A Christmas (Tree) Story, inspired by Retro Renovation

jana with christmas treeToday, a story from reader Jana – we looked at her cheery kitchen remodel a ways back. She writes:

A Christmas (Tree) Story

Inspired by Retro Renovation

Ever since I was very young, my mother and I shared a special love for Christmas and all of the traditions that it brings. One of these traditions was decorating our Christmas tree.  It was the prettiest Christmas tree on the block (and the only aluminum one, too).  My parents purchased a 7 and a half foot sparkling Taper Tree from Sears in 1959. (Back then, we got everything from Sears).  One of the special traditions that my mom and I had was that we were the only two members of the family who would decorate it.   My dad’s responsibility was to bring the box and the ornaments up from the basement the night before the decorating was to be done and my sister’s responsibility was to stay out of the way and leave us alone.  That was fine by her because she did not share our enthusiasm for Christmas traditions.

My mother would assemble the tree and when I was small (I started helping when I was four), my job would be to carefully remove each glass ornament from the Shiny Bright box and hand it to her without breaking it.   This was a task I took very seriously and as I remember, there were only a few casualties  throughout the years.   When I became school aged, my mother would assemble the tree, and wait for me to get home from school so we could decorate it together.  This tradition continued with the same glorious tree from the time I was in kindergarten until I was in college.   We did not use a rotating color wheel to light the tree.  My dad built a wooden base for two spot lights and placed an orange glass cover over each one and that is what we used to light the tree.  The tree was lit in orange/gold light that sparkled like it was bathed in fairy dust.  When we moved to a new city in 1964, the ranch house my parents built had two huge picture windows in the front.  The first year we put up the tree and lit it, one evening my mom was opening the living room drapes and there was a small crowd of neighbors standing outside at the curb admiring the tree.

aluminum christmas treeFast forward 35 years.  I had been toying with the idea of purchasing an aluminum tree for several years now, but either the ones I found were “too expensive” or I would rationalize “I really don’t need another tree”…..   Until I read Kate’s posting on November 16: 9 Places to Find Aluminum Christmas Trees- Vintage and Reproduction.              

aluminum christmas tree vintageyellow kitchen ZAP!    The bolt from the blue hit and suddenly I was a woman on a mission.  Gotta have one!  Gotta get it!  Thank you Kate!  After checking local sources (craigslist and online classifieds), I started trolling ebay and actually won a 6 ft Taper Tree at a reasonable price (before the post-Thanksgiving bidding wars).   I also was able to obtain two vintage Penetray adjustable spotlight holders with bulbs for less than $30.  In following Pam’s safety recommendations, I had the wiring checked out before I plugged them in.   I also found some orange spot lights online.    Once again, I am proud to be living in the only house in the neighborhood with an aluminum Christmas tree sparkling in the front window. Every time I see it I remember the special times my mom and I had decorating our old tree.   I’m enclosing  pictures of my past and present “beauties” and my thanks for the continuing inspiration and appreciation for all things mid century!


Jana (Berniecat)

wreath vintage ornamentsP.S.  I couldn’t resist- I sent you a picture of a vintage ornament wreath I made.  I remembered a story you featured about Suzy (Georgia Peachez) and how she made Shiny Brite ornament wreaths (I was disappointed I didn’t win the gorgeous one you featured), so I decided to try to make one myself.  There is a thrift store I visit that has bags and bags of vintage ornaments grouped together for prices as little as a nickel.  I have a ton of ornaments, so I  used a lot of them. It didn’t turn out as nice as Suzy’s, but I was ok with my first attempt, so I hung it on my door.  🙂
Thanks !

Awe. This makes me so happy. Thank you, Jana. <3


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  1. Chris says

    Hey Jana — I am such a fool for Christmas. I have 6 trees in our house. Not little ones, either. And the house isn’t big. 🙂

    Your story just made me grin from ear to ear — and wistfully sigh, just a little bit. In a happy sort of way.

    Thank you for sharing! I don’t know if I’ll get around to it any time soon — Santa is so busy right now — but you have inspired me to write down my memories of my childhood Christmas decorating. Hopefully one day my kids will be interested!

    I love your photos of you and your tree, both old and new!

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Jay says

    What a beautiful story, very fond of Christmas reminisces. I love the present tree with the old ornaments on it and all the vintage decorations going on around the room. My birthday falls before Christmas so I have always been a Christmas decoration nut. Your front door looks nice with the wreath circling the fluted glass light. Also admiring your rocker, I have one similar. Merry Christmas!

  3. Leslie says

    I love your Christmas tree story! I have had a love for aluminum Christmas trees as long as I remember. Our neighbors had one that was also in their large living room window and I thought it was the most tree in the world. I especially love the orange spotlights, beautiful touch!

  4. Wendy M. says

    What a lovely story! I love the picture of you as a child.
    I think you did an excellent job with your wreath- it looks great!

  5. Annie B. says

    Oooooo…your story SO touches my heart, Jana. That is one gorgeous tree! So happy it found you. I’m loving that great lamp on your end table there behind Santa, too. Vintage lamps are my weakness.

    All month long, I’ve let myself indulge in a Christmas memory binge, It’s amazing what the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas will bring forth from deep inside you. Ah……

    Jana, you don’t seem to have aged from the first photo to the last.
    How’d you do that???

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!!

  6. Marta says

    There is so much to love in the pic of you as a child! Your dress, your hair, the tree. Sigh. Isn’t that the light box your dad built under the chair in the pic? Wonderful story!

  7. Kate says

    Jana, what a lovely story. I’m so glad you were inspired to find yourself a vintage aluminum tree, and that everything fell into place so that you could proudly display one in your window again this year. Thanks so much for sharing your heartwarming story. Happy Holidays!

  8. says

    Oh wow, this story made me cry. I love the part about them opening the drapes and the neighbors standing outside, taking in the beauty of the tree. And I love that the tradition continues – even with the orange spotlights. LOVE. Beautiful job on the wreath too, Jana!

  9. Robin, NV says

    What a great story. My husband makes fun of me for my “family traditions” but they’re what makes life fun – something to look forward to all year. I was struck by how Jane said “we bought everything at Sears.” Nowadays people seem to buy everything at Wal Mart. I somehow doubt we’ll look back on those shopping trips with nostalgia.

  10. tammyCA says

    Sweet story…thanks for sharing it. Colored spotlights must’ve been popular then because I remember my dad putting them outside in front, aimed at the house. It always looked so pretty with the snow.
    Also, great job on the wreath.

  11. Jen says

    What a beautiful tree Jana! I bought one 25 years ago before I even owned a home. My great aunt had one and I can remember laying under it as a child, watching it turn the most beautiful colors with the help of a light wheel. There was fake snow with a little white church underneath that played “Silent Night”. My aunt will be 96 on the 27th and now she enjoys our tree. Merry Christmas to you!

  12. Megan says

    What a lovely story! I’m still on the lookout for my perfect tree, I’d love one just like yours! Merry Christmas Jana!

  13. ChesterV says


    OMG!!!! I am SO FREAKING OUT!!!!!

    That photo of the living room with the Christmas tree is almost EXACTLY what my granny’s living room looked like, especially at Christmas!!!!!

    Except for the curtain fabric, the beige color couch and that “square” artwork by the front door……….this is EXACTLY what my granny’s living room looked like!!!!!

    I am SO FREAKING OUT!!!!!

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