Pasty Giannobile must begin decorating for Christmas every year in early November because it takes quite a while to unpack, assemble, fluff, dust and decorate more than 20 Christmas trees.
“I want to make sure it’s all done by the time we start having Christmas parties,” Giannobile said.
It’s difficult to tell which started first, the Christmas decorations to enrich the Christmas parties — Giannobile and her family love to entertain — or the Christmas parties to make good use of the Christmas decorations.
It is clear, however, that the Christmas spirit is alive and well in the Giannobile’s Hammond home.
She has nutcracker and angel collections, a number of Christmas villages and ornament sets — specialty and themed — she’s put together over the past 14 years the Giannobiles have lived in this home. She has new ornaments, old ornaments, vintage and sentimental ornaments, Hallmark, Disney, Barbie, Louisiana state commemorative and White House ornaments.
That ornament you had when you were a kid, or the ones your grandma threw out when she cleaned out the attic? She probably has that one, too. In fact, she probably bought them.
“I call it treasure hunting,” Giannobile said, and before you call her a pack rat, it should be noted that these trees are by no means thrown together.
They are each carefully packed, along with trees and lights for each, boxed and stored in a sizable shed she calls the Emporium.
“I know where everything is,” Giannobile said, adding that she knows the story behind how and where she found the ornaments.
Each tree is carefully, artfully crafted for the visual she wants to evoke, she said, and each tells a story of her life, each ornament choice adding a detail of either sentiment or wit.
Her daughter, Jennifer, said it’s perfectly normal for visitors to get lost in thought looking at the individual ornaments on any given tree, and they are often thinking of their own very personal Christmas stories, which they share.
All too often, in fact, her visitors remember boxes of ornaments they put by the curb decades before, and remark how much they wish they’d kept them.
Giannobile knows the feeling all too well. When she was a child, she and her family lost their home and everything they owned in Hurricane Betsy in 1965, including all the family’s ornaments and Christmas decorations.
Holidays have always been special to her family, she said, but she takes a special pleasure in going through each of her Christmas storage boxes every year because of the memories each object triggers.
It’s a bit like reading the story of her family, piece by piece, woven in with the stories of how she came by each tree, and of the friends and family that found or gave her ornaments, and the stories of the people who once owned them and gave them up, and how they celebrated the holidays.
She pointed to the tree she calls her International tree, with ornaments she’s collected from her own travels and those given to her from friends’ travels.
“A friend brought me this one from Japan, and here’s a can-can girl from Paris. Think about all the memories each of these trips represents. Just imagine it,” she said, smiling.
But it’s not just about things. Far from it, Giannobile said. It’s about building memories, rituals and traditions she and her family can look forward to. She doesn’t just collect nutcrackers with her youngest grandson; she also takes him to see a live performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet every year.
With her eldest grandson, she decorates the Hallmark tree, after which they build gingerbread houses.
“He’s really got a knack for it,” she said. “He makes sure all the ornaments are placed so that you can see them.”
All family members are official “fluffers and duffers,” she said, the term she uses for shaking out the limbs of the artificial trees to make sure they will stand up properly.
The first year, she said, she had one real tree — a 12-foot live evergreen in their living room.
“After that experience, trying to keep those needles off the floor, that was it for me. We bought two 12-foot artificial trees, one for the living room and one for the dining room,” she said. And those two were just about the only ones she bought outright.
The rest she either adopted from families getting rid of their artificial trees, at estate sales, thrift stores, and, in one case, by a Dumpster.
“I found that one and brought it home,” said her daughter, Jennifer, who calls the light pink tree, fittingly enough, the Pink Tree.
She has tabletop trees, small, medium and tall trees, themes that range from the traditional to kitschy to garish.
She finds her ornaments much the same way.
Some start off as tabletop decorations that she loves so much she begins a collection around that piece. Depending on how her treasure hunting goes, the collection may graduate to a 3-foot table tree, to a larger floor tree, and eventually maybe to a full-size tree.
“That’s how the Hallmark tree started,” she laughed.
She meticulously moves around each tree with stringed lights, she said, starting at the bottom, and lining each branch individually with lights, starting at the base of the limb by the trunk, moving out to the end of the branch and back down the other side to the trunk again, then on to the next branch.
“It takes a long time, but the effect is so much better than just winding around the tree,” she said.
At that point, the unpacking and dusting of the ornaments begins. Every ornament either has a place, or will be stored until it finds a place. She rarely tosses anything. Even old droopy tree limbs may be repurposed into a garland for the walls, and ornaments that have lost their shine may rotate outside to the growing forest of outdoor displays.
The holiday, to Giannobile, is about the memories she creates with her family every year around the trees, or sitting at the table “which is really the heart of our home,” she said.
“It’s not about the things. It’s not about the presents,” she said. Christmas, to her, is about her faith, in God, the power of family and the people she loves.