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9 Old-School Holiday Decorations

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How many of these decorative touches do you remember (or still have stashed in the attic)?

1. READER'S DIGEST CHRISTMAS TREES

Old issues of Reader’s Digest are the Tribbles of the magazine world; left alone on a shelf or in a box they just seem to multiply on their own. This readily available supply of paper made for an inexpensive and time-consuming craft project that kept kids busy enough to give their teacher a breather for an hour or so. By laboriously double-folding each page of the magazine into an isosceles triangle, then gluing the front and back covers together, you could create a small, table-top Christmas tree. Then the real fun began: the decorating. With no restrictions on the amount of spray paint and glitter that could be used, the end result sometimes seemed reflective enough to deflect laser beams.

2. IBM WREATHS

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Remember the early days of computing, when we saved data on floppy disks? Those old dinosaurs were positively futuristic compared to the standard storage medium of the 1950s—punch cards. Regularly (and generically) referred to as “IBM cards,” they were often disposed of most carelessly, despite the sensitive information they contained. (Of course, back then not many average folks had access to a UNIVAC, so identity theft was not a major consideration.)

Used IBM cards were plentiful (and free) in the 1960s and '70s, so fashioning Christmas wreathes out of them helped to keep tons of paper out of landfills. Cynical types at the time were able to find a deeper meaning in such decorations, such as encroaching faceless technology replacing traditional warm holiday cheer, but most of us just enjoyed transforming someone’s free discards into a pretty floral spray.

3. GOD'S EYES

These colored yarn decorations were fairly easy and fun to make, and were frequently an art class school project. Of course, before you could actually start wrapping your sticks in earnest, you always had to first sit through a brief history lesson on the Ojo de Dios and its spiritual connotations in Mexico. Kids still make a variation of these in school and Cub Scouts today, but odds are they don’t use the same type of sticks to construct them as those that were handed out back in the day—pointy wooden skewers that could take an eye out quicker than a Red Ryder BB gun. In some regions, those short wooden lances were called “city chicken sticks,” as they were primarily sold for the purpose of concocting this Midwestern delicacy. As such, and out of necessity, they were sharp enough to easily pierce through large chunks of pork and veal, and God’s eyes never failed to stab you in the hand when unpacking the boxes of Christmas decorations every year.

4. C6 CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Decorative electric lights have been available since the 1880s, but for many years they were so expensive that they were only seen on trees in wealthy homes and/or town squares. General Electric debuted the C6 ("C" for “conical” and "6" to indicate the diameter of the bulb) tungsten filament straight fluted lamps in 1924. Mass-produced in a variety of colors and popularly priced, the C6 became the de facto holiday decor for both indoor and outdoor use until it went out of production in the mid-1970s. The C6 had its drawbacks, however; the lights worked on a series circuit, meaning if one bulb burned out, the whole string went dark. In many homes, parents uttering a few curse words while going bulb by bulb down a line of darkened lights with increasing frustration, trying to find the faulty one, was as much of a holiday tradition as hanging stockings by the chimney with care.

5. ALUMINUM TREES

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Who would’ve thought that the “space-age” tree of the 1960s that sold for pennies on the dollar at garage sales in the '70s and '80s would become a pricey collectible in the 21st century? The first aluminum Christmas trees were manufactured in 1959 and were not branded as “artificial” trees, but rather “permanent” ones. Busy families didn’t have to worry about hauling a live tree home from the lot and sweeping up fallen needles on New Year’s Day, and assembling the silvery wonder was a group activity that was fun for the whole family. Since electric lights presented a shock hazard on a metal tree, the twinkling color effect was accomplished instead by a rotating color wheel.

6. WINDOW STENCILS

With the magic of Glass Wax, you too could make your home a Window Wonderland—just like the fancy department stores downtown! Those stores, of course, had professional window cleaners to polish the stuff off when the holidays were over. Most parents weren't quite so lucky.

