Christmas comes only once a year – unless you’re one of the 1,000-plus worldwide members of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past.
With enthusiasm for every facet of the holidays, from antique glass ornaments to lighting and sleigh bells, Golden Glow’s aim since starting in 1981 has been to connect and educate those with a Yule season collecting bug. At the hub of their activity is the summer convention and this year, Lombard will pay host to around 600 members at the Westin Hotel in the Yorktown Shopping Center July 23-26 with workshops and discussion, sales, caroling and more.
Chicago-native Brent Lawyer has always been the one that wanted to put up the decorations and the tree in his family. Although he has only been a member of Golden Glow for a year and a half now, Lawyer runs the Thomas Glenn Holidays company which sells ornaments to retailers and has been amassing a personal collection of hundreds of vintage pieces for “20-something years.” At this summer’s convention, his role with the group will take on a bigger scope as the convention’s PR, entertainment and the collection’s display museum manager.
The decision to take to the Chicagoland area was a good fit given its contributions to Christmas’ iconography according to Lawyer, including the honor of being Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’s birthplace, both the 1939 book by Robert May and the 1964 stop-motion TV special by Rankin/Bass, whose 75th and 40th anniversaries respectively will be celebrated at the convention this year.
“It’s where Little Orphan Annie and Lincoln Logs started, Marshall Fields and the Walnut Room,” Lawyer said in a phone interview from a trade show in Atlanta. “Illinois played a big part of what traditional Christmas is.”
Golden Glow Chair Craig McManus, who lives in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ and makes a living as a psychic medium, has been with the group since 1993 and fondly remembers the first convention he attended in 1995 in Redding, PA.
“I remember at night, people opened the doors to their hotel rooms to sell their items, so you could just go room-hopping,” McManus said. “They had their items laid out on the beds and dressers and you could wander around with a bag buying things until midnight or 1 a.m.”
McManus’ personal interest lies in late-1800’s German glass ornaments known as Kugels and describes his collection as probably the largest in the world, some of which was featured in Martha Stewart Living Magazine. According to Hallmark, German-made ornaments were the market monopoly until 1925. “The ornaments primarily available at the time were German hand-cast lead or hand-blown glass decorations,” reads Hallmarks brief history of the ornament available on their company website. “As time passed the ornaments became more elaborate – and expensive. Silk and wool thread, chenille and tinsel embellished many of them. Stiff spun glass appeared as angel and butterfly wings; tinsel was used on fancy flower baskets, vases, air balloons and egg zeppelins.”
Golden Glow’s interest is strictly antique when it comes to ornaments. According to the official website, the focus is predominantly pre-1966 Christmas items. However this convention will usher in a 40-year sliding rule according to Lawyer, allowing for next year’s convention to explore Christmas of the 1970’s.
“Christmas is what you remember from your childhood and that’s what will bring in newer members. The 40-year sliding rule was a wise move for the group,” Lawyer said.
However, the sales for today’s collectible ornaments may be a different story. Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI is the world’s largest Christmas store with property stretching over five and a half football fields and brings in around 50,000 shoppers over Thanksgiving weekend. According to Lori Libka, the store’s communications assistant, Bronner’s biggest draw are items that can be custom-designed or personalized. Contemporary collector ornament lines such as Precious Moments and Department 56, not so much.
“There’s been a real downturn in the market in general in the last eight to 10 years,” Libka said. “The attention has turned more towards home decoration and accessories.”
But the question may be raised: a Christmas convention in July? Especially with the genuine-article holiday currently over five months away. The answer is savvy. The annual convention’s summer schedule is set to take advantage of lower booking rates at hotels and members’ vacation time according to McManus. But the Glow is not alone with their warm-weather hall-decking.
The concept of summer Christmas celebrations, often termed “Christmas in July,” are nothing new and usually line up with the seasonal cycles of the Southern Hemisphere like Australia’s Blue Mountains Yulefest which runs June through August. But it is not strictly governed by how close the Equator is. Back stateside in downtown West Jefferson, NC is the Christmas in July Festival that turned 28 this year over the July 4 weekend with tree grower competitions, a puppet parade and more.
For avid Christmas fans like Lawyer, McManus and the massive group fan base from all over North America and Europe though, it’s a passion that knows no calendar boundaries and is set to grow steadily with a website relaunch due in this fall.
“It’s a bunch of people with similar interests and passions who caught the collecting bug,” McManus said. “We’re Christmas extremists. When Christmas comes, we have members who decorate 20-30 trees and as far as I know, we’re the only vintage collectors club in the world.”
“I’ve always been a fool for Christmas,” Lawyer said. “I remember going out antiquing once and seeing an ornament and thinking ‘who in the world would pay this much?’ and left but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and went back and bought it. And the rest is history.”