Holiday Treasures

By , Staff Writer
December 2006

Tis the season to scamper up to the attic or down to the storage unit and unleash the contents of those beloved boxes. They were packed away a year ago with the tender care worthy of a collectible. These are not run-of-the-mill ornaments, but rather a cherished collection of holiday treasures.

Kristen Katz has accumulated many European glass figurines over the years. An armoire in her Bellaire home is filled from top to bottom with tiny boxes housing the ornaments. As a buyer for Lord & Taylor in New York City some years ago, she was introduced to some of the most magnificent European designers.

“I learned about Polish glass, German glass, but my favorite is Italian,” Kristen said.” “I started collecting these ornaments from Florence called DeCarlini. They’re gorgeous. I have Cinderella, angels, Humpty Dumpty, and a lot of nursery rhymes.”

Kristen Katz's daughter Annie enjoys her mother's Italian ornament collection.

Kristen’s tree holds no fewer than 200 exquisite glass ornaments collectibles, and their placement is something of a roll of the dice considering she has two small children. The bottom row is reserved only for non-breakables.

Bellaire’s Susan Reichenthal reconnects year-round with cherished childhood memories of Hanukkah by maintaining an enormous collection of dreidels. “When we first got married we wanted to collect something and someone gave us a dreidel,” Susan said. “We thought it would be neat and manageable as far as a collection. Our three children were fascinated by them.”

One of the best known symbols of Hanukkah, as well as a popular holiday game, the dreidel is a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters mean that “A great miracle happened here.”

Amazingly, each dreidel in the collection of over 100 looks distinctly different; the rarest piece, a five-sided dreidel in Yiddish, dates back to World War I. “It’s been so interesting to see how many different ways that something can be recreated artistically by different people,” Susan said.

Bellaire-area resident Debbie Gottesman has a menorah collection that comes from around the world. “I have one from Venice made out of morano glass,” Debbie said. “I have several from Israel and several I have received as gifts.”

It started out as a practical collection so that each of her four kids would have their own to light during Hanukkah. The multipronged candleholder commemorates the miracle of continuous light during the rebuilding of the Jewish temple.

“Once you have a collection, people know you’re collecting so then you get more,” Debbie said. “But it’s fun to remember where you got them and just like anything you collect, it’s very meaningful to remember the person who gave it to you.”

The McMillan boys have an impressive collection of nearly 50 large and small nutcrackers. Ten-year-old John was just 2 and his 5-year-old brother Jesse was not even born when the accumulation began. “He (John) thought they were the funniest thing that he had ever seen,” mom Sally said. “His first one was a firefighter nutcracker; he has since been glued several times. We get warm feelings when we bring him out.”

Each Christmas the boys get to select their own special nutcracker to add to the growing number of wooden soldiers. “You never know how many nutcrackers there are in the world until you start collecting them. There is one for everything,” said Sally, who admits that few, if any, have been used to crack a nutshell.

A few more holiday seasons will likely pass before 3-year-old Berkley gets to handle her mother’s precious collection of antique German ornaments. The delicate handblown glass designs are very rare. Her mother, Heather Able, collects only those predating World War II.

Most of Heather’s collection was given to her by her grandmother’s neighbor, who brought them here from Germany in the ‘40s. “When I was very young she saw that they fascinated me, and she gave me a couple,” Heather said.

Heather later inherited the whole collection and has since found out that finding more is like hunting for a lost treasure. “If I find one a year, I’m thrilled,” Heather said. “I found them in Round Top once; I got three at one time from a German vendor.”

It’s especially rare to find those that haven’t been retouched. “I have one where Santa’s cheek is completely rubbed off, all you see is clear glass,” Heather said. “To me that means he was really, really loved.”

It takes a special person to commit to collecting something. They’re the kind of folks who have an eye for quality and the heartfelt affection it takes to piece together a collection that others can equally enjoy.