Couple celebrates Christmas with Tradition

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published December 24, 1997 in The Suburban Life, added December 14, 2017.

This huge tree takes up an entire corner of Russ and Betty Ward’s living room. It’s covered with hundreds of antique, nostalgic ornaments.

If you lean to the traditional in Christmas decorating and you favor a tree to the ceiling weighted down with antique ornaments, you’re sure to like Russ and Betty Ward’s house at Christmas time.

Russ and Betty celebrate Christmas as they’ve always celebrated it, with family, in the traditional way.  And through the years, they’ve added their own special traditions.

They celebrate Christmas throughout their house, starting at the front door with a small, decorated tree on he outside by the door.

But the main focus is around the main tree in their living room.  The tree, at least seven feet tall, reaches almost to the ceiling.  If it were not such a study tree it would groan under the weight of the hundreds and hundreds of ornaments lovingly tucked into every inch of it’s boughs by Betty.

“I have no idea how many there are,” Betty said.  “I’ve never tried to count them.”

But the ornaments are a story of the Wards’ lives, not just their own, but going back through the generations.  Many of the ornament s are well over 100 years old and have been handed down through the family.

Betty has spent a lifetime of collecting them and treasuring them.  She can tell a story behind each one and knows from where it came.

Many ornaments came from Russ’ uncle and aunt, Wilbur and Nellie Kennedy, who lived in Blue Ash.  These, mostly, are made of fragile, antique glass, but some are the old metal, clip-on type, which held real candles to be lit.  They still have the original grosgrain ribbons on them.  Betty would never light these candles.  “Too dangerous,” she said.

Many ornaments are handmade-some by Betty, others by friends and neighbors.  Betty touches each one and tell who made it and when.

The most prized ornaments on the tree were made by the Wards’ sons when they were children.  Roger is the only Ward son left now, but the others live on through the ornaments on the tree.  Their faces are on some of them.  There’s one Jim made in kindergarten, and there are small stars he put together with folded paper and then waxed.

Among the ornaments is a quite small teddy bear made by Russ’ aunt more than 100 yeas ago.  Some of the other antique ornaments are an old trumpet, a French horn, a mosaic with little “gem,” a robin, a turkey, and many old Santa and St. Nicholas figurines.

Not all the ornaments in the collection are antique or handmade.  Betty has collected others all through the years.  One, with a face on it, goes back to 1946; their first Christmas together after Russ came home from Army service in World War II.

She has ornaments of the historic buildings in the area, including the Madeira train station and Madeira churches.  She also has ornaments of historic buildings in other communities, such as the Golden Lamb in Lebanon.  She also has the Campbell’s Soup Kids ornaments from the oldest to newest, this year’s.

In front of the tree, sits a little re wagon, containing small, wrapped presents.  The wagon was Roger’s when he was a child.  Tradition held that Roger would open these gifts on Christmas Eve.  He still does.

A small, antique, wooden rocker, holding an old teddy bear, sits by the tree. The chair was handed down through the family to Russ, and then to their son, Jim.  It sits in their living room all the time, but takes on added importance in its role at Christmas.

The entire living room is filled with Christmas.  Over the fireplace hang beautiful old stockings, hand made long ago by Russ’ Aunt Nellie.

In front of the fireplace sits a humongous dollhouse made by Russ.  He used to make these for friends and family members, before arthritis crippled his hands.

“But there will be no more of them,” Betty said.

He made the first one years ago for Allen House and has no idea how many he made.  This particular one has three floors, with and attached garage.  The workmanship is fine, with intricate detail.  The stairways are beautiful, with tiny railings.  The living room has a realistic-looking fireplace.

The Wards’ dining room sits completely decorated, expectantly waiting the traditional family dinner there.  You almost expect to see Dickens’ “Tiny Tim.”

Betty decorates anther tree in the basement family den.  This tree serves to remind her of their past.

“I think people should remember where they came from, and we started with nothing,” she said.

She tells about how, in their early-married days, neighbors Al and Alma Henke, befriended them.  Alma once gave her an eggbeater when she had one.  Betty still had that old eggbeater, and each year, she lovingly places it on the tree in their den.

Christmas at the Wards is no small task.  Many hours are spent getting the ornaments and the old trappings out and in their places.  At the end of their stay in the limelight, they have to be put away again.

“They’re packed away very carefully,” Betty emphasizes.  Each one is packed separately, wrapped in tissue paper, in separate containers.

But to Betty, it isn’t work.

“I love getting them out,” she said.  “It’s always so good to see them again.”

The Wards celebrate Christmas much as did the Cratchits in Dickens’  “A Christmas Carol”-with family.  And with friends.  And with goodwill toward men.  Just being around them takes a bit of the Scrooge out of the worst of us.