I get a kick out of helping my mom decorate her home for Christmas, because when we open up the musty boxes of 1950s ornaments, I get to relive my childhood, one felted, flocked or sequin-covered ornament at a time. Pay tribute to holidays past this season by sprinkling in some iconic décor from your childhood or eras gone by. Here are some tips to get your started.

A Little Kitsch Anyone?

If you’re a Baby Boomer like me, the recent resurgence of the midcentury look is a flat out celebration of your childhood. If you are lucky enough to have a few of your family’s favorite holiday ornaments left, pull them out and feature them front and center in your holiday displays. In the photo above, one cheery little Christmas tree ornament suspended from a spray of evergreens instantly gives this sparkling holiday bar the feel of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Sometimes the best displays are those that are the least obvious. This tiny Christmas tree ball, tucked into an open drawer in the linen cabinet, awaits the careful observer.  Where else can you tuck in a kitschy ornament? In amongst the dishes in your china cabinet? Hooked on a bedroom doorknob? Suspended from the garland on your mantel?

Peppermint is the iconic candy of my childhood and a fun addition to your vintage holiday scene. Hit an upscale candy shop to find peppermints that are as pretty as a picture, then display them in lovely glass containers. For the price of a few bags of candy, you have a sensational holiday display that will warm the heart of your inner child.

When I was a kid, I remember moms painting nuts in metallic colors of silver, gold and bronze, then displaying them in dishes. Try this creative trick yourself – all you need is a bag of mixed nuts and silver, gold and bronze spray paint.

Here are some bright, shiny tree ornaments we’re selling right now at Nell Hill’s Atchison. Red and green and covered with glitter, they could have been stolen straight from the tree I had growing up.

Do you love Santa? So do I: Even though I was almost always naughty, he still spoiled me rotten! We have lots and lots of interesting vintage Santas at Nell Hill’s Atchison this season, and they are ready to give your holiday treatment some kitschy charm.


Give Honor to a Bygone Era

When I want to create intriguing displays that have a lot of layers, I reach for a stack of old books. Not only do books serve as great risers, giving interesting accents increased stature, they can also add a storyline to the tableau. For a holiday display, weave in antique books that celebrate the season. Do you have any old holiday books you read over and over again as a child? Use them in your decorating. Or, hunt for some at an antique store.

When the Nell Hill’s team decorated this designer show home a few years back, we wanted to create a very subtle holiday display in a very traditional living room. Instead of piling up the writing desk with a huge and complex design, we featured a simple bouquet of pine picks in a red transferware bowl. The bowl’s raspberry hue is repeated on the cover of A Christmas Carol, leaning casually against the reading lamp. The display gives a dignified cheer for Christmas.

When paying tribute to days gone by in your holiday décor, why not celebrate your own family? Every year Dan and I host our family for Christmas dinner. One of my favorite things to do is to make copies of vintage photos of our family members, insert them into adorable petite frames, and rest one on top of each place setting. You could also work them into your centerpiece or the display on your buffet. If you want a good laugh, frame photos taken during those awkward stages of life, like junior high, with those unfortunate choices in eyewear and hairstyles.


What’s Old Is New Again

I really like to decorate with antiques and reproductions. So I included a line of Christmas tree ornaments in the Mary Carol Home Collection that depicted old line drawings of Christmas trees. The beautiful tabletop tree in the photo above is decorated with these vintage-look ornaments.

Do you have any favorite holiday images you can resurrect or recreate to decorate your tree? How about stringing a popcorn and cranberry garland for your tree?

Pick whimsical Christmas stockings to make your holiday display magical. These fun stockings, made out of updated menswear fabrics, have an almost Victorian feel to them, yet they are still playful and new. Don’t just hang stockings from your mantel – use them to adorn a few unexpected spots in your home. Put one in a fanciful display on your front door, hang one from the doorknob of your guest room or affix them to the window sashes in your kitchen.

I really like to decorate with burlap during the holidays because this age old fabric is a wonderful counterbalance to all the glitz and glam. Aren’t these little trees wrapped in burlap bags a great addition to a soft and subtle Christmas display? Place a line of them on your kitchen windowsill or along your mantel for a more minimalist, organic look.

You’ll see burlap ribbon used again and again in my seasonal displays, whether it’s hanging a wreath from my door or tying up pretty packages.

Next Week … Want to celebrate New Year Eve in style? Here’s a dazzling party idea!

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20 Responses to “Sprinkle Your Decor with the Charm of Holidays Past”

  1. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    Mary Carol, I love the simple little plate ornament. How lovely. I can’t believe you were ever naughty. Hee Hee. Love the burlap little trees, the vintage photo idea in a little frame. I love it all.
    I adore that plaid flask you have. I always see it in your books. Very Ralph Lauren.
    I hung a small boxwood wreath around a lovely female bust I have so she is very festive and I put a little berry wreath around my door knob in my dining room. Just for fun. Also put little wreaths on my small sinks to add a little surprise to my guests. My big christmas party is on the 15. I’m gonna incorporate all your ideas from decor, to entertaining, to dazzling. Got alot of reading to do. My sons say “are you looking at the books again?” and then they laugh. I love it.
    Thank you for being such an inspiration to all.

  2. Brenda Says:

    I loved this post. Decorating with touches of Christmas past is dear to my heart. Love it! You have a lot of great tips in this post.

  3. Betty Murphy Says:

    Love to see you put a little attention to decorating ideas for Hanukkah. Thanks!

