There's no place like home for the holidays, and there are few things that help make a house feel more like a home around this time of year than decorations. Whether it's an ornament hung on the tree or some special piece of art decking the halls, decorations can help spark beloved Christmas memories of old and set the perfectly warm, holly and jolly mood to make some new ones. Here are some of our most cherished holiday decorations that it simply wouldn't be the most wonderful time of the year without.
Over the years, I’ve collected numerous decorations that I pull out for the Christmas holiday. I have beautiful icicles and blown glass ornaments which grace our Christmas tree. I have garlands and holiday books and numerous other do-dads that end up on display in my home – all of which make the atmosphere festive and bright.
But it’s the three magi that I look forward to putting out on the mantle every holiday season. There’s a sentimentality about them. They were hand-painted years ago by my husband’s grandmother, Lola, in the years before her mind and body were taken from us by Alzheimer’s disease. And in that way, they’re hauntingly beautiful. But for me, they’re also symbolic – a reminder to constantly seek, to give generously and to honor. They’re also a keen reminder of how – if we open ourselves up to it – the things we seek will change us indelibly.
Every year, I admit I dread the idea of putting out the holiday lights – and then taking them back in. I always try to put them up before the cold really comes and then take them down at the first hint of a little warm up after Christmas and New Year's. I do it because it makes the others in my house happy – and I want them to enjoy the season as much as possible. But I do also feel some satisfaction once they're out and the darkness comes, and they look great – especially the C9s on our bushes, which look great in the snow. I got some immediate compliments from the neighbors on the illuminated candy canes and other glowing decorations, too, which always has me feeling pretty good about my labor investment in this area this time of year.
I like approaching the holidays the same way I like to approach life: with a sense of humor. That said, my creepy Christmas tree is my favorite holiday decoration and new tradition. This is only the sixth year of the creepy tree, but I have already purchased, been given or made more than a dozen ornaments – from severed doll heads to smirking clowns – that are so unsettling I find them hilarious. Merry creepy Christmas, Milwaukee!
Culture editor/film critic
From a beautiful hand-painted manger scene handed down to our family to the classic Christmas tree, decked out in ornaments each special to a member of the family and topped with an angel, to our red book of the story of Christmas and more, there's no lack of time-tested holiday spirit covering the halls and walls of the Mueller household, making the season merry and bright every year. If there's one particular decoration that clings to a special spot in my memory, however, it's this collection of antique Santas from across history.
The set features about eight or nine versions of Santa – from the now iconic Coca-Cola Santa to Black Peter and more – each with their own place in time and each with their own stories and legends that enchanted children throughout the centuries. When I was a kid, I used to love pulling these beautifully decorated and detailed Santas out of their boxes, placing them above our fireplace and reading the stories about their origins in a book that came with them, each coming to life before my childlike eyes.
Unfortunately, it's probably been about a decade since we've put them up; thanks to some renovations and redecorations in our family room, there's no longer anywhere to put them. I actually didn't know we still had them, assuming they'd been long sold off or perhaps damaged and lost in a basement flood a little over a decade ago. But much to my surprise, I rediscovered them a few years ago, still as lovely and as majestic as I remembered them as a child. It was truly like Christmas came early.