Mrs. C says: What’s the crowning glory of the Christmas tree for you?
Ed Elf: Has to be an elf for me every time.
Mrs. C: Now you’re just being plain daft. An elf does not a tree-topper make. It has to be an angel or a star or a…
Ed Elf: Fairy! And fairies are very much part of elfin folklore. They’re basically one of us. So yes – an elf for me every time.
Mrs. C: I give up!
Angel Gabriel is at the very heart of the Nativity story – the bringer of wondrous news that Mary shall give birth to the Son of God. Angels and Christmas forever intertwined. Music, literature and art have reinforced this connection through the ages.
St Augustine wrote: “Angel is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is spirit; if you seek the name of their office it is angel; from what they are, spirit, from what they do, angel.”
The Angel Tree
The storied Angel Tree is in New York and takes pride of place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Medieval Sculpture Hall. It has 18th century Neapolitan figures re-enacting the events of Jesus Christ’s Nativity at its base, while skilfully crafted angels hang from the branches above. To see the tree in person is a humbling experience. There is a wonderful book entitled “The Angel Tree: A Christmas Celebration” by Linn Howard and Mary Jane Pool. The atmospheric photographs are by Elliott Erwitt. Together, they have captured angels in all their Neapolitan glory. This beautiful, glossy work not only depicts the precious Angel Tree but is also accompanied by biblical text of the Christmas story. Loretta Hines Ward gave her collection of crèche figures, including the Adoration of Angels, to the museum in 1965. Her daughter is the book’s co-author Linn Howard.
Elf Helper: You can purchase “The Angel Tree: A Christmas Celebration” from various online book retailers and the museum’s online shop has an array of Angel Tree-related goods, including cards, Advent calendars and beautiful decorations – even a stunning tree-topper. Visit the Met Museum shop at store.metmuseum.org. Remember to factor in shipping fees and customs charges for international orders.
Met Matters: How about the gorgeous angels produced each year by New York’s Met Museum and available to purchase online at store.metmuseum.org. You will not be disappointed – and they ship abroad for a reasonable fee, although there will likely be an additional customs fee. If you become a member of the Met Museum you receive 10 percent off all purchases throughout the year, plus seasonal double discounts.
Liking Lenox: For many years, Lenox porcelain has produced some enchanting and exquisite angel tree toppers. We purchased one in the mid-nineties and it’s truly stunning. You will find eBay has a selection of Lenox’s angelic gems in their virtual shop window and you can buy Lenox products from various US department stores through Borderfree. For example, Macy’s has a UK website with prices in pounds sterling. Type in macys.com and you will be steered down the UK path.
Trust in Gisela: There are lovely items across the angelic range by Gisela Graham. Among the places to find them online search christmastimeuk.com.
What the Etsy: The treasure trove of an international website etsy.com has every kind of angel tree topper you could imagine made of ribbon, raffia, coloured glass, recycled paper, felt, wool, Victorian lace, cornhusk, porcelain, copper, plastic and wood. Seeing is believing. One of our favourites at the top end in recent times was the exquisite made-to-order needle felted angel sculpture by Amanda Doster. Check out etsy.com and search for ‘angel tree toppers’.
Stars atop the tree, like Angels, are that direct connection to the Nativity Story. The star shone bright over the stable in Bethlehem the night Jesus Christ was born and led the shepherds and the Magi to worship the Lord. Some theologians believed this fulfilled a prophecy – the Star Prophecy in the Book of Numbers:
“I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Sceptre shall rise out of Israel,
And batter the brow of Moab,
And destroy all the sons of tumult.”
Many scholars through the ages have tried to determine the nature of the Star of Bethlehem and it has been linked to Halley’s Comet, which was visible in 12BC, to a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn and even to a supernova from the Andromeda Galaxy. Artwork of the Adoration of the Magi usually depicts a star in some form, occasionally held by an angel. In the fresco by Italian Renaissance painter and architect Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337) the star resembles a comet. However, we can soak up such centuries of craft, knowledge and supposition and yet none the wiser be. Perhaps the Star of Bethlehem is best left in its magical, mysterious, magnificent place as captured in the carol “We Three Kings”:
“Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light”
Swarovski Crystal: Christmas Star tree-topper from Swarovski. This is a silver tone metal star embellished with clear crystals. It can be placed atop the tree with its metal spiral – although the spiral can be removed for the star to be hung from the tree if you prefer.