  4. Mary Kay Niles Says:

    Where do you buy your burlap? It is usually stiff. How do you handle the stiffness/non softness in tieing bows?

  5. Catherine Says:

    One of my favorite Christmas items from the past is a black and white photo of me taken in 1956 when I was 4 years. I was sitting on Santa’s lap at the local Sears store. I didn’t know it then, but Santa was played by my dad who was working their part-time. I have the 5 x 7 photo in a red frame that sits in my living room on a side table. It was especially special getting it out this year, as my dad passed away recently.

    Loved all your ideas Mary Carol!

  6. Kandace Says:

    Merry Christmas, Mary Carol!
    I love all your ideas, as always. I’m already using burlap ribbon and have an ancient Christmas book from my childhood displayed. Now I need to use your lovely ideas for sneaking ornaments in special places and finding new places for stockings. With two little ones, I’m too afraid to hang ours on the mantle because they (and their heavy holders) are too easy to pull down. I really want to string a cranberry and popcorn garland this year, too!
    Thank you for sharing such an inspirational post!

  7. Betty Woods Says:

    LOVE ALL THE GREAT IDEAS YOU GIVE US…. – -I am using my 3 tiered stainless steel tray that I purchased at your Atchison Store in May. Colorful ornaments, holly and miniature pictures look really pretty on it. A beautiful ribbon bow through the ring on top makes it pop. I enjoy placing my fresh fruit on it also. At a Halloween fundraiser, the fancy cupcakes looked lovely placed on each tier. Then with a Halloween bow on top, perfect. There is no end to its uses.
    You do so many lovely things, Mary Carol. What a talented lady you are.
    Merry Christmas

  8. Teri Schall Says:

    I love the way I feel after reading and viewing your emails. Thanks.

  9. Franki Says:

    This post just has me “so emotional!!” It’s that “time of the year…” So many wonderful memories if you choose to remember the good ones. Lovely displays and prose!! franki

  10. Bobbie Pullen Says:

    Since I am running very late with holiday decorating this year, I’m particularly pleased to receive the great quick-fix ideas. Thanks!

  11. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    Very dear to my heart …. One idea my family has done for year and years …. Along with all the beautiful ornaments and ribbon on the tree we also gather up the drawers of old photos and we pull out our dear ones … My mom and dad … My children .. During their ” times ” of their lives … Very old early pic of our grand folks and grandchildren funny faces ….. our very best friends …. We talk about the memories we shared with all …….. We set the photos in our tree….. And we look at their faces all thru the holidays …. My oldest and best friend just blogged you from NJ…. Love you darling Betty . Merry Christmas to all …….Robin

  12. Pat Crowder Says:

    Thank you Mary Carol for a year of inspirational posts. Your shared imagination, creativity and talents are second to none, and bring much joy. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  13. Mary Carol Says:

    I am having so much fun reading all your posts! I wish we could all just get together over coffee and talk!!! I guess the Internet is the next best thing, right? So I’m going to imagine that we are sitting together on my sofa, holding a steaming cup, and talk about family, memories and the holiday season (oh, and decorating!).

  14. Mary Carol Says:

    Lisa,you are such a sweetie and so talented! Like you, I love to get great ideas from other people. Just hearing what they’ve done inspires me. Your party on the 15th is going to be sensational, and I want you to promise to share with us how it all turns out. Have fun, girl!

  15. Mary Carol Says:

    Betty, you’ve inspired me to do a blog on Hanukkah next holiday season! I’ve featured Hanukkah in my holiday books, but have never blogged about decorating for this very special holiday. Now I will. How do you usually decorate for Hanukkah? Any tips you can share for others? I hope your season is truly blessed and filled with peace!

  16. Mary Carol Says:

    Mary Kay, thankfully, the burlap ribbon we carry at Nell Hill’s is very pliable and easy to work with. Give us a call at 877-746-4320 if you’d like to find out about the burlap ribbon we have in right now.

  17. Mary Carol Says:

    Catherine, Frankie, Robin and everyone else who gets a lump in their throat this time of year, as we celebrate the people we love … thanks so much for sharing. Like you, Catherine, I lost my dad, and some of my favorite memories of him revolve around Christmas, working for him as a kid in our family’s clothing store. On Christmas Eve, after we closed the doors of the store, we would all drink a toast. Miss you, Dad! I love your idea, Frankie, of taking time out of the fray to go through old pictures. Maybe I’ll do this when my sister Judy comes in for Christmas this year. Thank you for sharing your stories!

  18. Mary Carol Says:

    Kandice and Betty — your ideas all sound wonderful. Wish I could come over and see them! Kandice, have you ever made those red and green link garland chains out of construction paper? Another nostalgic decorating idea for you and the little ones. You could hand them from your tree, mantel, doorways, anywhere. If you’re brave enough, add some glitter!

  19. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    SOO excited … My family starts rolling tomorrow … The house looks just great ..!!! Fresh greenery is cut and urns are filled … Tree …( Real ) is glorious … Full of forsythia branches ., and lights plus my ornaments …many from Nell Hills collected over the years ! Beds are made and presents wrapped …. ……. Home …. We are so blessed ! Merry Christmas dear Mary Carol and all you folks on this great blog . … Robin

  20. Jerry Ballard Says:

    Merry Christmas, Mary Carol! You have inspired many with your great ideas! I love Christmas and you have helped to make it “sparkle”.

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