A few weeks ago, as my family was setting up our Christmas tree, I hesitated putting up a small number of glass balls, passed down to me from my grandma many years ago, remnants of my dad’s childhood in Winnipeg’s North End. These ornaments have been a staple on my tree for a decade since striking out on my own –the delicate painted glass balancing out my beloved childhood favourite, an A&W Bear on a green felt sled. This year, however, I am The Mother Of A Toddler. Little, excited hands grasping and pulling at the ornaments I have lovingly toted move after move! Finally, after some encouragement from my spouse, the glass balls were cautiously placed at the top of the tree, where Toddler Hands McStickyfingers can’t reach them, despite her efforts to stand on her toes, arms outstretched, saying “Reach! Reach!” (Nice try, kid.)
Thankfully, safely in the storage room at The Manitoba Museum, our History collection’s complement of Christmas ornaments remains out of the grasp of toddlers. Whenever handled, these ornaments receive the “White Glove Treatment”, meaning we don cotton gloves to protect the artefacts from oil present on our skin. In instances where an object is particularly delicate or small, I prefer to wear blue nitrile gloves, so I can best hold artefacts as I examine them for cataloguing or photographing.
Delving into the collection to photograph Christmas artefacts, a few pieces stood out to me, reminiscent of ornaments –both old and new– decorating my tree at home. Carefully preserved by generations of family members, many of these artefacts were collected to decorate the Urban Gallery each year, featured on the Christmas tree in the dentist’s parlour as part of an exhibit called In Winnipeg at Christmas.
This delicate toadstool and its pair date to the mid-1920s, donated to The Museum along with a few dozen other ornaments of the period, including a hot air balloon, birds and fruit, like these bunches of grapes. Originally, these ornaments decorated the tree of a young Winnipeg couple, married in 1925.
] The skiing snowman, made of cotton and pipe cleaners, was donated to the collection after his original owners loaned him to The Manitoba Museum for In Winnipeg at Christmas.
Our Christmas holdings, however, are not limited to the 1920s. For those who prefer the A&W sledding bear over the filigreed glass ball, the collection has plenty to offer. One former curator had an eye for objects that reflected the contemporary popular culture of the 1980s, picking up pieces like a Snoopy squeeze doll –yes, that’s its official name in our collections database– and a staple for most people born in the late 1970s or early 1980s, a Cabbage Patch Kid tree ornament.
As I put these ornaments back in their boxes and return them to their shelves in the storage space, I can’t help but wonder whether one day my ornaments will meet a similar fate, becoming part of an exhibit like In Winnipeg at Christmas in the 1980s, but with a snappier title. Provided I can keep them safe from the toddler ‘til then.
By Cortney Pachet, Human History Cataloguer