We asked you to tell us about your cherished Christmas ornaments. Here are the results

·10 min read

As the holidays approach, many of us will get festive and decorate our Christmas trees.

For some, that means digging out lights and ornaments from storage, and maybe recounting the stories or memories of how those special ornaments became part of the family collection.

Recently, The News & Observer and Durham Herald-Sun asked readers to submit stories and photos of their favorite and most cherished Christmas ornaments.

We received about a dozen responses from readers, complete with photos. Some are — by the ornament owners’ own declaration — a little on the ugly side, but all are special.

Here’s a look at the ornaments, along with what readers had to say about them.

Stored in a 1960s-era Pop-Tart Box

Jim Packett of Durham wrote to us about an ornament that his mother bought when he was young.

His mother loved Christmas, Packett said, but she was frugal. Never one to spend much money on Christmas decorations, she shopped post-holiday sales for decorations the family could use in the following years.

Usually the sales included “leftover merchandise that was less than desirable,” but one year, Packett’s mother found a “particularly appealing” ornament: a teardrop-shaped blown glass bulb with a gold-trimmed opening that encased a three-dimensional replica of Santa.

“She bought it, and proudly hung that decoration on our Christmas trees every year until Alzheimer’s disease finally took holidays, memories and everything else she held dear away from her,” Packett wrote.

Packett, now 65, still has the ornament and puts it on his Christmas tree each year. When it’s not in use, he stores it ”in the same tissue-lined, 1960s-era Pop Tarts box that she always kept it in.”

“Mom would have liked that,” Packett wrote.

Jim Packett’s ornament.
Jim Packett’s ornament.

‘It always gets the best place on the tree’

Jason McDaniel wrote to us about a train ornament he made in 1965.

It was McDaniel and his wife’s first Christmas as a married couple. They were living in Chapel Hill, where McDaniel was in graduate school and his wife worked at Wilson Library on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. Money was tight for the young couple, but they got a small, live Christmas tree.

To decorate, McDaniel made a train from cardboard and leftover felt from another project, and used a toilet paper roll for the front of the engine.

“We have used it every Christmas since 1965 and it always gets the best place on the tree,” McDaniel wrote.

Jason McDaniel’s train ornament.
Jason McDaniel’s train ornament.

‘A gift after surviving the Spanish Flu Pandemic’

Martha Taccarino wrote about an ornament that was originally given to her mother, who was born in 1914.

Taccarino said her mother received the ornament — a duck with a “sort of disgruntled look” — as a gift after surviving the Spanish flu pandemic, and she treasured it all her life.

Taccarino now uses the ornament to decorate her own tree, honoring her mother, as well as her mother’s mother, brothers and sister who died during the flu pandemic.

Martha Taccarino’s duck ornament.
Martha Taccarino’s duck ornament.

A felt polar bear holding fish

Leigh Griffith wrote to us about an ornament made by “Ms. Heartinger,” who set up a table during a Christmas fair at the UNC-Chapel Hill student union in the early 1980s.

The ornament, a polar bear holding some fish, was made by Heartinger’s mother, and is made of felt.

Griffith said Heartinger passed away in the past couple of years, and she shared photos of the ornament with Heartinger’s daughter via Facebook.

Leigh Griffith’s polar bear ornament.
Leigh Griffith’s polar bear ornament.

The Christmas Tree Monster

Nancy Wallace of Durham sent us a story about her “Christmas Tree Monster,” an ornament she made in December 1984.

Wallace said she originally bought the “ornament” in the 1970s as part of a trio of movie monster wind-up toys: Godzilla, King Kong and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Godzilla eventually broke, and Wallace moved the toys to her “mostly cat-proof mantle.”

Back then, Wallace admits, she wasn’t much into Christmas — but “that changed in a Hallmark Movie minute after I met Tom,” she wrote.

Tom was a graduate student without much money, but he still put up a small tree in his apartment, complete with a couple strings of lights and a few ornaments.

