Hello, my name is Alex, and I’m a tchotchkaholic.
I’ve been collecting seasonal décor for thirty years, since becoming involved in paganism. It was a way of celebrating the turning wheel of the year, though ironically, not with natural elements. I incorporate those as well, of course, but it’s expensive and ultimately wasteful, and sometimes there are supply issues. Much more satisfying to have it all at your fingertips upon a whim, under my control, says my Scorpio Ascendant, stowed and boxed or binned with Virgo Moon precision and attention to detail. True, the ofttimes lazy Leo Sun balks at the effort, but does enjoy the applause when I do it up big.
I say the tchotchke bug first bit in relation to paganism, and in a way that’s true, insofar as the extreme scale of my decorating is concerned. But even as a small child, I took delight in seasonal decorating, and couldn’t wait for Christmas, in particular, when the house would take on a magical air. And I’m more of a lapsed than practicing pagan these days, yet the decorating remains.
So for thirty years, I’d been slowly accruing more and more tchotchke, and finding less and less storage space. It was steady growth, but fairly manageable. And then a friend introduced me to Goodwill Thrift. I always thought of thrift stores as a place for clothing, perhaps housewares or even furniture. It never occurred to me that it could be a goldmine for seasonal items!
Yes, it’s a great cost savings – items are generally pennies on the dollar compared to buying retail – but what I find especially satisfying is that most of what is offered are things that are unavailable anywhere else. They are antique, or at least nostalgic, and not being made anymore. True, sometimes items are not in pristine condition, but as a collector, I know that accidents happen, and if the damage isn’t too great, and the item is appealing to me, I can tolerate a scratch or a chip. And of course, most items are just like new.
Hard to believe that Goodwill introduction was just two short years ago, judging by the ever-expanding stacks of bins filling my basement and laundry room. Much more of this, and the car will have to vacate the garage!
There’s another problem created by such bounty: display. For some seasons, like Yule, I simply have way too much material to put it all out at once, there just isn’t room for the full collection. But as heart-rending as it can be to pick and choose what shows and what doesn’t (I love all my children equally!), it does afford the opportunity to get creative with a different theme each year, showcasing portions of the collection to their best advantage, on a rotating basis.
This year, still post-surgery and not quite up to full steam after my knee replacement in September, seemed like a good time to take a step back in numbers, but a leap forward in theme. Each year I find that certain categories emerge strongly at Goodwill, for whatever reason. 2022 was the year of the snowman, the holly plate and the green Santa, with springtime rabbits and ceramic pumpkins also prominent. But 2023 was indisputably the year of the apple, and the cookie jar.
I probably bought close to 60 cookie jars this year, for all seasons, but the leader of the pack, far and away, was snowman cookie jars, of which I acquired approximately 25. Not to mention a ton of other Yule-themed kitchenware items, such as poinsettia plates, salt & pepper sets, and lots of additional winter-oriented cookie jars.
So for Holiday 2023 I focused on cookie jars, candy jars, and my classic hinged box collection, anything with a top and a bottom, for my theme of “Flip Your Lid for Yule!” There are figural pieces on display as well, but largely just those which were acquired in the past year, and hadn’t yet had the opportunity to “go public,” as it were.
There was a huge upside to this for a recovering knee patient – time! Let’s put it this way: it takes a lot less time to plunk down 40 cookie jars than the up to 500 small figures that would be needed to fill the same amount of space. So decorating that might ordinarily take up to two weeks, I breezed through in five days!
Works for me! And I hope it will for you, too. As always, the collection is organized for display by category and theme, in an attempt to craft order out of chaos.
We’ll start with the aforementioned snowman cookie jars. I must admit, having unpacked them all, it was a bit daunting to see the living room floor covered with dozens of these white devils. Where to start?
I contemplated several approaches, but in the end I fell back on an old collector’s rule of thumb: like with like. So I started with snowmen that had pipes in their teeth. Three large ones plopped side-by-side filled an entire shelf, with a fourth, a more rustic variety, spilling over onto the shelf beneath. I bookended that with snowmen holding cardinals, of which I had two, and which seemed to fit the rustic theme well.
