My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was a child. Mom purchased her Christmas decorations at the local five and dime. We had no idea our simple decor would increase in value over time. Mom’s dime store holiday trimmings are now considered collectible and, like all things “vintage,” come with hefty price tags.
Our apartment in the 1960s had a large bay window with a very low window sill. Mom transformed the sill into a little Christmas village with little paper houses resting upon a sparkling snow blanket. These Putz houses, also known as Glitter Houses, were popular from 1928, before my Mom was even born, through the 1950s and 60s. These Japanese-made cardboard houses featured cellophane windows and were decorated with glitter and fake snow. I loved them! Mom had about ten little houses sitting on the window sill; I played with them all the time. If my mother were alive today, she would surely be shocked to see how much these Putz houses are currently worth. A vintage six piece Putz village in excellent condition, with the original box, recently sold on Ebay for $50.00.
In addition to her Putz Christmas village, my mom displayed Christmas candles shaped like angels and snowmen. While the wax angels looked a bit odd to me, with the wicks poking straight up out of their heads, I liked the candle snowmen. A pair of vintage Gurley angel candles in good condition now sells on Etsy for $18.00; a pair of snowmen in good condition sells for $14.99. Mom also had a set of Santa and Mrs. Claus plastic and felt six inch figures. Fast forward to 2019, and the same plastic and felt Claus couple is listed on Etsy for $33.00. Mom got hers for a lot less at the Five and Dime!
Our Christmas tree back then was green flocked aluminum adorned with silver and gold tinsel garland, tinsel icicles, plastic bells, and colorful glass balls. Vintage “luxurious tinsel garland” is listed this week on Ebay for $12.99 a box. Two boxes of mid-century ribbon icicles is listed for $10.00. A box of 1950s/60s glass ornaments runs about $19.99 and up, depending upon condition, and seven mid-century plastic bells costs $8.99. Today, an authentic six foot green aluminum Christmas tree will set you back a shocking $245.00! By current standards, all this is very kitschy to be sure, and presently I certainly wouldn’t pay $12.99 for “luxurious tinsel garland” that I used to wear around my neck while singing Christmas carols, let alone shell out $245.00 for an aluminum Christmas tree that was tacky even when it was new.
While it’s a bit jolting to see how time has transformed what was commonplace in my youth into valuable, “vintage” collectibles, time has also taught me that no amount of “vintage” decor will recreate holidays gone by. Nearly all my mom’s seasonal decorations can be found on the internet, but no amount of authentic 1960s ornaments or adorable Putz houses will recapture the spirit of holidays gone by. Indeed, mid-century glass balls and aluminum trees, or 21st century LED Christmas lights and inflatable lawn ornaments do not create Christmas. People do. It isn’t the Gurley snowman candle that is so memorable to me; it’s the person who went to the Five and Dime to buy it. It isn’t the green aluminum tree that stands out in my mind; it’s the person who lugged it home. It isn’t the tinsel garland I well remember; it’s the person who joined me in wrapping the shiny stuff around the tree. It’s Mom. It’s Dad. It’s my sister.
That, my friends, is Christmas. And it’s priceless.