Readers' favorite holiday heirlooms

  • Star Tribune
  • December 23, 2013 - 12:43 PM

^ ‘Candy Cain and Abel’
Lynn and Joe Lucking’s daughter developed her unique sense of humor early. When she was 9, “She put candy canes together with the story of Cain and Abel and presented us with candy Cain and Abel figures for Christmas,” said Lynn of St. Paul. “Cain is complete with bloody weapon and angry face, while Abel is bleeding and in pain. We shake our heads in disbelief over this every year, but they always have a place on the tree.”

^ Mink memories
Becca Gottschalk’s mother-in-law, Eunice, loved everything about Christmas: decorating her home, baking cookies with her grandkids and crafting handmade gifts. When she died in 2004, she left behind the mink stoles she wore in the 1950s and ’60s. Since fur stoles had fallen out of fashion, Eunice’s daughter suggested using mink scraps and Eunice’s brooches to trim Christmas Santas as keepsakes. “We put him by our fireplace every year in remembrance of her and how much she loved this time of year,” said Gottschalk, of Eden Prairie.

^ Lost masterpiece
When Debra Parker’s kids were young, she ran a small home-based business. “Access to unlimited office supplies spurred a lot of creativity,” she said. “This little guy showed up on the tree one Christmas, the work of our youngest daughter, Amy, who was obsessed with Scotch tape. We thought it was cute at the time, but I have no recollection of saving it. Lo and behold, one of the first times all the girls were home together during college years, someone found him at the bottom of a box. We had an epic laugh-until-you-cry moment. Ever since, I’ve hidden him somewhere on the tree. ... It wouldn’t be Christmas without him.”

^ Looks like Grandma
Lynn Ogden’s daughter, Sarah, was 9 or 10 when her grandmother, Lynn’s mother, told Sarah and her two brothers that she was bringing Christmas gifts. They were all excited to see what Grandma would bring, recalled Lynn, of Buffalo, Minn. After the boys opened their gifts — crisp $10 bills — Sarah was already imagining what she would buy with hers. But when she opened her package, she found a rosemaled ornament with crazy hair. “Her grandmother thought she’d be thrilled, but the disappointment showed,” Lynn said. But now, more than 25 years later, “we all laugh at the ornament that looks a bit like Grandma because of the crazy hair. Sarah and all of us are so happy she received it to remind us of Grandma and how she would have laughed with us.”

^ Gem hunt
Years ago, Peggy Bhimani of Corcoran started making a holiday wreath out of vintage jewelry — some of it her grandmother’s, some her mother’s and some her own. “But most of it was a years-long quest involving my daughters and me and countless garage sales,” she said. They made an annual pilgrimage to River Hills Day in Burnsville, where Bhimani grew up, “to search through old jewelry and watch as prices rose in later years and we refused to pay ‘that much!’ for someone else’s unwanted jewelry.”

^ Shrinking portrait
Janna Nord’s oldest son, Conner, now a college student, made this ornament when he was in first grade. “It used to be a standard school-picture size from the shoulders up,” said Nord, of Eden Prairie. But the mints framing the photo have flattened over the years, spreading to cover more and more of Conner’s picture. “Every year, we anxiously unwrap it to see how much face he has left. We are thinking by the time he is 25, it will just be a nose picture!”

^ Farm find
This iron, brass and ceramic candelabra once belonged to Patricia Jensen’s grandmother, who was born in 1874 and lived on a farm between Red Wing and Lake City, Minn. “Before the farm added electricity, the candelabra was a necessity,” said Jensen, of Eden Prairie. “Now it is a lovely piece of art that I appreciate more with every passing year.”

^ Care package
“My father sent me this tree when I was a college student at Carleton in the 1960s,” said Bernadette Pyter Janisch of St. Paul. “It came in a box with crackers, cheese and sausage. The food didn’t last, but I’ve displayed the tree every year since then. The angel has lost a wing, but otherwise it looks the same as when it first arrived on campus 40-plus years ago.”

^ Burn, Santa, burn
Geri Johnson of Hutchinson, Minn., made this Santa of cotton batting when she was a first-grader in Portland, N.D. For more than 50 years, he hung on her parents’ Christmas tree, and now has a place of honor on her tree. “The dark areas are scorch marks from the big bulbs of yesteryear,” she said. “I loved my first-grade teacher, and think of her often, especially at Christmas.”

