Tucked away in boxes, swathed in bubble wrap and tissue paper, are treetop ornaments, pinecone wreaths and sleigh bells — objects unwrapped just once a year that convey that Christmas has arrived. In some families, a favorite Santa mug or Christmas tree skirt evokes the magic of the season; at my house, it’s the “red, lumpy thing.” At least, that’s what my eldest daughter called it the year we had to decorate the tree before she got home. “Don’t hang the red, lumpy thing until I get there,” she pleaded. Baffled, we sorted through the ornaments and determined that a scarlet-colored felt ball, haphazardly dotted with sequins and embroidery, somehow said “Christmas” to Maggie. Each year since then, the hanging of the red lumpy thing is our cue to let the festivities begin.
Helping to shape these kinds of holiday memories is the inspiration behind numerous Etsy shops. “I love creating heirlooms that are a part of other families’ Christmas traditions,” says Barb Wenninger, who offers hand knit stockings in her shop, Warmed by the Hearth. “Everyone who has bought a stocking tells me who it will belong to and where it will hang. It’s humbling to be a part of their holiday celebrations.”
While a love of knitting and the holidays inspires Wenninger, Alyssa Marsh of Vintage Modern Mix appreciates the design possibilities inherent in Christmas. “There are so many different color palettes and styles to work with,” she says. Her Advent calendars are composed of small boxes, each perfect for holding a tiny treasure. “The holidays are such a happy time, so it’s exciting to think that my calendar is being used every day leading up to Christmas.”
Though Advent calendars date from the mid-1800s, Anne Schneider of Good Wishes Quilts says the calendars she stitches have sparked new family rituals. “An Australian customer told me she was putting the address of a person in each pocket of the calendar and every day her family would write that person a letter of thanks or encouragement,” says Anne. “Such a simple and beautiful way to spread the warmth of Christmas, one day at a time.”
Another item in Anne’s shop — The Magic Santa Key — enables Father Christmas’s traditional visit to homes that lack chimneys. “Kids are logical these days. If they live in a apartment or condo, they ask, ‘How will Santa get in?’” she says. Anne attaches a key (“fashioned in Santa’s workshop by elves”) to a pair of elf stockings. “Just hang the key on your doorknob on Christmas Eve. You can try the key and your children can too, but it will only work for Santa, only at your home, and only on Christmas.”
While Americans think of Santa as a kindly gent, Robbie Kombinat of Retro Kombinat says in Germany Santa is sometimes accompanied by Krampus, a demon-like figure who stuffs naughty children in a sack. Kombinat, a Louisiana native who lives in Berlin, takes special pleasure in mingling holiday traditions through the vintage goods he sells. “I love that they go to people who perhaps celebrate Christmas differently,” he says. “Yesterday I sent a box off to Hawaii and I’m glad that something that caught my eye in a market in Dresden, Germany, can make its way around the world, bringing the charm of the Saxon Christmas tradition with it.”
Traditions vary geographically and they’ve also altered through time. “My desire is to create designs that reflect a simpler time in history, when women eked out beauty for their homes from basic thread and fabric,” says Cherie Wheeler of Cherie Wheeler Designs. She made her first cross-stitched ornaments to hand down to her children and finds that Christmas is a reminder to slow down and reflect on what’s important in life — for her, it’s faith, family and friends. “I feel honored when my customers write and tell me they made a purchase as a special gift, and that my little designs become a part of another person’s holiday tradition. My goal is to create unique items, little treasures to be tucked away reluctantly when the holiday is over.”
This time of year it’s easy to get excited about creating and collecting Christmas items, but how do Etsy shop owners keep the holiday spirit alive and the inspiration flowing in the heat of summer? Robbie Kombinat keeps searching for holiday items in Berlin’s plentiful flea markets year round. Anne Schneider says the stories her customers share keep her in the Chrismas spirit. And Cherie Wheeler says simply, “I remember the words from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. ‘I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.’”