Next I chose snowmen with lime-colored accents. Lime and burgundy is my favorite red-green yuletide tonal variation, so I placed pieces highlighting those colors, adding in other lime-clad items, and eventually adding snowmen with other shades of green as the main accent color. Moving on to snowmen with stick arms, and snowmen with snazzy suits, I filled six shelves in short order. Beneath this display area is a series of black end tables, which I utilized as a home for snowmen that were too tall to fit on the shelving, or were oddball variations, such as snowmen divided into compartments for serving, snowman measuring cups, and snowman-shaped bowls.
Done! With almost half the living room display area filled in twenty minutes!
The rest of that space I used for new additions to the figural snowman collection, the White Yule collection, standard red Santas, and burgundy Santas. It was a slack year for snowmen compared to 2022 (cookie jars not included!), but there were plenty, with a few new clear, iridescent or white trees, for the corner cupboard, an antique from my grandparents.
The White Yule collection was a bit busier with new elements, and at its base I set out a display of kitchenware in that same color theme, including a lovely white poinsettia plate, a charming white Santa cookie plate, and a stunning white tree cookie jar accented with gold pinecones and garland. Last year I had acquired a white Santa-in-sleigh cookie jar, but the table space was limited, so I rested it on the carpet beneath.
One of the highlights of the year had been the acquisition of a dizzying number of old-world-style pottery Santa ornaments. They popped up all year long, in singles, pairs or groups, in different Goodwill stores (I have four in my region); if I found one, I must have found two dozen. They purport to represent various images of Santa from his earliest inception in the 1840s to World War II; most I gifted to a friend who highly prizes these for her collection, but I kept a few truly unique items for myself, such as a Victorian Santa in a gold robe trimmed with holly sprigs and a holly crown, carrying a plum pudding! This, and a Slavic-looking Santa clad all in white fur, I displayed in the White Yule section, but others were filed with red and burgundy collections.
Like the original 1840s “Knickerbocker” Santa, based in Dutch settler legends of Sinterklaas from New Amsterdam (later New York), and another, somewhat defeatist Santa, who carries only a bucket of coals (presuming he would encounter only bad children, I guess!). These, and a few new additions to the “Santa with reindeer” subset (one of my favorites) became the highlight of the red Santa collection filling two shelves, with new burgundy-clad Santas on the shelf beneath.
Next to these I set up a four-foot white tree, trimmed in snowflakes and icicles, on the old marble-topped table that had been my grandmother’s, and nestled a portion of the cardinal collection beneath it. The remainder found their way to a nearby end table. Each segment of this collection featured a cookie jar: beneath the tree I placed the new “teardrop”-shaped jar ringed with cardinals on fir branches and black-capped chickadees on winterberry sprigs, and on the end table I centered last year’s find, of a wintry birdhouse cookie jar, complete with cardinal and chickadee tenants.
It was a decent year for finding “specialty” Santas as well, of which there are several subsets. I grouped Santas with lists, Santas in chimneys, Santas at mantles, Santas in sleighs and Santas with pipes, filling shelves and tabletops of the three-quarter narrow bookcase and small writing desk by the front door.
With foot-tall white trees and white or silver reindeer topping the bookcases and TV, plus the usual flurry of snowflakes on the walls and icicle garlands at the doors and archway, the living room was complete!
In the bonanza of kitchenware that came my way in 2023, I had acquired a ton of snowman salt & pepper sets as well, and those took over the kitchen windowsill and the small knickknack shelving that lines that aperture, spilling over onto the dining room windowsill. The rest of the dining room I reserved for Santa, with my old Santa cookie jar collection (plus a few 2023 additions) and the newly-acquired poinsettia plates, all on the hutch. I also set up another four-foot white tree in the dining area, where I displayed my collection of Santa ornaments.
It had been more than 15 years since these delicate blown glass bibelots had seen the light of day, not since before I took in Ashes and her kittens in 2007. As you may be aware, felines and trimmed trees don’t mix (or rather, they do, with disastrous results!), and I had eschewed decorated trees in all that time. But now, sadly cat-less since my dear girl passed in March, I took advantage of the opportunity to renew our acquaintance, always looking for the silver lining in my tragic loss.
With the first floor in pretty good shape, I turned my sights to the upstairs hall, bathroom and guest room.
There’s one Yule collection which I simply cannot do without, whatever the annual theme. That’s the green Santas, a hard-to-find group which typically adds only a couple of members per year. These found a home on the hall bookcase for 2023; not exactly prime placement, but at least I can see them.
