Want to time-travel back to the 1960s, when Shiny Brite ornaments dangled from shiny aluminum trees? Step inside Cassy Zamora’s Columbia Heights home, where she’s surrounded herself with a vast collection of pre-1970s holiday decor.
From the red flocked Santas dancing a jig to an illuminated Blow Mold Santa, it’s clear that Zamora is especially mesmerized by the retro image of St. Nick. “I like the full cheeks and big blue eyes on the happy Santa faces from that period,” she said.
Although Zamora grew up in the 1980s, she remembers admiring her grandmother’s treasured decorations on holiday visits to her home in Monticello. Today Zamora places a mod ’60s fiberglass starburst tree topper that was passed down from her grandmother on the top of her own silver metallic Christmas tree.
Carol Ahlgren describes her vintage holiday collections as “Thrifted Christmas” because she unearths many of her gems at Twin Cities thrift shops. She paid 50 cents for a felt tree skirt depicting hand-stitched scenes of the “12 Days of Christmas” that she spied crumpled on the floor in the corner of a thrift store.
“I like rescuing this stuff,” said Ahlgren, whose Crystal home is a celebration of Christmas kitsch. “Someone loved it a long time ago — and now I will love it.”
Retro holiday collectors are passionate about their festive finds, judging from the popular Facebook group Merry Kitschmas, where more than 6,000 members share photos of their back to the ’50s and ’60s felt stockings and lighted Rudolphs.
At this time of year, some vintage shops, such as Finds on Broadway in Robbinsdale, devote an area to pompom metallic trees, wreaths shaped from bottle brushes and handcrafted angels trimmed in gold rickrack.
“People are digging vintage Christmas,” said collector Betsy Ruppert-Kan, who stocks and designs vignettes at Finds on Broadway. “It’s escapism.”
And for many collectors, it’s simply nostalgia for Christmases past.
For more on the collections, go to H5.
Collector: Cassy Zamora, Columbia Heights
How it all began: Zamora’s grandmother passed down her 1960s fiberglass starburst tree topper and eventually the rest of her holiday decorations after Zamora moved into her own apartment. She grew up in the 1980s, and the vintage vibe seemed retro cool. “The best were the acrylic star-shaped twinklers,” she said, pointing to a star hanging from her metallic tree. “When there’s a breeze, they twirl.”
Passion morphed into a business: Zamora started amassing vintage decor about 18 years ago, poking around thrift stores, estate and garage sales and online sites. She sold everyday and holiday items at occasional sales, and also rented space in vintage shops. Last year, she opened Z Amore, a vintage furniture and home decor store in northeast Minneapolis. “Old Shiny Brite ornaments and flocked elves are hot,” she said.
Handcrafted meets mod: Before the 1970s, holiday decor was a unique mélange of sleek and graphic design inspired by the Atomic Age, as well as handmade crafts by church ladies and stay-at-home moms. Both styles are coveted by collectors. One of Zamora’s hand-stitched felt tree skirts is a 1960s classic embellished with leaping reindeer pulling a sleigh and bordered by gold rickrack trim.
Plastic kitsch: Zamora displays a lighted Blow Mold Santa indoors, even though they were originally designed as outdoor lawn ornaments. She found three inside a vintage shop in a small Wisconsin town where her sister lives. “My sister said, ‘Where are you going to put that ugly thing?’ ” recalled Zamora. She found a place of honor for the plastic Santa inside her kitchen bay window.
Best score: At an estate sale in south Minneapolis, Zamora discovered boxes and boxes of original Shiny Brite ornaments forgotten beneath the stairs — and promptly bought 15 of them.
What she would save if the house were on fire: “My grandmother’s atomic tree topper,” said Zamora, “and the molded plastic Jolly St. Nick hanging by the front door.”
Collector: Carol Ahlgren, Crystal
How it all began: Ahlgren grew up in the 1960s and became infatuated with 1950s and ’60s kitsch, thanks to her “glamorous great-aunts” who amassed many collections. Today, she and her husband, Mark Mueske, fill their 1956 walkout rambler with vintage holiday accessories — including a bouncing “atomic” flocked Santa — found mostly at local thrift stores. “Thrifted Christmas came about as a way to start my own traditions,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to re-create my childhood, but when I started gathering stuff, I was drawn to things from my era.”
The crème de la crème: Ahlgren proudly displayed her vintage linens, including tablecloths and aprons, decorated with holly, ivy and greenery motifs you might remember from visits to grandma’s house. Her friend even sewed her a skirt from a tablecloth. “They have the same designs you’d see on old Christmas cards,” Ahlgren said.
Secondhand love: She is always on the lookout for plastic does, fawns and bucks, which she arranges by the front door. “Someone loved this one so much they glued the head back on,” she said.
Felted crafts: Ahlgren mixes other retro felt decor with her own 1960s hand-stitched stocking, which she hangs above the fireplace. “My mom bought us the stockings at a church basement craft sale when we were kids,” she said.
Best score: While browsing a Nebraska thrift store, Ahlgren entered a room full of authentic 1960s pompom-style aluminum trees. “I screamed,” she said, “and they were only $3 each.”
What she would save if the house were on fire: “As a longtime thrifter, I’m drawn to homemade, hand-sewn things that must have taken hours and hours to create, and were no doubt displayed as treasured items every Christmas,” said Ahlgren, who volunteers at PRISM thrift shop in Golden Valley. “That’s what I’d grab.”