For Christmas 2015, I created a vintage-inspired Christmas tree for my personal office that featured “my angels” — all of my grandmothers over time for whom I had photographs — and included Victorian scrap angels, and vintage glass ornaments and garland. It is lovely and a wonderful reminder of love and family during the holidays. This year I needed to make a new ornament so my Mom, who passed away this summer, could join the other family angels on my tree.
When given a family treasure, I try to assign it a significance in my life, and find a way to see it and enjoy it as often as possible. This theme is frequently repeated for me in the creative projects I choose. And sharing the meaning and value of those memories with my family is just as important. If your family doesn’t see the past reflected in your life, how will they intentionally carry it forward to their children and grandchildren?
I selected Mom’s wedding portrait as her angel image and delicate trim to edge the photo. I used leftover carte postale photo holders from the original project to house the image. If you can’t find these in your craft store, there are several rubber stamps or printable versions that would work well. Glitter, glue and decorative ornament hooks, and you’re in business. I made two versions of each photo ornament, but how many you may want to create will depend of the size of the tree you plan to decorate.
I like to identify the person and their lifespan to provide context for the angels. I kept the reverse side simple on Mom’s angels, but on several of the others, I added bits of letters or stories in their handwriting, a marriage license, a census record page, a special photo, and even a quilt made for me by my grandmother.
To learn about the style inspirations for these ornaments and to see a complete tutorial on fashioning them, take a look at my niece Nichole’s 2015 Butterscotch Sundae blog post about this project, “Decorate your holiday home with a literal family tree.”.
If you’re inspired to trim a Christmas Family Tree with this look, here are a few suggestions:
Handmade photo ornaments, handmade or purchased Victorian scrap angels, vintage ornaments (balls of different size & color, reflectors, birds, horns, cones)
Vintage glass bead strands or new metallic ball garland
Something angelic! Mine is openwork gold wire (a gift from my cousin, Julie, a few years ago) with a shear bronze ribbon beneath it. Get creative and use an old doll, or make feather angel wings – anything vintage, ethereal and feminine.
Look locally at antique malls, flea markets, and holiday markets, and online at eBay and Etsy. It’s always fun to spot a gem throughout the year. Opt for tiny white lights to keep the look delicate and soft. I chose a color scheme of gold, silver and light blue for my tree, but metallics mixed with any soft pastels would work well. A white tree skirt printed with gold cherubs completes the look for me, but in the absence of an “angel” skirt, mounds of coordinating soft fabric would be lovely.
The family photos (for both my and my husband’s family) span 170 years and are an archival stash that I absolutely treasure. Since 1976 when I first started my climb up the family tree, they have made my genealogy research come alive. After borrowing Dressed for the Photographer from the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library to help me understand the fashions in our photos, I became fascinated with the life stories the dress and accessories portrayed. I chose the “youngest” photo I had for each angel so I could imagine them full of life and in their prime. The book’s author mentioned finding these few lines beside an early 20th century women’s photograph, and they spoke volumes to me about my angels:
Look upon this face, and know
that I was a person, here, in this time and place,
and I was happy.