Over fifteen years ago during the Christmas season, I was visiting a dear friend and noticed a small, jewel-like tree glittering on her hallway table. When I asked her where she got it, she told me she had made it for her mother using ornaments, broken jewelry, and so forth from her family’s life. Now that her mother passed, she had the tree and would someday leave it to her own daughter.
When I examined it more closely, I saw some of the ornaments were older, some cracked or faded, and sparkling earrings or bracelets were wedged in here and there among the firmly packed decorations. My friend pointed out several ornaments saying things like, “This is the first Christmas ornament my parents got me when I was born,” or “I made this for Mom in the 3rd grade.”
When asked how she could make such a tree, she told me it was simple. All you need is a small fake tree, a container to hold it, plaster of Paris, lights, ornaments, costume jewelry, and a glue gun. I ran, not walked, to my local craft store containing the ubiquitous little green, plastic trees and bought a small one-and-a-half foot tall tree, a bag of plaster of Paris, and an attractive round plant holder.
The plan is simple. Day One: fill that charming little container about ¾ of the way up with plaster of Paris (follow the directions on the box). Pull the little tree out of the base it came on, stick the tree into the wet plaster of Paris, hold the tree straight for a minute or two until the plaster begins to set, then go about your business for the rest of the day so it can dry thoroughly.
Day Two: Starting at the top, take the center of each wire branch and bend the branch back into itself. This makes the tree half its width and thicker. Next, wrap the string of lights around the tree, pushing the lights into the tree. Be sure the cord plug is at the bottom of the tree with enough length for plugging into an extension cord or the wall. Even on a small tree, you can use a 500-light or a 1000- light string. The more lights, the more glitter. Now we move on to the fun part. Pilfer through your and other family members’ jewelry boxes for all that old costume jewelry no longer wearable. After you find suitable pieces then gather together the boxes of Christmas ornaments. Surrounded by these goodies, it’s time to have some real fun.
All the balls and decoration that are slightly broken but too important or sentimental to have thrown away go on the tree first and in a place of prominence. With the hot glue gun, dab some glue on one side of the ornament near the metal loop that hooks it on to the tree. You don’t want all of that metal distracting from your jewels. Now stick that ornament wherever you want it to go, hold it in place for a few seconds and voila! It’s like magic. Leonardo daVinci couldn’t do better.
Now move on to the next and the next, turning your little tree so the ornaments come out evenly spaced on it. Now it’s time for the broken necklaces, pins, single earrings, etc. The eventual goal is to have shining ornaments and trinkets next to each other with the lights sparking through. You might place the larger items near the bottom and the smaller at top but there’s no hard and fast rule. Word to the wise: you’ll be surprised at how many ornaments are used on such a small tree! I always have a box of generic gold or silver balls to use as fillers. Even all the important ornaments my mother and I collected for decades, broken jewelry, and solitary earrings were used on her small tree with none left over and that was over fifty items! But when it was done, it all looked terrific, glowing and alive with color, sparkle and memories.
After I added a beautiful angel Mom had kept through the years to the treetop, I lovingly packed the gift in bubble wrap and shipped it off to my Mom who lived three-thousand miles away. Every year my mother took the tree out from the back of the closet and put it up, reveling in all the holiday years the tree represented. And I am happy knowing that even though we were often separated by miles, the Christmas Memory Tree brought us closer with our shared memories.
I should add that the one pictured here is mine, containing years of memories Norman and I created. When my mother passed, her tree was taken by a dear friend. Sharing is what the holidays are all about.