Monday, November 22, 2004

OCD - Ornament Collecting Disorder

I have a problem. Some of you may know that I tend to get a little... obsessive about whatever sparks my current interest. The interest may continue in a more latent form thereafter, but for a while there it gets all-consuming. There was the researching biblical apocrypha period, the PEZ dispenser collecting period, the Googie-Tiki period, and, of course, the e-bay period. Well, now the e-bay mania has reared its head again, but this it's in the service of a new fixation: Christmas tree decorations.

There's a valid reason for all this. After all, this is the first year that M and I will be celebrating the Winter holidays together in our own home, and thus we'll be decorating our first tree. We don't have much in the way of ornaments lying around, so we have to get some.

Then there's the fact that decorating a homey tree just makes me feel good. My family had the same types of lights, the same heirloom ornaments and the same beat-up pre-WWII wax and gold-foil angel for most of my childhood, and the older I got, the more my Mom made it my responsibility (and usually a welcomed one) to put on the lights, hang many ornaments, place just the right amount of tinsel just so and, as the youngest child, place the angel on top of the tree. Memories of doing this while listening to holiday music, sipping cocoa and munching on cookies are some of my fondest, and never fail to give me a warm, cozy, delightful inner glow. So, why not try to reproduce that in my own home?

Now, the thing is, they don't always make 'em like they used to, and if they do, they're expensive. I can live without modern tinsel so as not to have a bunch of cats using it as digestive tract floss. But I cannot countenance a tree with tacky cheap contemporary plastic ornaments, mini-lights and garland. Some tackiness is allowed, as long as it has a sort of retro-fabulous feel about it, but the over-all effect must be old-fashioned, diverse, warm and eclectic. So, I have settled on finding some Diamond Ray tin icicles to replace the tinsel, and will try to find some more modern C-7 indoor lights (to assauge M's fears about burning the house down... but I may have to buy some older ones if I can find the reproductions). But the ornaments - there's the rub. How to at least nearly duplicate a family collection that spans multiple decades of piece-by-piece collection in one fell swoop?

Well, I can't. The family collection will always be the family collection, and sacred enough in my mind that I cannot see myself raiding it for selected pieces and breaking up, much less without consulting with my mother and siblings (who might not actually give a rip, but I like to think it matters to them somewhat). And the best, most meaningful family collections are those that are chosen over time, with each piece having some emotional significance, aesthetic spark or story behind it. The stick-and styrofoam elf my sister made as a tot, carefully hung every year even as it is decomposing, the hand-painted pears and partridges my mom put together, the glass indents from way back when, even the snowflake made out of film-school outtakes I made cannot be replaced. Plus, to try to do so could be exceedingly time-consuming and expensive. So, I will do what I can.

First off, there's the ebay solution. While it is possible to find modern traditional blown glass ornaments, they tend to be expensive. Thus, I can really enjoy returning to Matt McGhee on Christopher Street year after year to bask in the twinkling reflections of hundreds of hand-made ornaments while humming to Handel's Messiah in the background, or even peruse the the designs of the diabolical Christopher Radko, who seems to have become the name in flashy, classic-style ornament "collectibles", but possibly find actual vintage ornaments in those styles at a much lower cost.

Secondly, there's the make-your-own option. My old roommate S and I had a great time several years back throwing a pajama party where everybody made ornaments out of crafts materials we provided, ate holiday treats and had a generally festive time of it. We don't think we'll have time to set up a party in time this year (plus there's always the friends-who-are-allergic-to-cats issue), but I do have some ideas in mind for a few arts and crafts of our own. I won't go into them here, because then M might read about them and I want them to be a surprise, but they could be fun. The question is will the combination of these two solutions be enough to satisfy my bring-back-my-childhood-with-glass-and-wood jones?

Maybe not. Living in the city, I can't exactly pour over local garage sales, and antique shops charge an arm and a leg, but I do think these two approaches will get me started (and, at the very least, amuse M and me as I utter a carol of exclamations and groans while trying to win an auction on particularly coveted pieces). Anyway, I do already have three things in my favour. An understanding partner (as always), a relationship that will, barring any unforseen circumstances, last the years and decades it takes to amass a truly spectacular collection and the fact that I have already purchase the Holy Grail of tree toppers. Are you ready to bow before its majesty? Here it is...

Happy Holidays!

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