^ Peanuts and a prize
In 1912, when Cracker Jack first started putting prizes in their boxes, Kelvin Bonnema’s grandmother was 12 years old and found this small cotton woodpecker in her box. “She used this as an ornament on their first Christmas tree that year and for every year thereafter,” said Bonnema, of Brooklyn Park. “In 1986, she gave me this woodpecker, and I have kept this as our most cherished Christmas tradition.”

^ Norsk yule
The ornament in the upper-right corner is a Nisse, a mythological Norwegian sprite. Bette Buelow of Bloomington received the ornament as a gift from a great-aunt in Norway for Christmas 1937. The Nisse ornament inspired the design of a hooked rug that Buelow displays on a wall every Christmas. Both the ornament and the rug are cherished by Buelow, her daughter Jill Boyat and granddaughter Allie Boyat, of Minneapolis.

^ Prolific doughboy
“Strapped for cash, early in my marriage, I bought this cookie cutter to make salt-dough ornaments for the Christmas tree,” said Zan Tomko of St. Louis Park. “We couldn’t even afford lights for the tree, but he made it festive, with garlands of popcorn and cranberries and a colony of gingerbread ornaments.” Over 40 Christmases, “I can’t begin to count the number of gingerbread people he’s stamped out,” said Tomko, who now puts him to work with the grandchildren. He’s become part of a large collection of gingerbread people, “but no cookie cutter is quite like him.”

^ Veggie tale
In 1992, Penny Sitz of Woodbury had just quit her job to stay home with her new baby. “The budget was tight, no baby sitter affordable enough for us,” she said. “My husband stayed home with the baby one afternoon so I could go ‘holiday boutiquing’ with a friend.” At one shop, she spotted a Santa gourd painted in bright colors. “I had to have it. So against my cheapskate judgment I bought it.” Her husband was not impressed. “You spent $25 on a vegetable?” he asked incredulously. “Yes, I did,” Sitz said, and more than two decades later, her “awesome gourd” is still a prized possession that sits near their fireplace every Christmas.

^ A survivor
When Karen Miller of Golden Valley was a child in Little Falls, Minn., her parents had a much-loved Nativity set. With eight kids in the family, the set, especially the baby Jesus, was played with constantly, she said. “His head was broken off multiple times, he was swathed in cotton balls, felt blankets and Kleenex, and still he endured.” The set inspired Miller’s love of Nativity scenes, and she now owns about 30 different ones. “Imagine my amazement when my folks gave me the most precious one of all. My folks paid less than $1 for the set, but to me, it is priceless.”

^ The eyes have it
This metal Santa bank dating from 1960 belongs to Bob Hughes of Burnsville. “Santa lights up and plays music when you put money in,” said his wife, Nancy. “It probably should have been tossed years ago because the eyes are burnt out and only the light bulbs show now. We call it ‘possessed Santa’ and display it every year. It is always good for a few laughs.”

^ Blades of glory
In 1955, Dianne Corder went shopping with her mother in downtown Minneapolis, where she fell in love with a glass ice-skater ornament. She later inherited the skater, and soon afterward, her 6-year-old daughter tipped over the tree, breaking the skater’s leg. “Not to worry, I fixed her up,” Corder said. In 1997, her daughter Karie gave her a new pink ballerina ornament — “a sister for the limping skater.” After 10 more years, the skater was falling apart. “Her face had cracked, her middle was replaced with a new green bulb body, her arm broke and became a little shorter.” But Corder painted her a new face and covered her mended areas with cotton. “She wasn’t quite herself, but she’s still on the tree with her sister.”

 Sharing the season
For Barbara Kok of Minnetonka, her most precious holiday heirlooms are memories of childhood Christmases in a small central Minnesota town. Her parents lived above a hotel that had been in their family since 1869. The hotel was home to several elderly single people, and sometimes hosted guests who got “stuck” over Christmas. “One year, Mom found out — after the fact — that several persons spent Christmas in their rooms eating cheese and crackers,” Kok said, as everything in town was shut down over Christmas Day. “The next year, Dad was sent to go up and down the halls, knocking on all the doors and inviting one and all to join us,” a tradition that continued. “We never knew how many — or who — would join us but they were always welcome, treated like family and stuffed with Mom’s turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings,” she recalled. “It was great fun!” she said, and taught her “what Christmas is really all about.”

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