Tom moved in with Wallace in October 1984, and by December, he had convinced her to decorate their shared space for Christmas. They bought a “scrawny tree” and ornaments, but there were still some bare spots when they finished hanging them all.

Wallace looked over to her mantle and saw the broken Godzilla toy. Since it was broken, she thought it might look good in the tree. She attached him to a branch deep in the tree, and the rest is history.

“Tom and I have been together for 37 years now, married for most of them. We still put up a tree every year, and The Christmas Tree Monster is always the first ornament to go on, and the last one to come off in January,” Wallace wrote. “He’s never looked happier.”

Nancy Wallace’s Godzilla ornament.
Nancy Wallace’s Godzilla ornament.

Cinderella’s step-sisters

Jarka Thangaraj sent us multiple pictures of homemade bread dough ornaments, including some her daughter made of Cinderella’s step-sisters when she was 9 years old.

Thangaraj started making bread dough ornaments when her family came to the U.S. 40 years ago. Her daughter’s elementary teacher showed her how to make them.

“My daughter made only a few bread dough ornaments but I truly treasure them,” Thangaraj wrote.

Thangaraj has made more than 300 dough ornaments since then, and now only decorates her tree with the homemade ornaments.

Jarka Thangaraj’s “Cinderella’s step-sisters” ornament, made by Thangaraj’s daughter.
Jarka Thangaraj’s “Cinderella’s step-sisters” ornament, made by Thangaraj’s daughter.

A special ‘Rudolph’ connection

Dave Duffy of Wake Forest wrote to us about an ornament he made in 1981 after a special run-in with Johnny Marks, the songwriter behind “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Duffy told us that he and Marks both attended Colgate University in New York — Duffy having graduated in 1975, and Marks in 1931.

While living in Endicott, New York, in 1981, Duffy saw that Marks would be attending his 50th reunion at the school. Duffy decided to attend the event with his wife, Deb. Duffy met Marks, got his autograph and even watched him perform “Rudolph” live on the piano.

Duffy then made a copy of the autograph, turned it into an ornament and hung it on the family Christmas tree.

The original autograph is stored in a lockbox, but Duffy also made copies for his friends and family, and still passes them out today.

“Everyone loves it!” he wrote.

Dave Duffy’s “’Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” ornament.
Dave Duffy’s “’Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” ornament.

‘Mama’s quilt angel is my favorite’

Teena McLamb of Mills River wrote to us about an angel ornament she made from her husband’s worn-out quilt, originally made by his grandmother.

McLamb said the quilts her husband’s grandmother made weren’t fancy — they were “utilitarian” and made from flour and feed sacks and fabric scraps. Her husband had used his quilt throughout college and into the couple’s marriage.

After his grandmother died, McLamb wanted to repurpose her husband’s quilt so they could “keep a piece of her with our family,” she wrote.

McLamb decided to make Christmas ornaments, in the shape of angels, out of the quilts and their scraps. She made one for each of their family members, and her daughters wrote a poem in honor of their great-grandmother to pin on each one.

“I have lots of angels that I have collected over the decades, but Mama’s quilt angel is my favorite,” she wrote.

Teena McLamb’s quilt angel ornament.
Teena McLamb’s quilt angel ornament.

A kindergarten ornament

Frankie Lee sent in an ornament with a poem attached to the front about the love it holds inside.

“This sweet ornament was made by our sons in kindergarten,” Lee wrote. “I think the message is so loving.”

“Whenever you are lonely / Or ever feeling blue / You only have to hold this box / To know I think of you.”

Frankie Lee’s ornament.
Frankie Lee’s ornament.

The ornament her family has declared ‘the ugliest one’

Monica Riese wrote to us about her favorite ornament, an angel that “almost everyone in my family has declared the ugliest one I own.”

Riese’s grandmother made the ornament about 30 years ago out of an “overstuffed section of pantyhose.”