7. MELTED PLASTIC POPCORN DECORATIONS

Properly called “Glitter Plaques,” these holiday decorations were made for over 50 years by the Kage Company of Manchester, Connecticut. The decorative application for the polyethylene pellets came about quite by accident (their official use was to make PE envelopes for bank passbooks and other important documents). The company founder’s daughter was home sick from school one day in the 1950s and started playing with the boxes of colored PE pellets her dad had left at home. She made a chicken shape, baked it on a cookie sheet, and—voilà—a new product line was born. The plaques were sold at W.T. Grant and Woolworth stores throughout the 1960s and '70s and were also popular fundraising items for the Boy and Girl Scouts. Sales eventually dwindled to the point where Kage ceased production of the plaques in 2008.

8. CERAMIC TREES 

The Atlantic Mold Company patented its A-64 Christmas tree mold in 1958 and went on to sell thousands of copies to ceramic shops across the country. Their sales peak was in the 1970s, when ceramics classes were all the rage. Atlantic molds tended to last for more casts than other brands, and the A-64 was the only tree mold that automatically made the topmost hole.

9. SHINY BRITE ORNAMENTS

My So Called Crafty Life

The original Shiny Brite glass ornaments were handmade in Germany and imported by Max Eckardt & Sons in New York beginning in 1920. When World War II was on the horizon, Eckardt sensed that importing glass from Europe would be problematic, so he partnered with Corning Glass to mass produce the decorations. Corning used a modified version of the machine that had previously made glass light bulbs to blow the glass balls and then a separate machine “silvered” them (inside and outside, for extra shine) and then lacquered them. When the War caused silver shortages, the plain glass balls were instead painted with pastel colors. Eckardt stopped producing glass ornaments by the 1970s and sold the Shiny Brite name in 1974.

An earlier version of this post appeared in 2013.

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Smart Shopping
11 Posters Worth Gifting This Holiday Season
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A good poster can make all the difference when it comes to decor. Posters are a cost-effective and fun way to add color, tie together a room, and show off the owner’s personality. If you want to help a loved one track down a poster that doesn’t look like it’s straight out of a college dorm room, here are 11 prints we suggest gifting:

1. 100 ESSENTIAL FILMS SCRATCH-OFF CHART; $35


Pop Chart Lab

Pop Chart Lab’s scratch-off prints are a fun way to put a personal touch on a room. The Essential Films edition serves as a ready-made must-watch list, with 100 incredible films—new and old. As your loved one watches, they can scratch off the gray squares of the poster to reveal the illustrations below. Once they're done, they’ve got a checkerboard visualization of great movies from Casablanca to Mad Max: Fury Road.

Find It: Pop Chart Lab

2. RETRO PATENTS; $33 AND UP

A framed patent of the Nintendo Game Boy sits against a wall.
Retro Patents

Gadget-lovers will swoon over these patent illustration posters, which feature the original patent drawings submitted for now-familiar technology like handheld cameras, record players, Tamagotchi, Game Boys, and more. The black-and-white drawings are accompanied by the name of the inventor and the date of the patent. Many of them are limited editions, so make sure to grab ‘em before they’re gone.

Find It: Retro Patents

3. DINOSAURIA; $37


Pop Chart Lab

Your favorite paleontology fan will love diving into this encyclopedic poster of dinosaur types, which catalogs more than 100 types of dinos in hand-drawn illustrations. Painstakingly researched, the work classifies 700 genera of prehistoric creatures into a taxonomy that’s sure to make your beloved science nerd’s heart beat faster.

Find It: Pop Chart Lab

4. REALLY BIG COLORING POSTER; $40

Two children lay on a giant coloring-book-style map of America
Great2bColorful, Amazon

Coloring books make great gifts for all ages, but coloring posters make even better ones. This giant, 5-foot-by-3-foot poster will keep your favorite young artist busy for hours filling in notable icons of all 50 states, from the Hollywood sign to the Statue of Liberty. And once they’re done, they have a colorful mural to put up in their room.

Find It: Amazon

5. SPACE GRAND TOUR; $22

Eight vintage-style travel posters advertising space destinations
JPL/NASA

Get excited for the future. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed these out-of-this-world prints, creating futuristic tourism posters for celestial destinations that, for the most part, humans have yet to reach.They’re part science geekery, part vintage travel homage, and the poster versions are the perfect gift for any future astronaut. Of course, they’re so pretty that even the least physics-inclined people on your gift list will still appreciate them.

