- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Around Christmastime, a tree is what you make it, with festive decor taking many forms. Animals reign in the spacious Quincy Place NE studio home of Suzanne Codi and her artist husband, Charlie Sleichter. Traditionally, the top of the 7-foot fir is adorned with one of Ms. Codi’s own replicas of a family pet made out of clay and fabric. This year, as before, the honor goes to the late, beloved Spot, who has been reincarnated as an angel.

Other branches hold animal figures and all kinds of fantasy ornaments created by friends and family from decorative materials and found objects such as pine cones, glass laboratory tubes, a watch face and even a piece of dried okra. The watch has wings attached on either side; a miniature teapot holds a tiny dancer. The attachments are done with hot glue.

“I like the weird ones,” Ms. Codi says.

She has amassed hundreds of Christmas tree ornaments over the years and at one point sold her personalized animal creations — collectors’ items — for $100 each to stores as far away as Florida and Massachusetts. A client in Idaho has an entire tree decorated in Ms. Codi’s custom-made pieces. The project wasn’t remunerative enough, however, so these days, to help support the education of their 9-year-old daughter Lily, she is a professional floral decorator who trims other people’s houses and is hired for special events and weddings.

Lily contributes her own artwork to the tree, which traditionally holds only white lights and no silver metallic icicles, which are bad for their cat’s digestive system, and stays up until the first week of January.

The holiday tree in Georgetown’s Sassanova shoe store is another tree with a difference. Or it will be until 3 p.m. today, when the gaily festooned shoe tree, as it is called, is auctioned off to the highest bidder on behalf of charity. The project is part of the Georgetown Business Improvement District’s effort, called Festival of Trees, to beautify the neighborhood, lure shoppers and help the Children’s Hospital Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. About 40 stores are participating.

The favorite jingle of Sarah Canova, co-owner of the store at 1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW, is adapted from a familiar children’s go-to-bed refrain: “Shoe light, blue bright, first shoe I’ve seen tonight.” Offerings of elaborate footwear cover an aromatic 5-foot fir among a welter of pink velvet bows.

Many of the shoes, mostly miniatures, have been collected from all over the country over the past six months by friends and relatives of Ms. Canova and her business partner, Sassy Jacobs; others are purchases from such diverse retailers as New York’s Metropolitan Opera shop, Neiman Marcus, Anthropologie and even Ikea. The decorations include a Cinderella glass slipper, a ballet shoe and a pointy-toed shoe decorated with a woman’s face. A life-size pair in glittery red metal mesh rest seductively near the top.

Another suggestion for a stylized theme tree that makes use of everyday items would be recycling Christmas cards past and present. Many have forms and figures that can be cut out and even decorated further with craft materials before being hung with string or metal loops. That way, the cards stay on display instead of being buried in a box, reviving memories of Christmases past.

The same trick might work for an accumulation of personal and business cards that collect throughout the year in wallets, purses and pockets, often to be forgotten in the press of time. A sprinkling of the small, often colorful cards on a green branch can spur memories of delightful times and people and might even inspire a storyteller to entertain his or her friends at a holiday party.

Inexpensive miniature picture frames containing photos of family and friends serve a similar purpose. The frames themselves can be worthwhile gifts and projects for children with energy to spare. Frames can be found in different styles.

Patriotic theme trees are an easy choice for Washingtonians who frequent such institutional shops as the one newly installed by the Foundation of the National Archives near that building’s Constitution Avenue entrance. Popular items of the season have included flag motifs on star ornaments in red, white and blue, and even pins and earrings suitable for hanging on a tree as gift ornaments, says foundation Executive Director Thora Colot.

Just as enticing is the suggestion of White House chief floral designer Nancy Clarke to adopt children’s literature for a theme, as first lady Laura Bush did this year in the mansion. Popular children’s books were the focus of decorations on trees, mantels and tables. Or take a single book, such as the “The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen” in a new translation by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank. Each character in the book can inspire an ornament to be made from common art supplies.

“You could do a kitchen theme,” Mrs. Clarke suggests. “Buy those little cookbooks with recipe cards and small wooden or metal objects. Tie up spices in ribbon. String cranberries and popcorn.” Her advice for anyone choosing a theme tree is to pick a solid color for background ornaments and balls so the theme items stand out.

Authors Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig, in their seasonal pocket-size book “Swell Holiday,” warn against overkill, however. Nothing too designed, they write, “or it’ll look as uptight and personality-free as the tree in the mall. … Keep it sweet, and a little nutty.” That suggestion is a literal one.

“Have a dessert tree,” they say together in a telephone interview.

“Make or use edible ornaments. Cute cookie cutter cookies tied on with ribbons. Red licorice tied into bows. Gummy bears on a string. Paint marshmallows with edible dyes. Candy apples and fruit,” Ms. Rowley says. “Anything that picks up a light.”

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