine was on sale, he quips, “I would have paid full price for it.”
Layton used to own a pair of Groucho glasses that he’d put on in his car when he’d encounter a driver with road rage. When Erickson pulled up next to the unhappy drivers wearing his goofy goggles, “Usually it would get them laughing.”
The theater owner says his eclectic tree features all sorts of Santas — in hot tubs, trailers, planes and surfing duds. But Groucho Santa is the best, still stored in his original box, “well-kept and well-cared-for,” says Layton, who recently moved to Reno but returns to his Ogden theater monthly.
Every Christmas, for years now, the Child family receives a new tree ornament as a gift from a friend and former neighbor.
“He made Christmas beautiful,” says Jill Child of Clinton, referring to the mostly wood-crafted ornaments fashioned by Kenneth Lovell of Mountain Green.
Her favorite is the Angels of Peace, featuring two angels facing one another, their hands clasped before them. But there have also been tiny creches, bells, a kneeling shepherd boy and an ornament spelling the word “Faith.”
It’s all a labor of love from Lovell, who says that ever since a friend introduced him to the scroll saw, the machine has dominated his life and created a wonderful hobby.
Lovell estimates he creates 200 to 230 ornaments every year for family, friends and members of his LDS ward in Mountain Green. He comes up with a different pattern each holiday season and always attaches a small tag to the pieces bearing a message.
This year’s ornament — a holly leaf — was surreptitiously delivered late last week with a “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” note. About half of the ornaments are mailed to folks living outside of Mountain Green; the other half are dropped off in newspaper boxes at people’s homes.
“Generally speaking, I don’t make it known who I am or what I’m doing, but people catch on,” says Lovell, a retired electrical contractor. Sometimes folks will say to him, after discovering their gift, “Oh, the ornament fairy’s been by again this year.”
The ornaments start taking shape about August of every year in a workshop attached to Lovell’s home. The woodworker prefers to use oak or walnut, and gets much of his material from leftover cuttings at cabinetry shops.
“I’m a master Dumpster diver,” quips Lovell, who says he started delivering ornaments on this wide scale about 10 years ago.
Lovell says he first started using the scroll saw to make Halloween decorations, then segued into Christmas ornaments. He also enjoys making an 8-by-10-inch eagle for young men receiving their Eagle Scout awards.
“With a scroll saw you can really use your imagination, and generally speaking you can turn out some pretty good stuff,” says Lovell, who explains his hobby gets him out of the house and gives him something to do.
Child says her collection of ornaments is hung on an old-fashioned Western tree set up downstairs at her Clinton home. Although the family looks forward to receiving their ornament each year in the mail, Child worries whether Lovell can keep up the tradition because he now has Parkinson’s disease.
“It’s a curse,” Lovell says, but he doesn’t plan to stop his crafting due to the condition. “If I’ve got a little bit of a shake, the saw does, too, so we make a pretty good couple.”
The Angels of Peace ornament means more to Child in a post-9/11 world, where she explains in an email that she sees fear in many neighbors’ eyes, tragedies in schools and “innocence being stripped from us.”
But Lovell’s work shows that “love wins,” she writes. “I think this ornament represents .... the love of Christ, and with that, you get great peace.”
“He’s just left a legacy — we will never forget him,” Child adds in a phone interview.
“It’s not just me, it’s so many people — that’s the beauty of it, it’s not just us.”
Kellie Smith’s favorite ornament is her newest one, although it isn’t new at all — it’s rather old.
Vintage ornaments are the theme for the tree at Smith’s Ogden home, so this glass bird from the 1960s fits right in. Although vintage balls from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s aren’t too hard to find, figurines like the bird are more rare, the collector says.
“I’ve been looking for ornaments that are unique and vintage and ... shaped different,” says Smith, who works at an Ogden fabric store.
The pink and silver bird — actually one of a pair that Smith paid about $30 for — joins some antique houses, bells and Santas.
“Most of my house is actually vintage; my house was built in the 1950s. ... I tend to be attracted to almost anything that’s vintage,” Smith says.
The Ogdenite says she searches for old ornaments in antique stores or on eBay, explaining, “It’s more the thrill of the hunt, trying to find unique ornaments, more than anything.”
By Thomas Kinkade
Move over, Joseph, Santa’s got a pretty amazing coat of many colors, too.
Artwork by Thomas Kinkade — the “painter of light” — is the star of a set of Santa ornaments collected by Loretta Cole of Willard. Miniature versions of the late artist’s work are featured on the coats of the various Santa Clauses.
“They’re all beautiful in their own right,” Cole says, but when pressed to name a favorite she says she would choose her first set of three Santas because “that’s when I fell in love with them.”
Cole, whose home was featured on this year’s Brigham City Holiday Home Tour, says her mother-in-law used to collect Santas, and when she passed away, they were distributed to her children. That’s what inspired Cole to start a collection of her own, now numbering about 60 ornaments on the tree in her living room.
The Kinkade paintings, like Norman Rockwell’s classics, are about “bringing Christmas from the past to the present,” Cole says. The houses in Kinkade’s art have a warm feeling, like coming home for Christmas.
The Santa ornaments are collectibles, she says, and Kinkade’s death earlier this year means “I prize them even more.”