An Ornamental Journey
More than just tree decorations
Elizabeth Giroir has two Christmas trees. The first one, nicknamed The Bird Tree, sits in her family’s den of their Memorial home. True to its name, the Bird Tree is decorated with all manner of fowl, from penguins to peacocks. The ornaments are fancy, and many are made from delicate glass that is breakable. Her second tree is in the master bedroom, decorated with a lifetime of ornaments that are so filled with meaning they help keep her heart from breaking. And while the Bird Tree sits publicly for all to see, the Heart Tree is really just for her.
“It’s my special tree,” says Giroir, owner of Maison Giroir Interior Design. “I did not go to the store to buy these ornaments – they all are from places we have lived and visited, and they all have memories attached to them.” Giroir and husband Patrick, who is in the energy industry, just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary, and they have three decades worth of remembrances that can be found on that tree. “Some people might think that it is not as beautiful as my bird tree, but every time I pass it, it evokes memories. It is a different type of beauty. It is a personal beauty.”
Giroir decorates the tree herself and looks forward to pulling the ornaments out of storage each year. The ornaments immediately take her back to the time they were received, a tangible memory from an intangible moment. There are some train ornaments, purchased at Union Station in D.C. years ago, when Giroir used to pass through on her daily commute to work when they were newlyweds. There are ones from Singapore during the time they lived there with their young children. There are many ornaments of their dogs, and there are a lot of ornaments from family members: delicate lace snowflakes crocheted by her grandmother, a wood one decoupaged with all their names from an aunt and even a salamander ornament from her sister-in-law.
The children’s ornaments strike the biggest chord. “Most of them are homemade,” says Giroir quietly, her voice cracking a little. “A lot of them are photo ornaments, and some of them are ones that they made at school, photos made from a Polaroid, with their face stuck in the centers using gobs and gobs and gobs of glitter.” These ornaments were made by daughter Virginia, now 25, and son Sean, who was killed in a home invasion in 2010, just shy of his 21st birthday. “It makes me happy to see these things,” says Giroir. “I put this tree up for me because it is a comfort, a comfort to remember these times, these happy times when my children both touched and made these ornaments.”
Jennifer Draper has Upstairs/Downstairs Christmas trees at home in Bellaire. The upstairs tree is casual, chosen from the annual trek to a Christmas tree farm to cut it down. The downstairs tree is artificial, but its decorations are the star and focus on family, faith and tradition.
When Draper had her first child, Reagan, her own mother started a Christmas-ornament tradition for her. “Christmas was always an important holiday in my family,” says Draper, partner at Kelly S Mathews LLC, a tax accounting firm. “When I turned 18, my mother started a Christmas china pattern, and every year I would receive gifts associated with that pattern. My pattern is ‘Holiday’ by Lenox. So when I became an adult, I already had a lot of nice Christmas china and candlestick holders. So then, when I had my first child, my mom said: ‘Wouldn't it be nice for you to establish a Christmas-ornament line, and every year it will be part of what your dad and I will give?” They decided on the Lenox Christmas ornament, which bears the year it was purchased, and with that first ornament, a new tradition was started.
That was 16 years ago, and Draper says the annual ornament gift takes on extra meaning now that her mother, Joetta Gibson Sholes, is gone. She lived long enough to continue the tradition for second granddaughter Morgan, now 13, who was gifted the Waterford Crystal annual Christmas ornament each year. “Shortly before my third child was born, in the last few days of my mom’s life, Mom said to me: ‘You are going to name that baby after me, aren't you? And don't forget about the Christmas ornaments!’ Mom died in March of 2007. Jack was born in September 2007, and we named him Jack Gibson Draper after her. I was sad because I wanted her to be a part of everything. These ornaments are part of who she was.”
True to her word, Draper and husband Jeff, senior vice president at Zero Waste Energy, kept up the ornament tradition, choosing the annual White House ornament collection for Jack. Draper’s dad, Bob Sholes, has taken over picking the three ornaments for the grandchildren each year. “He chooses to be very proactive and orders them every year in October,” says Draper. “The kids open them on Christmas morning and then immediately hang them up on the tree. For me, having a mom that is deceased and a dad that is older, it is important to make memories while they are here. My kids have that connection with their grandparents. The kids will be able to go off as adults, having something really beautiful and really special to start their homes with.”
To say that Genna Evans loves Christmas is an understatement. “We literally transform the entire house,” laughs Evans, a volunteer and stay-at-home mom. “We eat on Christmas dishes; we change all our duvets and sheets to Christmas bedding. We literally change everything, and we love it.” So, it is no surprise, then, that the family Christmas tree is treated with the same amount of love.
Evans says her Christmas tree decorations represent a nostalgic, ornamental journey. “We have been married 16 years,” Evans says of husband Jon, who is co-founder of Planet Fitness Houston. “When we first got married, it was so simple, and our Christmas tree was centered around our precious dogs. As we evolved as a couple, everything on our tree has revolved around our lives. They are all sentimental, based around our family. Every ornament on the tree has sentimental value.”
And, although there are still dog ornaments, Evans has focused on adding special ornaments of their children: Will, age 11, a student at The Joy School, and Nickel, 9, and Margot, 5, who both attend Annunciation Orthodox School. Evans says she found Christmas ornaments when Will was born and fell for their simplicity and the fact that they had the year painted on the frame. “The photo frames are similar in that they all are the same size, but decorated differently,” she says. “I have them ordered through 2019 – that’s how Type A I am when it comes to the kids and these traditions! It means the world to them.”
Evans likes to look at the tree and see how the children have grown throughout the years. Every October she has photos taken just for the frames. And, with the success of the kid’s frames, she decided to have some made for their current dog, too. “Millie is our Golden Retriever, and she’s on the tree!” says Evans. “When Jon and I met, we had a Rottweiler named Zoe and Jake, our Lab. Our tree has a lot of Rottweilers and Labs. Sadly, they are no longer living, but we have dog replicas of them and our next dog, Lucy, a King Charles Cavalier. It’s a really embarrassing story, but in first grade, Nickel told the school our family tradition was putting up ornaments and crying about our dead dogs. But we love all the memories!”
While the photo frames take center stage on the tree in their River Oaks home, the family also likes to buy ornaments when they travel. “We have always stumbled upon things that are perfect and have ornaments from France and Italy, New York and Grand Cayman,” she says. “I also have their Bethany Christian and their Pooh Corner and AOS ornaments mixed in, too. My tree is a mishmash. I love it. It is nothing fancy but it makes me so happy I just smile. I could look at it all day long covered in their cute, little faces.”
Which is how Elizabeth Giroir feels when she looks at the ornaments on her Heart Tree. She points to a simple, white ornament of an angel, her son’s face smiling from the center. “It was made by Sean when he was at AOS. It sparked a long discussion about angels and how one got to be an angel,” says Giroir. “He told me he wasn't ready to be one yet. I love my Bird Tree, but it is not my heart. This is my heart.”
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