Sunday, December 18, 2016

Glass from the Past: Grandma's Christmas Ornaments

When I was visiting everyone back home in Virginia about eighteen years ago, I happened to be talking to my stepdad while he was organizing the basement. Calvin was my kind of guy; he was a purger, too. He pulled an old decrepit postal box off the shelf, opened it, and said, "We don't use these. Let's toss this box." When Mom saw the contents of the box, her eyes went wide.  

"Those were my mom's!" She looked at me. "Maybe Denise wants them."  

Within that ratty-looking box were the delicate glass Christmas ornaments that belonged to my grandmother from so many years ago. They were so beautiful, and very fragile. 

"I can seriously have these?" I'm a purger, but I'm not a fool. We minimalists know it's important to save the things we will USE that bring us JOY. I couldn't believe my luck. How I cherish the heirloom-quality collection I was given. I'm so glad I was there to save Grandma's decorations from a terrible fate.

One of my favorite winter scenes: my mom and Aunt Ann with my Great-Grandma Engelhard in her apron in the snow,
and looking out the wavy glass of the window, my Grandma Engelhard.

These ornaments were the first set of Christmas decorations my grandmother had as a new bride in 1934. They are made of the thinnest of glass, and hand-painted. They were just run-of-the-mill ornaments back then, probably purchased at the local five and dime store, but they are so special now because of their antiquity. Over 80 years old...

For the first few Christmases, I hung them on my tree, but inevitably, one would break as I attached it to a branch; they are so fragile. I continued to wrap them in the toilet paper that cushioned them in the old postal box, but a few years ago, I decided to put them in an egg carton to protect them a little better, or so I thought.

Several years ago, I purchased a small table-top tree on which to hang them; but the presentation was a little too tacky. That didn't set well with me; they need a special place to be displayed. 

Several friends were talking about old family Christmas decorations, and I happened to mention Grandma's ornaments. My friend Carol asked me to show them to her. Since she lives in Massachusetts, the only way I could do that was to take pictures of them.

So, one night while I was waiting for Bridger to get home from playing in the pep band at the high school basketball game, I photographed the ornaments. I gingerly removed each of the little glass decorations from the egg carton, and hung them on the tree, taking pictures of each one, trying to catch the light just right to showcase the individuality of each ornament. I even photographed the broken one; it was one of my favorites, and I can't bear to throw it away.

My favorite one is broken. I can't bear to part with it.

These beautiful family heirlooms should be showcased every year for as long as they last. They do no good sitting in a crate in the basement closet, getting more fragile with each passing year. They are a connection to my dear grandmother, and just having them in view makes me happier.  

Photo Credit: Sierra Waters, 2016

Except this year our little house has new tenants; Sierra and Ludo the cat, so Grandma's Christmas ornaments are safely packed away with my holiday decor in the closet. I think Grandma would understand.

Ludo loves playing with the ornaments, and removing them from the tree.

I haven't dared bring the box of fragile decorations with me the 1,400 miles to Illinois, but when we move back to Utah, I will walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. Those beautiful ornaments will be used as they were meant to be; part of our family's heritage and Christmas traditions. They will have their special place of honor, right where they belong:  on our Christmas tree. I am so glad I took the time to photograph them that night because I know they will not last forever, and I can enjoy them even when they are in their box. I promise to treasure them, and include them in my holiday decorating as long as they last.


  1. Loved getting a peek at what Grandma cherished. I also love how you cherish them too. Great pics. I especially liked the delicate little bell. I purchased some old ornaments to replicate the ones I'm sure we had as a child. They are so special to me.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

    1. I would love to find more antique ornaments to add to our collection, too. Merry Christmas, Anne!

  2. Beautiful! I love the old ornaments. Those are really special as are the memories.


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