Find It: Amazon

6. BETWEEN THE WORDS; $63

A spiral of punctuation on a poster that reads ‘Moby Dick; Or, The Whale.’
Nicholas Rougeux

Nicholas Rougeux’s Between the Words posters are minimalist takes on visualizing classic literature. Instead of trying to encapsulate the story, he focuses on what’s between the words: the punctuation. Each poster depicts every punctuation mark—in order—used in well-known books like Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Separated only by chapter markers, the punctuation marks spiral around a central illustration. Sticklers for good grammar will love exploring the dense punctuation patterns of books like A Tale of Two Cities and Ulysses, designs that provide a whole new insight into the writing techniques of famous authors.

Find It: Zazzle

7. “I LOVE” CITY MAPS; $21 AND UP


Jordan Sondler

Help your favorite urbanite show their city pride with New York-based illustrator Jordan Sondler’s whimsical maps of places like Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. Available in several different base colors, they divide major American metropolises into neighborhoods dotted with illustrated versions of iconic local architecture.

Find It: Minted

8. SKIES ABOVE CUSTOM STAR CHART; $130

A framed poster that reads 'Natalie and Morgan' with a star chart above in dark blue
Asterism Labs, Etsy

Baltimore-based data designer and former astrophysicist Katie Peek specializes in custom star charts that put a unique spin on a special day. They can highlight what the night sky looked like on the day of a wedding, a birthday, or during the last solar eclipse, customized to where the event took place. You can also ask her to commemorate the celestial view from any other time and place using her custom algorithms.

Find It: Etsy

9. PLEATINGS PRINT; $53

A graphic print shows gray shapes with lines running through them
Dry Studios

These abstract posters from the Stockholm-based Dry Studios are designed to create art using natural light in your house. The folded paper casts shadows when the sunlight hits them, turning the poster into changing graphic scenes throughout the day. They come in two different color schemes, one warm and one cold, to mimic the color change between day and night.

Find It: Dry Studios

10. LAW & MOORE MOVIE POSTERS; $12 AND UP

Three framed posters sitting on a table
Law & Moore, Etsy

The designers at Law & More specialize in pop culture posters that put a unique spin on beloved movies and TV shows from all genres, from Rocky to Stranger Things to Mary Poppins. Designed like vintage book covers, each features a minimalist illustration of the film along with the name of its creators. Whether you’re shopping for a James Bond aficionado or a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll be able to find a classy poster to show off their entertainment tastes.

Find It: Etsy

11. CONSTITUTIONS OF CLASSIC COCKTAILS; $37

A beige poster features a circular visualization of cocktail ingredients
Pop Chart Lab

Perfect for in the kitchen or near the bar cart, this infographic is a cheat sheet for becoming a mixology master. It illustrates how to throw together 60 different classic cocktails, organizing them by the type of liquor used to make them. Your favorite cocktail party host can use it to learn how to make a proper Rob Roy or Old Fashioned, or to help guests decide what they want to drink: just pick a base alcohol and go from there.

Find It: Pop Chart Lab

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This Just In
Kentucky City Lets Residents Pay Parking Tickets With Canned Goods
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Racking up parking fines? If you live in Lexington, Kentucky, you can pay off your tickets with canned food donations.

ABC 36 reports that, for the fourth year in a row, the city's “Food for Fines” program will help stock the shelves of God’s Pantry Food Bank—a member of Feeding America—throughout the holiday season. Beginning today, the city’s local parking authority is allowing residents with outstanding citations to donate preserved goods in lieu of cash through December 15.

Ten cans will get residents a $15 credit on any parking citation. And for drivers with a drawer-full of tickets, they can bring as many cans as they can carry to earn a $15 credit per 10-can donation. (Yes, even past due citations are eligible.)

"During the previous three years we have collected 24,500 cans of food, which is the equivalent of 12 tons or 16,000 meals,” Parking Authority executive director Gary Means said in a press release.

If you're planning on donating, make sure to check the date: Expired items won't be accepted.

[h/t ABC 36]  

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