Collecting, preserving, and displaying ornaments has always been a part of my Christmas tradition. One of my favorite parts of the holiday is unboxing my collection. I revisit each ornament and recall how it came into my life. Some of the most treasured are the ones my mother hand made when she was first married more than 43 years ago. Most in my collection tell a tale or at least part of my story – like the first ornament I bought on my own (a brassy, flat cluster of grapes, bought from The Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art that I used as my tree topper for three years before making a suitable replacement) or the gift from my mother when we were expecting our first child. Every year I try to add another ornament that tells of my newest chapter.
My collection tends to be more biographical, with some fun, mercury glass orbs, and glittery tassels tying it all together. For others, it is all about color, material, or shape. I know people who collect only star‐shaped ornaments so that their home and tree reflect the winter night sky. Others collect beautiful antique mercury glass baubles whose age, wear and patina bring a whole new texture to their assemblage.
Ornaments can be purchased in bulk from a box store, rummaged for in a flea market or estate sale, or lovingly selected and added to a well‐curated collection. Regardless of their origin, don’t let the confines of a tree stop you. Fresh ideas to display your fun baubles abound. Here are some of my favorites!
Bedeck your light fixture or create a window hanging. Use various lengths of fishing line to string ornaments at different intervals along the arms of an overhead fixture, or likewise, along the bough of evergreen or an interesting branch. Experiment by using different sizes, shapes, and coordinating colors until you achieve an arrangement that suits you. Nestle some coordinating floral picks, greens, or glittery stems on top of the light fixture arms or into the bough to tie your display together. If using a branch or bough, tie a length of complementary ribbon (a 1 ½” burlap ribbon will give a more rustic feel) to either end to hang the piece. Hang your completed decoration in front of a window or mirror.
Did you know that mantels aren’t just for hanging stockings? They are the perfect platform to display a selection of your favorite ornaments. My mantel always gets a treatment of greens and sparkly floral picks, and then the fun begins! I select an assortment of sparkly gold pinecones and red mercury glass ornaments (this is the perfect place to us those “too heavy for the tree” ornaments!) and use them to keep the light from my candles and string lights flickering from dusk until dawn.
I also bedeck the tops of my bookcases. I start by filling clear apothecary jars with gold and red balls, finials, and pinecones. I then arrange my jars and fill in around the base with lights, sparkly textiles, candles (carefully as to not pose a fire hazard!), and more ornaments. These (higher window sills, too!) are great places to put those fragile heirlooms, as little hands can rarely reach. Just make sure they are placed so they are stable. Another way to display your Christmassy finds is to fill an interesting bowl or vessel with them. Do you have a really fun, vintage wine box? How about a great turned wooden bowl? Play with textures and fill them with antique mercury glass balls or even highly polished gold ornaments bought in bulk. Of course, you can always corral a selection of ornaments onto a rimmed tray, interspersed with greens, fruit, and perhaps a few well‐placed tealights, for a fun (and movable) centerpiece.
A holiday celebration, from decorating to eating, should be completely personal. It can be a mix of traditional and modern elements. It can mean using heirloom ornaments, making new ones with your littles, or decking your halls with scarves and strings of beads from a bargain store. Regardless of how you decide to decorate your home, make sure it shows your aesthetic, and what moves you. Your holiday should tell a story – your story.