Delores Eichenberger of Clovis points to a Christmas ornament that decorates the tree her husband, Frank Eichenberger, inherited from his grandparents.(CNJ Staff Photo: Tony Bullocks)
This Christmas season, eastern New Mexico residents shared the history behind their favorite ornaments with Freedom Newspapers.
The history of Christmas tree ornaments
Modern Christmas trees emerged in 15th- and 16th-century Germany, according to a Hallmark press release.
Evergreens were used originally in church plays at Christmas and were hung with apples to symbolize a Paradise tree. The tradition found its way into homes, “where trees were adorned with small white wafers, and later, small pastries cut into stars, angels, hearts and flowers,” the press release reads.
In the next 200 years, this custom inched across Germany and Europe. Decorated trees were brought to America by German mercenaries fighting in the Revolutionary War, according to the release.
But in early puritanical America, decorated trees didn’t catch on. They only became popular when people emigrating from Germany and England in the 1840s introduced the ornament tradition to the country, the release reads.
“Ornaments became a big hit. F.W. Woolworth of five-and-dime fame had reluctantly stocked his stores with German-made ornaments in 1880. By 1890, he was selling $25 million worth of ornaments at nickel and dime prices,” the Hallmark release reads.
Borden ornament includes sense of history
Robby Borden, who grew up in Portales and now lives in Seattle, has an ornament given to him right after his birth 36 years ago.
The son of Bobby and Sheryl Borden of Portales, he now works for Microsoft but arrived home for the holidays Friday.
The special ornament was handmade by his aunt, Billie Nelle Williams. She used an eggshell preserved and covered in gold glitter. Inside the egg is the baby Jesus in the manger with an angel overhead.
Sheryl Borden says she is amazed at how the ornament has survived over the years in a house full of children and now grandchildren.
“Believe it or not, through all these years it has lasted,” she said. “Our tree has even fallen over several times.”
She said each year she and her husband give the kids each a special ornament so that each will have something to cherish and remember Christmas by.
With only a few minor chips, these days the fragile eggshell ornament graces a branch high up on the Borden tree. That’s where it was when Robby Borden returned for Christmas.
— Karl Terry
The bunny means family
A small pink and white rabbit complete with a golden carousel pole hangs from a white ribbon on Kelsey Eckert’s Christmas tree.
The special ornament represents the first Christmas for her daughter, Skylyr Eckert.
Now an active 22-month-old, Skylyr gently held the rabbit ornament before shyly hiding her face on Friday morning.
Kelsey Eckert, 19, a former Clovis resident, now lives in Schweinfurt, Germany, at Conn Barracks with her husband who is serving in the U.S. Army.
Kelsey and Skylyr Eckert made the long trek to Clovis to spend the holidays with family.
“My husband is deployed,” she said, “so, we came back home while he is away.”
— Tonya Fennell
Ornaments help celebrate long marriage for Thomases
Gaynelle and Leroy Thomas have a set of special ornaments that grace one of the many Christmas trees in their Portales home.
The couple got a set of 12 ceramic angel ornaments when they were married 54 years ago. With the paint wearing off many of the little cherubs and their numbers considerably less than a dozen, they’re part of a Christmas tradition for the Thomas family.
“They’ve been on our tree every year,” Gaynelle Thomas said. “We change themes (for the tree) every year, but those angels always go on.”
This year’s theme is a ’50s look complete with poodle skirts, 45 records and other memorabilia.
A newer set of angels has also found a home on the tree, which sits on a rotating platform, but the Thomases say the original ornaments are special.
— Karl Terry
Stars add to Christmas magic
Fred and Delores Eichenberger have collected many Christmas memories in their 48-year marriage. There is the small school bus, representing the 26 years she worked as a school bus driver and the heavy green glass ball from his grandfather.
“We never had a theme, just things we’ve collected over the years,” Fred Eichenberger said.
But the ornaments they both think of when asked which has the most history are two small colored stars. Their color has faded over the years, and they are now pink and bluish-green. At their centers, metal blades turn from the heat of nearby Christmas lights. Their slow spinning casts glittery reflections on the tree branches. Purchased in the 1930s, they belonged to his grandparents and have found their way to the Eichenbergers’ tree.
— Sharna Johnson
Historic decorations adorn tree for Rhodes family
In the middle of the Rhodes living room stands a Christmas tree with ornaments dating back to the 1940s — an old wooden rocking horse, a brass bell, a gingerbread house.
Robert Rhodes — a 1964 Clovis High School graduate — plucks a delicate orb from a branch.
The glittering ornament, he explains, is special. It was his mother’s and he remembers it hanging from the Christmas trees of his childhood.
Another ornament is dear to his wife, Lynn. She and her husband circle around the Christmas tree in search of it, and minutes later, discover it on a low branch.
“My daughter gave it to me,” Lynn Rhodes said, admiring the ornament — a blown glass horse.
— Marlena Hartz
Tree may fade, but memory never will
Gerry Shaw has many favorite Christmas items around the house. Mr. and Mrs. Claus greet visitors from their vantage point atop a side table in the foyer, an elf and reindeer smile in the yard.
Shaw’s tree sparkles with many ornaments, but proudly hung on the branches are handmade memories from her children and grandchildren. There are small colored construction paper circles strung with pieces of ribbon, and a Christmas picture is nestled inside half of an egg that once held pantyhose.
Made of construction paper, a faded green Christmas tree hangs among the shiny things, its pasted-on sequins lacking the luster of years gone by. At the top of the paper tree is the small black-and-white school photo of a young girl.
Her daughter made it at school more than 30 years ago, Shaw said.
“When (my daughter) sees it she says, ‘Oh, Mother, you still have that,’” Shaw said with a laugh. “But now she’s got them on her tree too,” the great-grandmother said.
— Sharna Johnson