It all began with a single engraved silver bell. But today, Barbara MacClements estimates that her holiday collection includes at least 7,000 ornaments.
“In my family we had a tradition that when my siblings and I got married, for Christmas my mother would give us a silver bell engraved with the date that year and then every year thereafter,” said MacClements, a Charlotte, N.C. native and retired financial comptroller.
Over the years, she has collected 22 engraved silver bell ornaments, one each year until her mother’s passing in 1998. All are now proudly displayed on the 10-foot-tall Christmas tree showpiece in her living room.
“The rule is, to go on this tree, it has to reflect light,” MacClements explained, as she points out the intricate mix of crystal and silver decorations — including a large disco ball ornament — that grace the tallest of the dozen or so Christmas trees she decorates each year in her Rabbit Run home.
“This tree takes me at least 20 hours to decorate, and there are about 800 ornaments on it alone,” she said. “Every day around 3 p.m., it’s like a light show in here, because the sunlight from the window hits the disco ball, and the reflections are just beautiful.”
Each year, MacClements commences her holiday decorating around mid-November, with a goal of having 12 or more fully decorated, themed trees placed around her home. Her incentive is to be finished in time for an annual Christmas ornament exchange party she hosts in December for friends.
While she’s been collecting Christmas ornaments for decades, it’s only been since about 1995 that MacClements has decorated to this extent, she says — and it isn’t only about the trees.
“Just about every surface will get something. I have a Christmas village, and a snow globe collection that I put out, plus my own Christmas crafts that I have created,” she said. “I also do lots of lights outdoors in front, as well.”
Decorating is serious business for MacClements: She keeps extensive computerized inventories of all her ornaments; including where she purchased them or who they are from if they were given as gifts, as many of her ornaments are.
And, she’s always on the hunt for more. This past year, during travels to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and to Alaska, she admittedly “went a little crazy” ornament shopping.
“I love the beach. I love horses. And I love Christmas,” she said. “So, to have them all in one place in the Outer Banks, I just couldn’t help myself.”
Many of the ornaments speak to her passion for pets and horses — she’s long owned Saddlebreds and currently has two, Kit and Gracie, which she boards in Georgetown.
Currently the proud owner of a Scottish terrier named Laddie, many of the ornaments remind MacClements of her former pets — including another Scottie, an Airedale terrier and a cat.
“My cat is long gone, but he used to lay under the tree and bat the plastic ornaments on the lower branches, so I still hang this plastic energizer bunny to remember him,” she said.
As far as the types of decorations that speak to MacClements, it’s a little bit of everything.
“I get them anywhere from Wal-Mart to Waterford,” she said.
Her mix includes the fancy, such as shimmering horse-shaped icicles and elegant golden birds, to the just plain fun, like the ocean-themed tropical fish and a Christmas T-Rex ornament.
Typically, MacClements decorates each tree with a chosen color theme, though she does sometimes put up a “no-theme” tree as a catch-all for other ornaments that she loves, which don’t have another home.
The white tree in her dining room, for example, is decorated with elegant, all-gold ornaments in order to pick up the gold accents on her mother’s china, which she displays each holiday season in tribute to her mom.
One spare bedroom has a “peacock” tree, decked out with real peacock feathers from a friend’s farm and accompanying ornaments in turquoise and purple.
A stunning white-on-white bedroom — with its crisp white linens, white walls and white carpeting — gets a bold pop of color via an all-black Christmas tree along with a nearby all-white tree, which are both outfitted with black and white ornaments.
On the bed, a bevy of all-white stuffed animals including a white alligator, a yeti and a white Christmas bear that plays Silent Night, all help ring in the season.
“I like to throw in the whimsical,” she said.
In the owner’s bedroom, which is painted peach, a beautiful new white flocked tree shimmers with a pink glow, thanks to strands of pink lights and girly, pink-themed ornaments, including a Princess tiara and ballerinas.
On her dresser, MacClements has cleverly used her extensive holiday jewelry collection to decorate a small, table-top tree that could rival any chic store display.
“Every day, I select a piece of holiday jewelry from my tree to wear,” she says. “Christmas jewelry is so pretty, it seems a shame to let it just hide in a drawer.”
While most of her 7,000-ornament collection is Christmas-related, MacClements does also decorate extensively for Easter, too.
“I put up a white tree and hang Easter egg decorations on it, with pastel colored lights on the tree,” she said. “Plus, I have lots of bunny figurines I put out.”
Remembering loved ones
While there are no vintage Christmas ornaments from her own childhood, she does have cherished memories of her mother decorating their home from top to bottom for the holidays.
And to some extent, that’s what drives MacClements in her mission to bring Christmas cheer to every corner of her home — celebrating Christmas is a way to remember and honor her mother.
“I think about her a lot,” she said. “My best Christmas ever was in 1997, the year before she died. She did not let us know that she was ill.
“My parents’ 50th anniversary was two days after Christmas, and we had a huge party for them, where we hired a pianist. We had all ages there, and the family all stayed around and sung carols and show tunes together all night. It was my favorite Christmas ever.”