Deck the halls: Decorators’ diverse demands drive the ornament market

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Working her way past the miniature Christmas village homes and a star topped tree, Vickie Horne stood fingering ornaments on the wall of Nancy Tut’s Christmas Shop in Dillsboro with an index card full of names in her hand.


The list of about 20 family and friends already had a few notes — John Deer ornaments for the boys, a nurse for her younger sister. Each year she buys them all a new ornament.

“It just depends on where they are in their life,” Horne said.

The tradition got started when Horne saw one of her college friend’s Christmas trees decorated with a variety of different ornaments. Since then she’s been helping personalize the trees of those around her.

“It’s just their special one,” Horne said of her ornament gifts.

Horne, who drives from Bryson City to visit Nancy Tut’s, is like so many of the shop’s customers who come in looking to customize the Christmas experience. Shop owner Lisa Potts sells everything from possums to sports team Santas, Red Hat Society bobbles to wooden doves, tiny foam flip flops to manger scenes in glass balls.

Most people come in looking for something related to what they do, be it a profession — fire fighting — or a hobby — fishing. Animals always are popular, and certain colors such as blue and purple seem to come and go of style.

“I’ve noticed this year more people have wanted snowmen,” Potts said.

The Santas, it seems, are out.

But at Christmas is Everyday in Waynesville, the trend has been the opposite.

“My woodsy Santas have been gone since the middle of October, and now my bear stuff is really dwindling,” said owner Deanna Schleifer. “Bears are real big, bears have been very big this year.”

Both Potts and Schleifer try to offer their customers something whimsical in addition to all the handmade, local crafts. Sometimes beeswax and stained glass just can’t compare to a Lucite martini glass complete with tiny olives or two flamingos with their necks shaped like a heart marking a couple’s first Christmas together.

“We try to buy anything bizarre,” Potts said.

And it seems as though there’s nothing bizarre enough. Customers have come in to Nancy Tut’s looking for lizards and worms. This year people keep asking for geckos — a testament to Geico’s advertising prowess.

Schleifer’s market, on the other hand, tends to lean more toward second homeowners looking to decorate for the holidays. Lawyer ornaments are popular sellers for her, but grandparents looking for something special for their grandkids also are a large part of her customer base.

“A lot of my ornaments go as gifts,” Schleifer said.

There’s one thing customers have in common though — the concept of more. More ornaments for more trees that are being left up for longer and longer periods of time.

“My mom has five trees in her house that has three bedrooms,” said Greg McLamb, visiting assistant professor of history at Western Carolina University.

In addition to having multiple theme trees, its also becoming more common for people to leave their trees up year round — made possible by the artificial tree — and decorate them for each holiday including Valentine’s and Halloween, Schleifer said.

But for most, the tree decoration tradition harkens back to the origins of Christmas trees.

“You were always suppose to put on your tree things that were meaningful to your family,” said Laura Cruz, assistant history professor at WCU. “Every year since my daughter was born we buy one ornament that we think symbolizes the year.”

McLamb said he has a similar tradition of buying keepsake ornaments, such as those collected on travels.

Currently the tree and ornament industry is going through a resurgence of oversized Christmas light bulbs, and all things retro. Fiber optic trees are negating the need for additional lights, as technology replaces history. And there are even inverted Christmas trees designed for cramped living quarters with too little floor space to spare. The only constant is that the Christmas decorating tradition continues to change.

“I don’t think we’ll give it up,” Cruz said.

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