The handblown, hand-painted glass ornaments on Elaine Holmes' Christmas tree in Union Bridge are, she says, "a way of holding onto your immortality."
Most of the ornaments were her grandmother's, and someday they will be passed along to her son and two daughters.
Holmes and other members of the Union Bridge Area Heritage Committee will display their antique holiday collections at the committee's annual holiday social this week.
John Gartrell will bring his reproduction feather tree. One member may bring a menorah. Others are expected to bring antique ornaments from their collections.
Feather trees, the first artificial Christmas trees, were fashioned by Germans in the late 1800s after heavy demand for evergreens to make coke for steel production had prompted the German government to ban "frivolous" use of evergreens. The Germans turned to goose and turkey feathers, which they dyed and wired to look like pine trees.
"It's the kind of thing that either you think they're attractive or you think they're the ugliest thing going. A lot of things from that era are that way," Gartrell said.
Gartrell made his 28-inch feather tree and a feather fence that goes around it from a kit he'd been given.. The trunk is a dowel rod, and the branches are made of wire covered with quill feathers wrapped with florists' tape.
Holmes' ornament collection is primarily of sentimental value. She hasn't been able to learn much about her grandmother, Minnie Hennage, who died in 1950. But Holmes remembers the ornaments from visits to her house as a child.
The ornaments were given to Holmes' aunt after her grandmother died. Holmes bought a box of the ornaments at her aunt's estate sale 10 years ago, spending $75 to outbid antique dealers who were competing for the box.
"I wasn't about to let them go," she said. "As long as they stay in the family, people will keep alive the people that had them."
Holmes' collection includes a tiny glass ball with white leaves on a gold background, a large glass ball with faded gold paint, an early plastic Santa and sleigh from the 1940s and a reproduction of a toy drummer boy who leaps when his string is pulled.
Antique holiday ornaments and feather trees "get snatched" by local buyers, said Laura Turner, owner of Frizellburg Antique Store. "Vintage Christmas is very popular in the antique market."
Early feather trees, which usually have stenciled bases or decals, sell for several hundred dollars, Turner said. She said the rarest Christmas ornaments are Dresdens, fragile paper ornaments named for one of the German cities where they were made before World War I.
Germans made the original feather trees, but the Americans and English picked up the idea. Some feather trees were dyed red and green, others white.
"They [Victorians] were just as creative with that as with everything else," Turner said. "They didn't just do a green feather."
The Union Bridge Area Heritage Committee will display the ornaments at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the town hall, 104 W. Locust St.
Pub Date: 12/15/96