Collecting Christmas Tree Ornaments at Chestnut Cottage

In an excerpt from her book, The Collected Cottage, Kathryn Crisp Greeley tells about her charming collection of Christmas tree ornaments and seven Christmas trees.

Kathryn Crisp Greeley’s new book welcomes readers into Chestnut Cottage, her carefully curated home in Waynesville, North Carolina. In The Collected Cottage: Gardening, Gathering, and Collecting at Chestnut Cottage (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2022) she shares her collections, ideas and menus for celebrations, garden inspiration, and recipes for simple pleasures. Each seasonal section includes Kathryn’s exploration of a collection, including her connoisseurship and fascinating stories about her life and travels.

Kathryn’s collections are wide ranging and and always spark stories. In the pages, she shares her curations of crystal boxes, Tommy Mitchell botanicals, Wedgwood jasperware, and even restaurant menus, just to name a few.

In the following excerpt, Kathryn tells about her charming collection of Christmas tree ornaments and the Christmas trees that display them.

Christmas tree in Kathryn Crisp Greeley's keeping room
The largest tree stands in the keeping room.
Glass Christmas ornament with Santa riding steam train.

…It is a miracle that Wells indulges my passion for so many Christmas trees and ornaments! There are seven live trees, and I do have one little white artificial tree that was given to me as a gift. It is my only exception to the “all real, fresh trees” rule!
The largest tree at the cottage stands in our keeping room. It has a large collection of ornaments, both old and new. On this tree, my collection includes ornaments from both my grandmother’s and mother’s trees. Some little porcelain bells my mother purchased in 1952 hang here, along with a snowman made of cotton balls that I made in the first grade. Frosty is missing one arm, but he still manages to sit nicely on the tree.

A Jaguar, a grand piano, and a Kelly bag are a few of my favorite ornaments in the collection, while Wells, of course, prefers his Goldy Gopher. Goldy Gopher is the mascot at the University of Minnesota, where Wells played college football, so this tree has many Golden Gopher ornaments! A collection of trains (again from my mother) has found a place on this tree.
Each and every ornament brings meaning to the trees, as I know yours do to your tree. I know of no one who doesn’t love the ornaments they’ve collected for their own Christmas tree! Our ornaments evoke memories of Christmas past.

Every time I speak about one particular piece of this collection of trees and ornaments, I think that collection is my favorite. But each tree is truly so unique that I suppose that I can honestly say they are all my favorites!

Christmas tree covered with a collection of ornaments representing buildings
This tree is adorned with ornaments of buildings.
Tower of Pisa Christmas tree ornament
Church Christmas ornament

I am very fond of the tree in our master bedroom that is adorned with ornaments of buildings. The special position of this tree allows me to sit in bed and see not only it, but also the one beyond in the keeping room. The moment we get up in the morning, we turn on the lights on both trees and enjoy our coffee in bed with each tree twinkling. A lot of this ornament collection involves travel—the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Number 10 Downing Street, the Theatre Royal, and many more. And then there are the beautiful churches, the manger, and so many styles of architecture. I like to give my holiday guests a little tree of their own to enjoy in the guest bedroom, and it always has a garden theme.

Garden ornament collection Christmas tree
The garden tree

Through my years of collecting ornaments, family and friends have given me so many. As I decorate and undecorate the trees, I fondly remember the giver. One of my favorites on this tree is the little beehive with a tiny bee on top. It brings to mind my friend Mary Woltz, the beekeeper based in Sag Harbor, New York… Other favorites on the garden tree are Wellingtons filled with gifts, a little greenhouse, and Santa with his watering can.

…My maternal grandfather was from Ireland, so both my mother and I had an extensive collection of Irish-themed ornaments. When my mother passed away, my Irish tree had to get substantially larger to hold both her ornaments and mine! The Irish tree stands in the library, my favorite room in the cottage. I spend a lot of time in this room and in my adjoining office, so the placement of this tree was not by accident!

“Each and every ornament brings meaning to the trees, as I know yours do to your tree. I know of no one who doesn’t love the ornaments they’ve collected for their own Christmas tree! Our ornaments evoke memories of Christmas past.”—Kathryn Crisp Greeley

The tree in my cozy little office is done primarily in gold and blue. Many years ago, my mother crocheted two dozen or so little gold and gold and white bells for this tree. Along with an assortment of gold angels, I have the Waterford “Twelve Days of Christmas” and a special golden egg with a tiny copy of The Collected Tabletop, made and given to me by my friend Julia Molloy. I’m so lucky that Julia had the patience and talent to craft this little jewel of an ornament!

Bordeaux bottle Christmas ornament

Wells has his favorite tree, which is in his wine cellar. This tree started out as a small tabletop tree, but friends continued giving him wine ornaments. As you can see, it is no longer a small tabletop tree that sat on his table in the cellar! Wells always saves his important corks and has made a garland out of them for this tree. My favorite of his wine cellar ornament collection is “Blitzen”—down but still holding his bottle and wine glass! Santa Bacchus sits atop the tree, toasting the holidays. A table in the wine cellar, with the twinkling tree and surrounded by great bottles of wine, is a lovely venue for an intimate holiday dinner!

I suppose my collection of trees can’t expand, as I am out of rooms to put them in at the cottage! But each year, I will lovingly unpack and repack this treasured collection of ornaments and reflect on all the years they have graced so many beautiful, fresh trees.

May all the glories of Christmas past crown each of your Christmases and last through a glad New Year!

By Jason Burnett

The Collected Cottage: Gardening, Gathering, and Collecting at Chestnut Cottage by Kathryn Crisp Greeley, (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2022)

Photography by J. Weiland

Excerpted with permission. Purchase a copy.