Slice of Life: Christmas Trees and the Gift of Books

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“A book is a gift you can open again and again.”

Garrison Keillor

Every year in late November, my town library hosts a cocktail party/silent auction fund raiser to kick off the holiday season. People donate gift baskets, wreaths, and gift cards to local restaurants and businesses, but the highlight of the event are the Christmas trees. The decorations on each tree are inspired by a book, which is of course part of the package. My dear friend, Colette (of Used Books in Class fame), and I have been contributing a tree for at least the last 15 years, and it has become one of my favorite holiday traditions.

The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker Tree, topped by Boalt’s Sugar Plum Fairy

Our trees have most often been based on a children’s book, but we have done a few trees based on adult books. Our Under the Tuscan Sun tree was especially beautiful.  Sometimes we’re inspired by the book itself; other times we find an ornament that strikes our fancy. Many of our trees were inspired by the incredible handmade soft sculpture ornaments by Gladys Boalt. These usually adorn the tree top. The rest of the ornaments are generally a mix of purchased ornaments and ornaments that we make. We’ve gotten very creative over the years about making ornaments out of almost anything. Tiny terra-cotta flower pots and raffia became bells on the Tuscan tree, yellow grosgrain ribbon was transformed into the yellow brick road with the help of a black Sharpie, and a hand-knit I-cord became the garland for a tree full of little sweaters and hats.

Alice in Wonderland Tree
Alice in Wonderland Tree

Ideas for a tree can strike at any time of the year. Colette is usually the mastermind, but I’ve had my share of brainstorms too. This year’s tree was inspired by a set of wooden magnets Colette found in the gift shop at the Eric Carle Museum back in March. With the help of brightly colored bakery string and scrap book paper (to cover the black backs), these adorable magnets became ornaments. Plastic alphabet links were turned into a garland, and the Very Hungry Caterpillar himself sat atop the tree.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Every year we ask ourselves why we do this, as it takes a fair amount of time to make sure we have all the materials we need, make the ornaments, and decorate the tree. Trees have to be delivered to the library (a big challenge in itself!) right before Thanksgiving, a very hectic time of year for teachers. But every year, as we’re making the ornaments, we remember why we do this. We love it. We love supporting our local library. We love using a creative part of our brain that we often neglect, and we love creating beautiful Christmas trees that bring joy to someone. Most of all, we love giving a child a book they will never forget.

This year's finished tree
This year’s finished tree

Thank you to everyone at Two Writing Teachers for creating and nurturing this supportive community!

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14 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Christmas Trees and the Gift of Books

  1. I love this idea, even though it seems a monstrous task. It is fun to share your love of books and your creativity. Your library is luck y to have you.

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  2. What an interesting post! Those trees are incredible. BUT, when I saw the link to Gladys Boalt I had to smile. She is my neighbor and I knew she was an artist…..but I never knew….OH MY….incredible. THANK YOU FOR WAKING ME UP TO WHAT IS UNDERNEATH my eyes!

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  3. What a neat idea and to have a book theme each year makes it even better! I think the ideas would be endless. It must be hard to make such a decision!

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  4. A literacy tree, as Dana put it – perfect! And it seems as though you have such fun doing this as a group. That’s special, Catherine.

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  5. What a wonderful idea as a fundraiser for your library, Catherine. I’ve looked and looked at those trees. It must be fun to do with a friend too, so happy you told us all about the trees!

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  6. OK..Colette weighing in here. For the record, I am not the mastermind. Catherine is far better at estimating what “theme” will sell…what will not sell and what is too much to put on a tree (I am a fan of overdecorating). That said, I am delighted to have been a part of this post…and even happier that I have a friend who knows what book or author or philosophy I am referencing…often before I do!
    PS: What Catherine did not mention is while no trees were harmed in our decorating, one year she suffered hand cramps for several days after she drew every tiny brick on several yards of the yellow brick road ribbon!

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