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How a Handmade Tree Topper Solved Her Decorating Problems

The search was on for a new angel to sit atop the tree. Then her granddaughter came up with the perfect solution.

Illustration of an angel tree topper wish list; By Trina Dalziel

Another Christmas had come and gone, and my 50-year-old tree was ready for 50 more, thanks to an amazing repair job done by a friend. I only wished I could say the same for the angel that had sat up top. One by one I pulled the individual branches out of the trunk to pack away for next year, happy to do the work of disassembling. I tried to ignore the old tree-topper that no longer measured up.

Modern artificial trees folded up in a second, but my tree was the first of its kind. My father had brought it home the year I turned 16. In those days artificial trees were silver, purple or orange. I had never seen one that looked—or at least tried to look—real. This one had a brown trunk made of rolled and pressed cardboard. It stood six feet tall, and while it wasn’t full and lush, it was no Charlie Brown tree either. It was just right.

Dad had given me the tree and most of our family ornaments as a gift when I got married. I’d put up the tree every year since, adding ornaments of my own along the way. Lumpy creations my children—and then grandchildren—made in school, souvenirs from vacations, a few store-bought baubles I couldn’t resist, and the angel tree-topper in a bright white dress, her blonde hair nearly the same shade as my own when I found her.

But five decades of sticking those artificial branches in and out had left the cardboard trunk positively ratty. I was worried I might have to retire the old tree for good, before my carpenter friend revitalized it with a new trunk of solid wood. My family had been amazed by the transformation. I glanced over to the angel in her box and frowned.

Kathryn's angel tree topper made by her granddaughter; Photo Courtesy Kathryn Fairchild
Kathryn’s angel tree topper made by her granddaughter; Photo Courtesy Kathryn Fairchild

The angel was younger than the tree, but she didn’t look it anymore. Her once bright lips and eyes had faded so much they’d all but disappeared. Her white dress had yellowed with age. I feared the delicate fabric would disintegrate if I dipped her into a bowl of the gentlest detergent. And I knew I’d ruin her face if I tried to freshen it up. The tree deserved better.

I’d tried to find a replacement in time for its makeover Christmas debut. Early in the year, I’d composed an email to my whole family, outlining their Christmas assignment. “The search is on for a new angel tree-topper,” I wrote. I listed the essentials: “She has to be stunning. She has to wear a white, heavenly gown. She can have a little bling, but it must be tastefully done. She must have wings that can be seen from every angle. And finally, she has to have blonde…” I’d paused and reconsidered. When I first got my angel, we had both been blonde. My own hair was gray now. If she was going to be just right, the new angel should go gray as well. I amended the list and hit Send.

“No problem!” my son wrote back.

“I’ve already got an antique shop to check out,” one of my daughters-in-law said.

In the following weeks, family members reported in. “Nothing right at the antique store.” “No gray-haired angels on Amazon.” “Etsy let me down.”

My grandchildren were enthusiastic about the search, especially seven-year-old Elizabeth. I homeschooled her and her older brother, so they were at my house daily. “I’ve seen angels with blonde hair, brown hair and red hair,” Elizabeth said one spring day from her desk. “Why can’t we find a gray-haired one?”

“They say we’ll all be young in heaven,” I said. “Maybe that’s why.”

As summer rolled around, family reports became less frequent. I’d still get the odd email about a doll shop or church sale, but even my grandchildren were beginning to lose interest. It was hard to think about Christmas when the beach beckoned. Then the new school year started. Before we knew it, Thanksgiving approached. Even I forgot about the tree-topper on some days. I couldn’t blame the rest of my family for forgetting completely. They’d done all they could. Even Elizabeth, who’d looked harder than anyone, had run out of ideas.

God, I know we can’t always get exactly what we want, I thought, closing up my box of ornaments, my old angel among them. Even at Christmas. But that hadn’t stopped me from having a wonderful holiday. Knowing I had a family who tried so hard to find me the angel of my dreams, I could be satisfied with my old, faded angel on top of my tree.

A few weeks after all the Christmas decorations had been put away, I walked into our home classroom with the grandkids, ready to begin the day’s lesson. There was something on my desk. An angel! Her body was made out of paper, rolled a bit like that old cardboard tree trunk. Her paper wings were clearly visible from every angle. The tasteful bling around her neck sparkled in the morning sunshine, but her crown of gray hair made of thread was her most beautiful feature by far.

“I made her just for you,” said Elizabeth. “She has everything on your list!” Somehow my granddaughter knew just how to get everything we want for Christmas. God looks lovingly on a little ingenuity, especially when it comes to gray-haired angels.

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