Lifestyle & Culture

Trim the Tree With Meaning

December 12, 2019

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I LOVE ALMOST all Christmas tree ornaments, even the tackiest of them. That said, I don’t add a lot to my little collection because just buying generic “balls” (unless I have some cockeyed theme in mind) just doesn’t make sense to me. Like most people, I assume, I like to occasionally add something that means something, at least to me or my family.

So this year, to mark my move back to New York, I’m adding the little resin “stack of library books” ornament I found on the New York Public Library site (the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers a onesie that reads #PGHREADS, but I can’t hang that on my tree). And I’m (wishful) thinking that if enough of us hang a Ruth Bader Ginsburg ornament on our trees, or anywhere for that matter, it’ll keep her going.

Here then are some tree ornaments—maybe one of them will have meaning for you.

—Nancy McKeon

TOP LEFT: Chicago enthusiasts, and our numbers are legion, will surely recognize Anish Kapoor’s silvery “coffee bean” sculpture (okay, it’s really called Cloud Gate), large enough to walk under and mirror-y enough to reflect part of the city that surrounds it. The hand-painted “Chicago Bean Daytime Scene” ornament would be a great addition to your favorite Chicagoan’s tree. It’s $25.95 at

BOTTOM LEFT: If you just can’t kick the Starbucks habit you may as well hang these where the world can see. There are a whole bunch of the coffee giant’s ornaments on eBay and Poshmark and elsewhere. In addition, Walmart has mini Starbucks cocoa ornaments, and each little cup contains an ounce of Starbucks cocoa mix. The set of six cups is $14.98 at Walmart.

RIGHT: We do not yet have Harriet Tubman on our currency; doesn’t mean we can’t have her on our tree. The shop at Mount Vernon offers her carrying her lantern to light the way. It’s $14.95 at


LEFT: Patience (or is that Fortitude?) has been guarding the Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library since 1911 (though the lions’ nickames have changed several times over the years). The resin Library Lion Ornament can guard your tree for $16, at the library’s site.

RIGHT: More generically bookish (for your book club friends?) is this resin Book Stack Ornament. It’s $9.95, also at the New York Public Library shop’s site.

LEFT: Anyone who has sat in a Paris park or café will recognize the contours of this not-terribly-comfortable but useful Bistro Chair. This one celebrates NewYork’s Bryant Park (behind the main library), is silver-plated metal and is $30 at the park’s shopping site.

RIGHT: Similarly, anyone who has lived in an old house or apartment will no doubt recognize this stamped-metal Steam Heat Ornament, commemorating radiator heat (radiant heat still being the best, most consistent system out there). It’s $19.99 at the shop at New York’s Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side (a terrific place to visit and learn about earlier immigration to this country).

Maybe in reaction to all those craft-beer people out there, I’m thinking how cool your basic Bud is.

LEFT: One of Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdales in parade dress can high-step it across your tree. This fine fellow is $15.98 at

RIGHT: There’s a ton of Budweiser ornaments out there, but this Kurt Adler company version is officially licensed and has its own fake Christmas lights. It’s made of plastic and is $9.88 on Amazon. Go on, drive your craft-brew friends nuts!


LEFT: This is great: The Boston Pops Orchestra is repurposing old 45rpm vinyl records as tree ornaments. You can support the orchestra, trim the tree and serve up some nostalgia, all at the same time. Each is $8 at the Boston Pops site.

RIGHT: Opera productions have always been expensive, so I guess it stands to reason that the Metropolitan Opera’s silver-plated (over brass) ornament, based on the Opera House’s famous “sputnik” chandeliers, is a bit pricy as well. Four inches across, the sparkle produced by cubic zirconia, the Starburst Chandelier Ornament is on sale for $99.99 at the Opera’s site.


LEFT: Yes, there are RBG action figures and mugs and a documentary, but now RBG fans can have their own Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Christmas tree ornament. The message? Hang in there! The hand-blown glass ornament is $19.95 at Paper Source.

