A vintage Christmas brings memories of past holidays

by Donna Benton
Rita Treece photos

My earliest memories of a family holiday tradition were joyful Christmas mornings at my Granny’s tiny pine board house in rural Louisiana. Granny lived just down the lane from us. Yes, we called it “the lane”. It was a well-traveled footpath that led from our back yard, through the pine woods, past the barn and right up to Granny’s porch.  

Every Christmas morning, my family would take that chilly walk up to Granny’s house and through the creaking screen door. I can still smell the crackling wood fire in the red brick fireplace and the warm biscuits baking in the oven. Next to the fireplace was a sparkling, silver tinsel Christmas tree that stood in stark contrast to Granny’s basic and utilitarian furnishings. The tree was bejeweled with a sparse collection of colorful glass balls, tiny felt Santas, reindeers and that Elf on a Shelf guy. A small, velvet angel perched at the peak, watching over our festivities.

Each season, Granny and the kids would assemble the shimmering tree, and we would excitedly unpack each carefully wrapped ornament and ceremoniously hang it in place. Our family grew and changed, but each year the glimmering tree and its decorations were constant. It was like a comforting reminder that even as life changes around you, your family and your home would always be there.  

Christmas at Granny’s little pine board house is only a comforting memory now, but this precious memory keeps me mindful that holidays are about friends, family and tradition.

At an antique store or flea market, I would sometimes run across a vintage ornament or old Christmas decoration that would bring back delightful memories of Christmas at Granny’s. As I held a sparkling glass ball or a tiny furry Santa, I would recall a happy and simpler holiday when family and tradition were the focus. In a bit of rebellion against rampant commercialization of Christmas, I began collecting these vintage ornaments that reminded me of childhood Christmases in that tiny pine board home.  

Tina Falkner at America Jane Vintage is a big collector of nostalgic Christmas goods, and she is my go-to source for vintage Christmas décor. She crafts the most beautiful and highly collectable wreaths from vintage balls, tiny elves and Santas and sparkling garland. Tina has a wealth of knowledge about finding and buying vintage Christmas décor and how to beautifully display it.

“It’s amazing how Christmas ornaments are a touchstone for family memories” said Tina. “Over and over, I hear, ‘My grandma or my mom had these when I was growing up!’” She likes to nestle an old family photo with a vintage ornament display, or in a large jar with a particularly special ornament, much like a snow globe. Tina recommends displaying a collection of vintage balls in bowls and large clear vases.  

“The candy-like colors reflect beautifully in glass containers,” she said.   

In my home, we have a towering fir draped with lights and garland and blossoming with contemporary ornaments that my family has collected over the years. That tree is beginning to spark some nostalgia as we make our own traditions. But for me, it is still the vintage ornaments that truly reflect the spirit of the season, the joy of family and friends and the nostalgia of past Christmases.


Donna Benton is a maker of customr home furnishings and specializes in classic painted finishes for antique and vintage furniture. You can see her work at WaterHouseMarket.com