Seduced by twinkly ceramic tree decor
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: December 20, 2018
“You didn’t buy another ceramic Christmas tree, did you?” said my husband, Francis, holding the box the mailman had left.
“Never you mind!” I said, grabbing the package with excitement.
“How many do you have now ... fifteen? Twenty?” he accused, while I sliced through the packaging tape with scissors, energized by the prospect of the box’s contents.
“I got this one cheap on eBay, just wait ’til you see it. It’s adorable! Besides, they’re really valuable now,” I said, citing a recent Today.com story about vintage ceramic Christmas trees were worth $80 and $650 each.
“Oh, so I guess we don’t need a retirement plan now that we have these trees all over our house,” Francis said, with a sarcastic grin. It was true — I had one in each bedroom, one in the upstairs hall, one in each bathroom, two in the foyer, three in the family room, five in the dining room and two in the kitchen. And that didn’t include the one I took over to my son’s apartment, and the four stored down in the basement until I find spots for them. That’s 24. “Yikes, maybe I do have a problem,” I thought.
It all started in my childhood. So, of course, I blame my mother.
I remember snowy Pennsylvania Christmases in the 1970s, when my family would visit their best friends, the Crusans, who lived outside of our small town. The Crusans’ house was cozy, like something out of a Christmas carol, over the river and through the woods.
As my father drove down the Crusans’ long driveway, I could see it in the front window — a big ceramic Christmas tree that Mrs. Crusan had made herself, radiating with brightly colored lights. To me, it was magnificent, and I couldn’t wait to see it up close.
Much to my dismay, my family never had a ceramic Christmas tree. My mother was a purist when it came to the arts. Although she was a talented classical pianist, studio artist and had hand-spun a few tasteful pieces of pottery herself, she had no interest in crafty ceramics that involved garish glazes and plastic pegs.
“They’re tacky,” my mom once said, so I never told her that I thought they were beautiful.
At the Crusans’, we piled out of the car carrying presents and food to share, and tromped through the snow to the back kitchen door. Inside, we stomped our boots, taking in scents of garlic, nutmeg and a crackling fire. Beyond the kitchen was the living room, where the ceramic Christmas tree glowed in the front window.
I was a chubby kid, so you’d think my first stop would have been the cookie platter. But so captivated was I by the glow of Mrs. Crusan’s ceramic tree, I passed by the spritzes, thumbprints, pizzelles and gingersnaps without so much as a whiff.
With my face inches from the bewitching tree, I took in all its splendor. The glossy glaze reflected pure, saturated cobalt blue, emerald green, golden yellow, ruby red and hot magenta. It was an irresistible feast for my ceramic-tree-deprived eyes, and represented all that was wonderful about Christmas.
Twenty years later, while stationed in Virginia, my mother came to visit us for the holidays, bringing a huge box which she insisted I open early. I peeled away layers of newspaper to reveal a beautiful vintage ceramic Christmas tree.
“You always loved them, and now you’ll have one of your own,” she said with a smile. Finally, I could go public. Soon, one tree became two, but the second one got smashed during our move to Germany, so I bought three more on eBay to replace it. As the years went by, I trolled garage sales and vintage shops and found more, paying between $4.99 and $39.99.
Although friends and family have poked fun at my fetish, children visiting our house during the holidays have been captivated just like I was at Mrs. Crusan’s house in my youth.
“I’m sorry for buying so many,” I said to Francis, “but I just love them.”
“It’s okay, Hon,” Francis whispered, “I actually love them too.”