RIGHT: Angela Lansbury is another stalwart female who deserves space on everyone’s tree. This glass ornament is part of the Broadway Legends series and shows her as Mame (as in “Auntie Mame,” but let’s not forget her dozen TV years as Jessica in “Murder, She Wrote”) and is $65 at the Playbill store. Proceeds benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

TOP CENTER: Kaps for Kids upcycles beer-bottle caps into several things, including tree ornaments, and donates 10% of sales to children’s charities. I found ornaments for more than five dozen breweries on the site, including the Dogfish Head beer ornament shown on the front of MyLittleBird. The one seen above celebrates the Yuengling Brewery, the oldest in the US (established in 1829), and is $24.


LEFT: If you finally managed to see “Hamilton” it may be time to celebrate. Some ornaments feature the Playbill’s cover logo  with the silhouetted Hamilton atop the star, and others, like these, have some of the more iconic lyrics from the show. Take a look at everything out there, but know that “I am not throwing away my shot,” as in this glitter ball ($23 in silver glitter), is also written on some very cute shot glasses (get it?).

RIGHT: The goddess Diana, the sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, surveys the Philadelphia Museum of Art from her perch at the top of the Great Stair Hall. To be used as a tree ornament or a bookmark, the Diana Bookmark Ornament is made of brass plated with gold and is $24 at the museum’s online shop.

LEFT: Surely there’s a wine lover in your life whose bucket list resembles this one: wine and glasses and an ice bucket. Here’s  the ornament for him or her. This Noble Gems Glass Red Wine ornament is from the Kurt Adler company (there are many variations out there, though; some include a corkscrew in the list!) and is $14.34 at Amazon.

RIGHT: The official White House Historical Association Christmas ornament for 2019 is this three-dimensional gold-plated-brass helicopter, commemorating President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first in office to travel this way, in 1957; of course, it’s been a staple of White House life ever since. It’s $22.95 at the Historical Association site.

Yes, there are many Mount Vernon ornaments out there, but this one is amazing. Like a locket, the Mount Vernon Dollhouse Ornament opens to give a fair rendition of the interior of George Washington’s home and is $18.95 at the Mount Vernon online site.

Icons all, from one of my favorite museums, the mighty Met.

LEFT: The unicorn, of course, is from the famous series of 15th-century Unicorn in Captivity tapestries at the Cloisters, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cast in resin, it’s $28 at the Met’s online shop.

CENTER: Then there’s William, the Egyptian hippo, who is something of a mascot for the Met. He’s $28 from the Met shop.

RIGHT: Edgar Degas’s Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer is now a resin ornament for the tree, $28 at the Met shop. The museum’s bronze casting is 38 inches tall, and the ornament only 4 inches, and the tutu is resin not fabric . . . but still.


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5 thoughts on “Trim the Tree With Meaning

  1. Nancy G says:

    We don’t have Christmas trees, but these ornaments are lovely

  2. Judy Havemann says:


    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      I love santons. They are those little Provencal genre figures that populate crèche scenes. They represent the everyday people—shepherds, the garlic seller, the butcher, the old lady carrying firewood to sell—who make the Nativity scene a local affair. Most are painted terra-cotta, a few inches tall, but some, especially the slightly larger ones, wear real fabric costumes. I’ve visited collections—the most incredible being late 18th-century—in France, Italy and Portugal, so they do go well beyond Provence, though the makers in and around Marseille have “mass”-produced and popularized them. I fear that the terrible fire that brought down Notre Dame in Paris also destroyed their very elaborate, mechanized display. I haven’t seen santons that can hang on a tree, but I’ll keep looking.

  3. Carol says:

    THANK YOU FOR THIS. Each year I buy my kids and grandsons a meaningful (to them) ornament and it is getting harder to come up with something new. My son is always interested in space so this year I got him the beautiful space window ornament from the National Cathedral, another place to find unique decorations for your tree.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Lovely! But see? The cathedral wasn’t on my radar screen this season so I didn’t remember their great shop (where in past years I’ve bought little santons). Thanks.

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