The History of The Wreath

We all know about hanging wreaths on our front doors, but where did that tradition originate? And what does it symbolize? Since it’s Christmas in July here in the Midtown Mercantile Mall, let’s look into it.

Early Greco-Roman wreath

Ancient wreath – gold acorns and leaves

The victor

Wreathes date back to ancient Greece and Rome, where members of the Greco-Roman society would make wreaths using tree leaves, twigs, small fruits and flowers. Laurel wreaths were used to crown victors of sporting events, a tradition still used today during the Olympic Games, where the medals are engraved with wreaths of laurel.

Traditional wreath

Meanwhile, in Europe, about 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, pagans celebrating the solstice made evergreen wreaths as a sign of perseverance through harsh winters and the hope of a coming spring.   By the 16th century, Catholics and Protestants had adopted these pagan symbols to celebrate Advent, the season of waiting and preparation for the birth of Christ. 

A Tucson wreath

The bottom line – the wreath’s circular shape, with no beginning and no end, symbolizes an unending circle of life. Evergreen branches symbolize the life of the earth that never truly dies, in spite of the cold winter winds.

Now this is cute!

While it’s nice to know the history behind traditions most people today don’t even think about the symbolism. They just want that traditional wreath on their front door. And now, with the popularity of repurposing, some truly wonderful wreaths are being made out of vintage ornaments, lights, and decor. 

What an excellent use of repurposed vintage items!

 Many of these old Christmas items can be found in the mall. Come on in and have a look around!

Carol Fenn 7-2017

Prior To Elf on The Shelf – Vintage Elves!

In 2004 The Elf on the Shelf was written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell over a cup of tea. It was a book about a seemingly old tradition of an elf sent from Santa who came to watch over children at Christmas time. The story describes how Santa’s “scout Elves” hide in people’s homes to watch over events and then report back to Santa. Basically to see who’s naughty? Who’s nice? And there’s one rule – you must not touch the elf on the shelf!

A variety of vintage 1950s, 1960s elves

Oh yeah, he’s naughty

Having a good old time!

Prior to the Elf on the shelf book there were already plenty of vintage Christmas elves watching over us and frankly they could care less about who’s naughty and who’s nice! As a matter of fact, many of these vintage elves have pretty naughty looks on their faces. They’re mischievous. They’re fun. They’re full of good Christmas cheer! Naughty? Nice? Don’t touch? Who cares! They just want to have fun!

Contemplating naughtiness


“I didn’t do it …”

You may have noticed that it is currently the middle of the summer and I’m writing about holiday elves! That’s because it’s Christmas in July in the Midtown Mercantile Mall. Come on in. It’s cool inside and we’re celebrating Christmas!  

Carol Fenn 7-2017

Christmas in July ~ Shiny Brite Ornaments

Ah Shiny Brite ornaments! We love you! I don’t know about you, but when I’m searching through a box of vintage and antique Christmas decorations, when I come across a Shiny Brite it makes my heart go pitty-pat!  

A lovely vintage box

An early ad

Ready to be decorated

In 1937, Max Eckardt established Shiny Brite. He had been importing and selling German ornaments for many years but he saw the writing on the wall with the upcoming war. Eckardt partnered with the American Corning Glass Company. They adapted their process for making light bulbs to mass producing clear glass ornaments, which were then shipped to Eckardt’s factories to be decorated by hand. Prior to this time most Christmas ornaments were indeed imported from Germany. The fact that Shiny Brite ornaments were an American-made product was stressed as a selling point during World War II, even featuring Uncle Sam on the box! In the first year they sold 250,000 ornaments! 

Shiny Brite table top tree

So pretty …

They made much more than glass ornaments

The accurate dating of Shiny Brites is often helped by studying the hook. The first Shiny Brite ornaments had the traditional metal cap and loop. Production during WWII necessitated the replacement of the metal cap with a cardboard tab. These cardboard hangers firmly place the date of manufacture of the ornament to the early 1940s. Later during WWII they came with paper caps with a loop of string. Also during the war there was no metallic paint used as decoration. Ornaments dating to this time have a non-silvered surface.

WWII ornament with paper cap

Early WWII clear bulbs with cardboard hooks

WWII non-silvered ornaments

Following the war, Shiny Brite introduced a line of ornaments with a metal hook that provided the user with two lengths of hanger. The long hook traveled through the center of the ornament and exited the bottom, where it attached to the bottom. This provided the “short” hanger. Unlatched from the bottom, the entire length of the hook was available, allowing the ornament to dangle at a greater distance from the tree limb to which it was attached. This arrangement was designed to allow the ornament to fill sparsely limbed areas of a natural tree. This feature was discontinued in 1960 when aluminum trees became popular.  

Glow in the dark Shiny Brites

In the early 1960s, the increased popularity of artificial trees seemed to coincide with the desire for unbreakable plastic ornaments to decorate them with. The Shiny Brite company closed its doors in 1962.  

Wreath made out of old Shiny Brites

Today Shiny Brites are very popular with collectors who not only decorate their trees but they make gorgeous wreaths with them. Some even take old damaged Shiny Brite boxes and make charming little Christmastime vignettes. How cute is that!  

Carol Fenn 7-2017

It’s The 4th! Celebrating Uncle Sam!

Since the early 1800s, Uncle Sam has been a popular symbol of the US government as well as a manifestation of patriotism. He’s even taken on some forms of environmental conservation. But how did this come about? 

Uncle Sam encouraging home gardens

… encouraging conservation of natural resources

Hand carved whirligig

It was in 1813 that the United States got its nickname, Uncle Sam. Popular lore says that the name is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson stamped his barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers began referring to the grub as “Uncle Sam’s.” The local newspaper picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. government.

Christmas in July anyone?

The image of Uncle Sam that we recognize today was created by James Montgomery Flagg during World War I. This image more than any other has influenced the modern appearance of Uncle Sam: an elderly man with white hair and a goatee, wearing a white top hat with white stars on a blue band and striped trousers.

James Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam has been used over the years to encourage Americans to plant Victory gardens, join the military, buy American-made products, perform patriotic acts, etc.

Buy American!

Vintage pattern

Well-known figure that he is, Uncle Sam has been carved into folk art figures, used on mechanical banks, toys, noisemakers, puzzles, and of course, appropriately on the 4th of July, you might even find him prominently displayed on fireworks!  

Uncle Sam fireworks

Antique cast iron bank


It might be fun to come into the Midtown Mall at 4443 E Speedway in Tucson, AZ and go on a treasure hunt for some Uncle Sam antiques and collectibles. Come on in! It’s cool inside!

Carol Fenn 7-2017