Back When a 5-Cent Styrofoam Ball Was Priceless

Among the treasured Christmas ornaments that come out of the box each year are some real antiques: blown-glass teardrops from the turn of the century, Victorian-style glass icicles, and lithographed tin ornaments depicting Santa and his reindeer. Some are so delicate, it’s a miracle they remain intact! But for most of us, the greater treasures are the ornaments made by the kids at school. These works of holiday art take center stage on the tree and get the most oohs and aahs. Remember those tiny construction paper chain garlands with tiny fingerprints still visible all over? Or the countless cutwork snowflakes or angels to decorate the windows (at school and home). And last, but by no means least, the Christmas balls made from five cents worth of Styrofoam and some glitter.

vintage ornaments illustration

The kids’ faces would be puckered in concentration as they valiantly wrote their names in craft glue squeezed from the classroom’s jumbo-sized botte. Think about how hard that was to accomplish—white glue on a white (and porous!) Styrofoam ball! Now that’s tricky. But it’s also a nod to the stick-to-it pluck of young children.


The interesting thing about these heartfelt-and-thrifty decorations was how much Mom and Dad made a fuss over them. Every year, they made certain that your latest pipe-cleaner creation had a place of honor on the tree. And if parents had several kids, all these hand-made ornaments would add up—crowding the vintage ones right off the tree and into their storage box. They were undoubtedly safer there during those boisterous years, anyway.

Today, those handmade ornaments still have the power to take us back to a certain time and place, when wide-awake kids would stake-out the Christmas tree well before morning’s light. Holiday memories—now what treasures they are!

gardner's signature

—Gardner Orton for The Orton Family

3 Responses to “Back When a 5-Cent Styrofoam Ball Was Priceless”

  1. Gail Lynes

    Boy! This brought back memories! Inspired by classroom ornament-making projects, I always set up a craft table in my room at home and carried on the creativity! How well I remember those styrofoam balls, and the tiny pins used to set on sequins and lengths of colorful ribbon! Keep i mind that I’m in no way artistic, so my creations always left something to be desire, but they were glittery, and took up much real estate on many Christmas trees! Sadly I lost all of my vintage ornaments, or I’m sure I’d still be displaying them!

  2. Juliet Upton

    We made ornaments from egg cartons. You cut the cardboard carton into 12 pieces and glue the pieces together to create little windows all around. Decorate with paint and glitter. We also blew out eggs and glued on tiny squares of shiny foil origami paper.

    • Storekeeper

      Juliet, that sounds like so much fun! Do you still have any of those decorations? We’d love to see them!


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