On that same bookcase I displayed my classic hinged box collection, on two shelves, one for Santas and one for snowmen. Very little has been added to these over the years, since the hinged box heyday of the ‘90s, when most were obtained from the Dollar Store. But they’re very endearing, hadn’t been put out for two years, and fit very well with the “Flip Your Lid” theme.
I tried something new this year for the top of the half-bookcase that sits next to the full one: trees. Normally these might be interpolated among the snowmen or Santas in the living room, but they’d conflict with my overall red-and-white color palette. Also, I’ve been finding more large-scale items in recent years, cookie and candy jars, too big to fit in well with the usual figural displays, as well as a few more hinged boxes. I combined these, along with some classic tree hinged boxes and a huge Christmas tree platter, and I really like the result.
I was lucky to find this spot for the platter, which is a truly impressive piece, but way too tall to fit on any hutch shelving (or bookcase shelving, for that matter), and takes up way too much real estate to be displayed flat on a tabletop or end table. By taking advantage of the stabilizing properties of the heavier cookie jars in front, I was able to balance the platter behind, leaning against the wall, in what appears to be a sturdy placement, acting as a sort of backdrop to that collection.
The cookie jar front-and-center, with the snowman and Santa, is a recent Goodwill acquisition. It’s an oddity, for sure, and not quite my typical style, but as a collector, it’s important to show a range of interpretations on a theme, and this piece grows on me the more I see it. The Santa reminds me of Salvador Dali, for some reason.
Of course the hall itself is a blizzard of snowflakes, as always, with snowflake garlands over each doorway and the doors themselves plastered with a wide variety of the white stuff. There are snowflakes all over the house, but the storm intensifies in the hall.
In the bathroom I displayed my usual seasonal linens, hand towels and such, and the ever-growing collection of yuletide lotion pumps. Two years ago, I had three; now there’s ten!
That left just the guest room, which I kept largely unadorned, except to fill the small hutch there (made by a great-uncle in the 1980s) with the cookie jar overflow that doesn’t fit anywhere else, by theme or size. That said, some of the most interesting pieces are to be found here, like the ornate floral cookie jar peppered with pine branches and cones, the white-on-red silhouette piece of Santa on his sleigh flying over a small town, and yet more poinsettia plates found in 2023. But the star of the scene is a mini-collection of cookie jars fashioned like wrapped Christmas presents, all of which are new acquisitions.
Outside, things are colder than usual for December, punctuated with bursts of heat. There’s been no significant snowfall, but a light dusting glazed the garden briefly, appropriately falling on St Nicholas Day, December 6th, my traditional kickoff to the yuletide season.
But who needs frozen precipitation when the lingering aster fluff provides flurries and snow squalls all across the property? Following their bloom, native asters, which have overrun the yard this year, develop fluffy seedheads, much like dandelions in miniature, which cling tenaciously to the stems for months, making the garden look like a still life snowstorm scene.
And, unbelievably, there’s still color out there, even in mid-December! The neon purple fruits of Beauty Berry are beginning to fade, but continue to provide pops of color, and my amazing hydrangeas are still going strong. I’ve been joking that these are my outside poinsettias, and Alice has shed so much of her lower leaves that she really does look like a massive poinsettia past its peak, with foliage shorn and just the floral tops remaining.
But Pee Wee, my dwarf oakleaf hydrangea, has come into her own now, with rich dusty burgundy foliage that just won’t quit, despite successive nights well below freezing. The color is so lovely and seasonally appropriate that I’m tempted to cut some and bring it inside, but that would mean sacrificing flowers next summer, since oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood, so I am forbearing.
Holly berry production is down this year, though the plants themselves have put on some good size, and the winterberry performance has been downright disappointing. Absolutely covered in teeny green berries this June, by August all but a handful had dropped, and no one seems to know why.
It was a wrench to toss out my perfectly good autumn pumpkins and gourds after Thanksgiving, but they were simply not appropriate anymore. I did keep a small stack of white pumpkins on the porch, now adored with a knit cap and red ribbon scarf, for a gourdy snowman facsimile to welcome visitors to my winter wonderland.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual tour of the 2023 yuletide display, and to all a joyous holiday season, whatever you celebrate, and a happy and prosperous 2024!