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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Handmade ornaments fill Christmas trees with beauty and memories

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

An abundance of ornaments led to an abundance of Christmas trees for Elise Bozzo. Six full-size trees fill her Spokane Valley home, along with several smaller trees.

“I used to put up seven large ones,” she said.

She estimates she has between 2,000 and 3,000 ornaments, most of them handmade, either by Bozzo or her friends.

“I put these ornaments up and think about the people who made them.”

Born and raised in Quebec, Bozzo, 84, has always had busy hands. Whether sewing, quilting, weaving, or doll-making, she’s continually learning and teaching new crafts.

Her ornament collection began in the 1970s when Bozzo, then living in California, began crafting in earnest as a way to unwind from her job as a critical care nurse. She learned doll-making and bear-making and joined several affinity groups. Holiday parties, ornament trades and swaps, and her own handiwork swelled her collection.

A snowman-themed tree fills the window in her front room. Snowmen bedecked with scarves, snowflakes and angel wings nestle in its branches.

“I made that snowman angel 20 years ago,” she said, pointing to an ornament. “I remember all the parties – all the doll club gatherings.”

In the hallway sits a small tinsel tree Bozzo dubs her COVID tree. Her husband died in 2020, but Bozzo learned a new craft and decorated this tree with paper ornaments.

“A professional paper artist taught a class and I invited a few friends to it,” she said.

Bozzo touched a Krampus ornament she’d made following a Jean Nordquist design. In central European legend, Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon monster who punishes misbehaving children at Christmastime.

“Everyone should have a Krampus,” she said.

The towering tree in the living room filled with antique ornaments was her husband’s favorite. It also showcases some priceless ornaments.

One of the oldest is a delicate grape cluster from the 1800s that was dipped in silver and then painted with enamel. There’s also a small silver ship, tarnished with age with a tiny wax figure on board.

“You used to be able to buy a bag full of old ornaments at the Salvation Army. You can’t do that anymore,” said Bozzo.

Another 1800s-era cherub sports a full head of hair, and Bozzo has dozens of delicate blown-glass birds with clips that affix them to branches. An ethereal wax angel with golden wings holds a small candle.

“Most of these were gifts or things I traded for,” she said.

At the bottom of the stairs, a hodgepodge tree boasts dozens of tiny mice. Cloth ballerina mice mix with apron-clad rodents.

“I taught mice-making out of my house in California,” recalled Bozzo. “It’s fun to share techniques.”

A towering Santa-themed tree stands in a corner of the family room. Red and white Clauses perch on every branch.

Bozzo starts getting most of her trees and decorations out in mid-November, but two trees in a guest room stay up year-round.

“I just cover them in plastic when Christmas is over.”

Both of them highlight crafts she specialized in, doll-making and bear-making. One is filled with Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, the other with stuffed bears of all sizes.

She pointed out several figures on the Raggedy Ann tree.

“The first dolls I ever made were woven.”

On the tree across the room, a small crocheted panda peeks out from among angel and snowman bears.

“I love pandas!” she said.

Her abundance of ornaments stems from an abundance of friends.

“Most of my friends are artists, doll makers, or bear makers,” she said.

Those friendships make the time and effort spent decorating her trees a meaningful trip down memory lane.

“I often have tears in my eyes,” said Bozzo. “So many of my friends have passed away, but the ornaments bring them back.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

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