In the mid-1960s, when Lila and George Girvin’s four boys were young, Lila’s mother sent her an elaborate “God’s eye” ornament she’d made.
God’s eyes – made of yarn woven around two or more crossed sticks – originated in Mexico, where the Huichol people made them to symbolize the power of seeing and understanding that which is unknown.
People who pass by the Girvins’ South Hill home near 42nd Avenue and South Perry Street can see dozens of the colorful objects hanging in the family’s windows every Christmas. Many more adorn the inside of the house.
That gift from 1966 inspired Lila to make God’s eyes with her sons. Year after year, as the boys grew, the collection grew, too.
“It was a fun thing we did together,” Lila says. “As they went off to various places they would take one or two with them. If I was sending something off at Christmastime, I’d stick one in there.”
Christmas ornaments and decorations hold a special place in many families’ hearts. Some items are precious because of their artistic beauty or historic quality. Others conjure up memories of when children were young. And some remind people of their travels or times when they lived in faraway places.
Every year since 1977, Sandpoint resident Pat Davidson has topped her tree with a feathered bald eagle ornament she bought in Alaska. Looking for adventure, Davidson moved to Ketchikan at age 23 to take a job as a nurse in a small hospital.
“There were no summer cruise ships, no stoplights and some of the streets were wooden,” she wrote in an e-mail response to a Spokesman-Review request for ornament stories.
During the next 15 years, Davidson acquired several Alaska-themed ornaments, as well as a husband and family. The eagle moved with them to Sandpoint, where “bald eagles atop cedars are not an infrequent site,” she says.
Spokane residents Jan and Ron Daniels also decorate their home with a reminder of a distant land: Okinawa, Japan.
The Daniels lived there for five years during the 1990s, and it took that long for Jan to find 36 intact sea urchin shells that she turned into 12 snowmen.
The snowmen “remind us of sunny days, even in December, and lots of fun,” Ron wrote.
Janet Crosby didn’t have to travel quite as far to gather the materials for her favorite ornaments. The Valleyford resident has been visiting the Oregon Coast since childhood and began making ornaments from sand dollars when she was in high school in the early 1980s.
She accents the sand dollars with handmade glass beads and ties them together with raffia “for a natural, beachy look,” she says.
Sandpoint resident Lynn Walters makes ornaments, too, including Pysanky eggs, which are a centuries-old Ukrainian craft that involves waxes and rich dyes.
Walters also sometimes sandwiches postal stamps between two pieces of glass and then solders a metal frame around them.
Artistic adults aren’t the only ones who personalize their Christmas trees with handcrafted decorations. In schools and churches everywhere, children have been making ornaments for decades.
North Spokane resident Sandi Kessler has hung a small owl made from a walnut shell, a pretzel and two Cheerios – although one Cheerio is missing now – for almost 30 years. Her oldest daughter, Char (Kessler) Ladyman, made it in 1979 in kindergarten class.
“When they displayed them, she wanted to trick her parents, so she wrote her initials on the back as ‘KC,’ backwards for Charlene Kessler,” Kessler wrote. “We laugh about this every year when we gently unpack it and put it on the tree.”
Tari Bernard of Spokane Valley keeps many treasured ornaments, including a mouse her husband, Robert, won for her at a carnival in 1969, and an antique beaded doll her mother gave to her just before she died. Tari’s mother had the ornament since her own childhood.
Two of her other favorites are a bell made from a scrap of egg carton – painted by her son, Michael, when he wasn’t even 2 years old – and a stocking handcrafted by her daughter, Laura, from items the young girl discovered in her mother’s Girl Scouts supply box.
Every December, former District 81 teacher Marlene McBride taught her sixth-grade students how to give new life to old wire hangers by wrapping them in yarn. One year, a girl wrapped red and white thread around a 2-inch hanger she’d made and gave it to McBride as a gift.
“It is one of my favorites and now decorates our tree along with many other wonderful ornament memories from students,” McBride said.
Linda Waud’s extensive ornament collection includes 10 Czechoslovakian glass ornaments her mother bought for a steal in 1962. But her favorite item is a small, red rocking horse made by her son, Mike Faught, 30 years ago when he was 10.
“Mike wanted to make me a Christmas gift, so one evening he went into his father’s workshop and, with no help from anyone, made this charming ornament from scraps of wood he found,” wrote Waud, a Spokane resident. “It is priceless to me.”
When she was a child, Coleen Smith’s family looked forward every year to unpacking a Santa ornament passed down from her great-grandmother, Rose.
One hundred years ago, Rose traveled west by train with her four children, eventually settling in Dayton, Wash. All of their belongings were transported in a separate boxcar, except for their most treasured possessions, which Rose carried in her carpetbag.
Before the train reached Washington, the boxcar containing the family’s belongings burned, destroying everything they owned except what was in that bag. Among the surviving objects was the Santa ornament.
“Every year, it was the last ornament we put on the tree, and we always made sure that it was at the top near the front so that Great-Grandma Rose could see it when she first walked in the door,” Smith wrote.
“For my siblings and me, it was always a special treat to be the one who got to hang it on the tree.”
Smith’s mother passed the ornament on to her last year. This is the first year the family Christmas party will be at Smith’s house, and the first time her mother will be the one to walk through the door and see the ornament.
Joanie Rose Flynn, of Spokane, still adorns her tree with a chenille-and-paper Santa she remembers from her childhood in Nine Mile Falls.
Flynn says the ornament was bought in the late 1940s, and she remembers her mother having to hang it high on the tree to keep it safe from her curious young hands.
“I would climb onto the arm of the nearby sofa to look at Santa’s face,” she recalls.
Medical Lake resident Mary Seagrave has three Santa ornaments she remembers from her childhood Christmas trees. They belonged to her mother, Mildred Youden, who was born in 1906 in Mystic, Conn.
When Seagrave married and moved away in 1963, she became homesick at Christmastime. To comfort her, Youden sent her a package containing some of her favorite family ornaments.
“The Santas were included,” Seagrave says. “They have been on our tree every year for the past 45 years.”
Youden has since , as has Myrna Shockley’s mother, Myrtle Ohman.
Ohman used to make snowflake ornaments for her seven children and more than 30 grandchildren every year.
“My mom cut each and every snowflake that was used on the ornaments and decorations and my sister completed the projects,” Shockley wrote. “But the most amazing thing about these ornaments was that my mother had macular degeneration and was legally blind.”
Ohman started the tradition in her late 70s and continued making the ornaments until her death two years ago at age 91. She used a magnifying light to help her see the paper, but with only peripheral vision, she had to do most of it by touch, Shockley wrote.
“The Christmas snowflake projects were to give a purpose to her hard work and keep her busy and excited for the holiday season,” she says.
“We all miss her very much, but we all have the ornaments on our tree to remind us of what a very special mother she was to all of us.”