Contemporary Cool: A contemporary tree deserves a star to match and a 32cm tree topper of silver or gold meshed magic that is great value at clasohlson.com. There are similarly priced glittery Gisela Graham stars available at numerous stockists, including amazon.co.uk online. Also check out John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
Illuminated Stars: You can opt for an LED star of warm white lights. Batteries are required. Check out christmastreesandlights.co.uk, among others.
Fairies, like angels, have an ethereal quality. In the English dictionary a fairy is described as ‘a small mythical being in human form with magical powers’. Their magic and that of the season has brought us their undeniable link.
Tinker Bell from JM Barrie’s “Peter Pan” is the most famous fairy in popular literature. It’s in that timeless book that the importance of believing in fairies is expressed thus: “Every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that drops down dead.” Fairies are also crucial to William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, in which Oberon and Titania are the king and queen of fairyland.
Fairies may not find their way on to your tree in physical form, but they exist in light form. Yes, where would we be at Christmas without fairy lights? The tiny twinkling lights were given this name when they first became popular in the twentieth century – as if to suggest they were illuminating the tree with mystical magic.
If you do place a fairy on top of the tree, in preference to an angel or a star, she might be holding a wand. With some designs we have seen the wand is the only discernable difference between an angel and fairy tree topper. With other designs, it is clear to see the fairy creations have more of a woodland or elfin influence.
Shabby Chic: Described as ‘Deliciously decadent, vintage and shabby’ these Christmas heirloom fairies, one of our favourites of recent years, were handcrafted by Potting Shed Designs and had Swarovski crystal wings. Search online for current delights in this mode.
Treasured Things With Wings: Visit notonthehighstreet.com to find other pretty fairies to enchant and delight. We were drawn to the delicately created ones made from natural materials and heirloom-inspired/vintage fabrics. The choice is wide and varied.
Double G for Glee: For a pleasing selection of charming Christmas fairy tree toppers, in particular from the Gisela Graham range, view Christmas Time UK’s online selection at christmastimeuk.com or again search notonthehighstreet.com.
Other Tree Top Ornaments
Search online for Christmas tree toppers and you will discover a mad new world. Angels, stars, fairies, finials – to some people these are so last century.
We have found these characters proudly sitting atop a variety of trees: Father Christmas, a snowman, Yoda from Star Wars and an octopus. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, an octopus. Then again, some folk prefer giant bows, huge cup cakes, a top hat fit for Frosty himself, doves, angel wings or fantastically elaborate arrangements of greenery and glitter. Many opt for illuminated decorations as their crowning glory, others have a topper bearing the logo of their favourite football team. Imagination apparently knows no bounds at Christmas. But an octopus? Each to their own, I suppose – and as we always say here, “whatever makes you happy…” Here’s what makes us happy on the tree topper front.
Waterford Wonders: Crystal quality all the way. Waterford produces a crystal finial tree topper of distinct elegance and beauty. Numerous examples are available online, especially on eBay. Waterford also stocks blown glass finial tree toppers in their Holidays Heirlooms range at waterford.co.uk.
Art & Craft: A Surrey-based family run business, Artifactually is a name to remember with a tree topper to delight. The new must-have for one of my trees, these hand-etched glass toppers are trimmed with 24-carat gold and are available in six colours. Their collection of glass tree decorations is also a joy. Visit artifactually.co.uk.
Contemporary Home: For a red and white Nordic tree there are superb Santa toppers from The Contemporary Home – or The Christmas Home – through Not on the High Street, made from felt with wool details and perfect for a Nordic theme. Check notonthehighstreet.com.
German Gems: Each Christmas, Hutschenreuther porcelain boast new designs of distinction. Their collection includes the 2013 “From Heaven Above” 26cm tree topper by Ole Winther, available at amazon.co.uk and from porzellantreff.de in Germany. You will also discover a splendid array of Hutschenreuter baubles and trinkets.