Families preserve heirloom Christmas ornaments

Some holiday decor serves as family log



Ornaments hanging on the Christmas tree in Rick and Mary Howard’s living room tell the story of their family. Several date back four generations to Rick’s great-grandmother, Sarah Sancken, who lived in Augusta.

“There are pictures that are World War II-era, black and white, and you can see them on their tree,” Howard said of the heirloom ornaments in his Lombardy Court home. “When we were little, we used to love my grandmother’s old ornaments.”

Dating to the 1930s, four silver balls made from tin have been cherished by family members. Howard also has four paper and velvet angels made in West Germany that his family bought on a trip to Europe in the early 1950s.

“You can tell how things changed. They went from more handcrafted to plastic,” he said.

On a smaller tree in their dining room, the family thinks a silver, twisted aluminum tree topper dates to the very early years of the 20th century.

“There’s no telling how old that thing is,” Howard said. “That could go back to World War I era.”

The Howard family boxes their heirloom ornaments carefully each year to preserve them, but some have been lost or broken. A red and green tin foil star that could be nearly a century old, a popular family decoration, was misplaced.

“Last time anybody remembers seeing it was back in the ’90s. Nobody knows,” he said. “It was probably given to someone in the family.”

On the family tree, the oldest ornaments hang next to toy soldiers and other mirrored, round balls several decades old and with more modern ornaments.

“I just love mixing the old and the new,” Mary Howard said. “They wouldn’t have the value to anybody else but family.”

Older, handcrafted ornaments are also valued by Katherine Knox, of Augusta. Her mother, Karen Davis, of Savannah, Ga., crafted needlepoint ornaments in the early 1970s that have become important family heirlooms.

“Pretty ornaments are hard to come by,” Knox said. “I’ll have them forever, and I’ll look forward to passing them on.”

An interior decorator, Davis used fabric remnants for the snowman and gingerbread shaped ornaments she gave to her daughter.



• Store old ornaments in acid-free boxes using acid-free tissue paper.

• Keep the room temperature between 65 and 75 degrees with low humidity.

• Don’t store keepsakes in garages, attics or basements.


Source: Nancy Glaser, executive director of the Augusta Museum of History