Readers share favorite ornaments – and the meaning behind them
My meticulous mother kept detailed handwritten lists of every ornament each of her children received so that one day we could take our collections with us to decorate our own trees.
My ornament list was always the longest and I had one person to thank: my godmother, my Aunt JoAnn.
Every Christmas, my stylish aunt, a former flight attendant, would send me a lovely ornament. There was a beautiful porcelain doll with gold hair and a Santa in a velvet suit. There was a round wooden Santa and a miniature cat and mouse on a scooter.
My favorite, though, was a large papier-mache angel, hand-painted and carrying thumb-sized sheet music. To this day, I still have my angel ornament. And I always look for the perfect perch on our tree for my angel, now at least 30 years old.
The angel holds special meaning this year – along with all the ornaments from my beloved Aunt JoAnn – as she recovers from a series of health challenges.
Earlier this year I asked our readers to share the stories behind their most treasured ornaments. Stories came from Garden City to Farmington Hills. There were heirloom ornaments, passed down from generation to generation, and others bought during travels abroad.
Below you’ll find some of my favorites. Thanks to all the readers who not only shared photos of their most treasured ornament, but the stories behind them.
On this special day, it’s a reminder that the holidays are about so much more than giving and receiving presents. They’re a time to gather with family and friends, taking a moment out of busy lives to be together and reflect – and they’re for remembering.
Happy holidays to all of you!
A hand-painted ornament from Dad
One of Paul St. Henry’s most treasured ornaments is not one he gave away – but one he got back. St. Henry’s father, Don, used to hand paint Christmas bulbs, which he would give away as gifts. “This one he gave to friends as a gift for an invitation to a Christmas party,” says Paul St. Henry of Northville. “Some 20 years later the daughter of the hosts gave the ornament to me, as her folks had both passed on.” Given that his father had died at a fairly young age, getting it back meant a lot, says St. Henry. “It has tremendous sentimental value. It is a true treasure,” says St. Henry.
A family heirloom
Dennis Berg’s favorite ornament is a small heart-shaped ornament with a picture of Santa on it and two little girls that has been in his family for five generations. It originally belonged to his great grandmother Anna Schalk Berg. “It was handed down from Great Grandma Anna to my Grandma Laura to my mother Paula and when she passed away our home inherited many decorations for Christmas,” writes Berg, of Rochester Hills, in an email. “It is easily over 100 years old.” To this day, this papier-mache ornament still hangs on the tree.
A bauble from
Katherine and Jim Dowling of Farmington were vacationing in England in the fall of 2001 when Katherine got sick and had to be hospitalized for 10 days. “The people of England were united in their kindness and concern for Americans in the wake of the 9/11 bombings and extremely kind to me, ‘the American patient,’” writes Katherine in an email. After she recovered, she came back to the U.S. with only one souvenir: a Union Jack ornament from Harrods.
Unfortunately, the ornament broke when it fell from the couple’s tree that Christmas. Saddened at the loss, Jim contacted Harrods the following Christmas to get a replacement. The news wasn’t good. He “emailed Harrods for a replacement and the reply was that none were made for the 2002 Christmas season. However, the next day he received another email from the same person saying that she had found one,” writes Katherine. “She quickly wrapped and shipped the package which arrived just in time.” Katherine says they now keep “bauble” – “Harrods word for ornament,” says Katherine – safely displayed in a glass dome year-round in the living room.
A wedding invitation and a Christmas bulb
Alexi Koenig’s favorite ornament isn’t from a store or family member. It isn’t even that old. It’s actually made from a piece of stationery, albeit an important one: her wedding invitation. After Alexi and her husband, Ryan, got married in January 2014 in New Orleans, Stephanie Marquez, Alexi’s matron of honor, made the couple an ornament, cutting out words from their invitation. “R + A for Ryan & Alexi,” writes Koenig of Dearborn. “I absolutely love it!”
An ornament that pays tribute
Elizabeth Aprahamian’s favorite ornament is actually one of many – and it’s deeply symbolic. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in historic Western Armenia. “My parents were children at that time who were saved by their mothers,” writes Aprahamian, a retired Detroit Public Schools teacher from Northville, in an email. Present-day Armenia has used a forget-me-not flower with a blue color as a symbol of the 1.5 million victims who lost their lives, but Aprahamian wanted to do something locally at her church, St. John Armenian Church. “I thought of using that symbol on an ornament,” she writes.
So Aprahamian went to Hobby Lobby and Michaels and bought plain opaque ornaments. She asked a friend, Lori Barnes of Livonia, to paint a forget-me-not on the bulbs with the years 1915-2015. The painted bulbs are available at the church’s bookstore, and sales have taken off.They’ve sold about 200 and Aprahamian has ordered 100 more. They’re $10 each.
“The ornament will be a reminder through the years of this year’s remembrance,” says Aprahamian. “It is my way of paying tribute to those who survived, among them my parents, and honoring those who did not.”
A jewelry ornament
Every Fourth of July, Karen Reynolds’ in-laws used to celebrate the Clawson parade that came down their street with a party. And Reynold’s mother-in-law often wore her patriotic jewelery.
When her mother-in-law died in September, Reynolds knew she wanted to make ornaments out of her jewelry. “I was putting the ornaments together when my father-in-law was visiting and ... realized that the jewelry belonged to his ‘honey,’” writes Reynolds. “He got tears in his eyes when I offered to loan them to him.” So Reynolds gave him the jewelry ornaments. “I hope I get them back when he is gone, but even if I don’t, I have pictures and can remember the his smile when I shared them with him,” she says.
An ornament from a kit
Connie Donelko of Troy doesn’t just remember making ornaments with her mom in the 1970s from ornament kits from Frank’s Nursery, she remembers how her hands hurt. “My fingertips hurt from handling the little sequins and tiny pins,” says Donelko. “Getting that angel on top, and getting it straight, was rather painstaking.” Donelko and her mom made about a dozen of these ornaments kits over the years. But as time passed and her mom downsized her Christmas decor, the ornaments were eventually forgotten. When her mom died in 2006, she rediscovered the ornaments. “I remember this angel ornament was the last one I made,” says Donelko.