Station wagon with a pine on the roof says ‘Christmas’

Melissa Preddy
Special to The Detroit News

Today kicks off decorating weekend in many households. Themes ranging from cartoon characters to prim Victorian to chalkboard-and-burlap will reign for the next five or six weeks.

One of my favorite holiday motifs — and indeed the basis for my vintage decor scheme this season — is the image of an old Woody or Estate wagon with a fresh-cut Christmas tree roped to the roof.

The simple silhouette of a vehicle — usually depicted as fire-engine red — with a spruce or fir aboard evokes a complex seasonal mix of memories: the brisk, wintry outdoors, the anticipation of tree-trimming fun to come, the pungent scent of sap that you just don’t get with a wispy tinsel tree or practical plastic pine.

(I’ve never chopped down a tree, lashed it to my vehicle and driven home through snowy lanes — though I did once stuff a full-size Scotch pine into the trunk of my purple Ford Escort. It emerged not too worse for wear and, bedecked with those old-style multi-colored C-7 bulbs, made a handsome holiday focal point.)

Somehow just looking at the wholesome mid-century styling of these early utility vehicles, earnestly on their mission to spread holiday cheer, makes me smile. And the tree-atop-the-wagon image must evoke the same wistful feeling in others as it does in me. It’s what the Dictionary of Urban Sorrows (a compendium of made-up words) calls anemoia — that yearning or nostalgia for a time you’ve never actually known. Judging by the array of merchandise out there that features the retro motif, the sentiment is shared by others.

Without even trying, I’ve accumulated a number of goods bearing the tree-toting trucks: a mini version adds a jaunty touch to my mantelpiece Christmas village, a printed flour-sack tea towel spruces up the kitchen (no pun intended), rustic wall art graces the foyer and a ready-to-be-filled stack of 1940s-looking paper gift bags awaits in the wrapping area. Just the other day, I delightedly snapped up a mercury-glass model in a gift shop; the little 3-inch crimson Woody wagon is decked with a tiny snow-flocked tree.

Now that I’m officially on the hunt, the trail has led to more. Pottery Barn is selling a $55 embroidered “lumbar pillow” with the red vehicle stitched against a woodland background; a company called Vineyard Vines offers a man’s necktie dotted with tiny tree-topped wagons for $49.50; the coordinating Woody-and-pine belt is $58.

A place called Castaway, based on Nantucket Island, sells a “corduroy beachcomber pant” for a cool $158; the wide-wale tan fabric is sprinkled with tiny wagon-bearing trees. Bow ties, door mats, pint glasses, lunch bags, key rings — from the haute to the homemade, there’s an item for seemingly every taste, budget and need.

For non-purists, an even greater array of goods features ordinary station wagons (often inspired by the Griswold family in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”) carting the yule trees — from caps and greeting cards to toddler pajamas, from socks to stainless-steel travel mugs, the list goes on.

Naturally, crafty sites like Zazzle, Etsy and of course, Pinterest, offer ideas galore for the do-it-yourselfer, from party invitations to custom postage stamps. And what stocking would be complete with a bit of new holiday jewelry: To my great glee, I spotted a charming pewter pin of a 1940s Woody complete with tiny green pine, and you can believe it didn’t take long to click “add to cart” for that find.

My holiday tree may come from a cardboard box in the basement, instead of a snow-blanketed forest but thanks to purveyors of retro decorations, with a little Nat King Cole on the Bluetooth speaker and the scent of sweet hot chocolate emanating from the microwave, I can dream.

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via