The sections are scrunched up and stitched together to form the angel’s face, body and legs, and she has a little wisp of hair, a gold pipe cleaner halo and a pink bow around her neck. She has a white pair of felt wings with gold sequins bedazzling the edges, and she’s carrying a solid metal French horn that’s “altogether too heavy for her.” (Riese adds that she’s pretty sure the angel has too many toes.)

Riese knows that everyone thinks the ornament is “horrendous,” but that’s part of why she loves it so much.

“It’s easy to make a picture-perfect tree with store-bought ornaments and a unified color scheme,” Riese wrote, “but this little lady perfectly encapsulates all the homemade ornaments that I grew up loving, moving from house to house as I headed off to college and eventually across the country.”

“I look forward to hanging her on my tree again in 2021 and for years to come.”

Monica Riese’s angel ornament.
Monica Riese’s angel ornament.

A ‘priceless’ ornament from Granny

Julie Murphy of Wake Forest sent in the oldest ornament she has on her tree — a painted Styrofoam bell, made by her maternal grandmother, Pearl, at a church function years before she died in 1973.

Murphy has had the ornament for 49 years, and said it is “priceless to me as it rekindles fond memories of my beloved Granny every Christmas.”

Julie Murphy’s bell ornament.
Julie Murphy’s bell ornament.

‘The only thing that moved me’

Logan Cason sent us a story about an ornament his wife bought him a couple years ago.

The ornament was an airplane, and Cason’s wife thought it represented him well.

“You love planes!” she said.

“No, I don’t,” Cason responded.

The couple still isn’t sure where she got that idea, Cason said, but they both had a good laugh about it. They took the plane ornament back to the store, and Cason picked out something that truly represents him.

“I walked around the entire store, and finally landed on the only thing that moved me,” Cason said. “Now, we have a BLT ornament hanging from our tree each year, and it looks delicious.”

Logan Cason’s BLT ornament.
Logan Cason’s BLT ornament.

‘My all time favorite ornament’

Melanie Lett wrote to us about an ornament she bought in the early 1980s, right before she graduated from college.

Lett was in her next-to-last semester and “looking forward to my adult life that was fast approaching.”

After Christmas that year, she was in her college’s bookstore looking through discounted Christmas decorations. She knew she would be living in her own place by the following Christmas, so she decided to buy some ornaments for her future tree.

“There was a basket full of adorable wooden ornaments depicting various animals in Christmas attire and accessories,” Lett wrote. “Of course I bought them all!”

But one ornament has stood out all of these years: “A mouse sleeping in a matchbox who looks like he is dreaming of Christmas treats.

“He quickly became my all time favorite ornament and has been hung in a premier place on the tree for the last 38 years,” Lett wrote.

Melanie Lett’s Christmas ornament.
Melanie Lett’s Christmas ornament.

‘Beautiful reminders’

Lee Ann Spahr sent us a story about two ornaments — one that represents her father and one that represents her mother.

Spahr told us that her father, Golden Eldridge, died unexpectedly in October 1981. Her family was “shocked and heartbroken.”

“Christmas was coming up, and we felt so alone without our father,” Spahr wrote.

Somewhere, Spahr wrote, her mother found a crystal star ornament with “Christmas 1981” engraved on it. The family decided to place it on their Christmas tree, right beside the chair where their father always sat on Christmas Eve when they gathered to open gifts.

“That star remained a fixture on Mother’s tree for 27 years,” Spahr wrote, “right where my father’s left hand would have rested on the arm of his chair each Christmas Eve.”

Spahr’s mother later passed away right before Christmas in 2008.

Spahr brought her father’s star ornament home with her after her mother died, and began placing it in the same location it held on her mother’s tree all those years — and now, the ornament has been joined by another crystal star, dated for 2008 to honor her mother.

“Their stars are together on our tree and bring beautiful reminders of the love we shared each Christmas,” Spahr wrote.

Lee Ann Spahr’s Christmas ornaments honoring her mother and father.
Lee Ann Spahr’s Christmas ornaments honoring her mother and father.
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