Now is the time of year when you may find yourself pulling your boxes of Christmas ornaments and decorations from your basement or attic and getting ready to trim the tree. Here at Longwood, however, we like to do things a little differently with our ornament collection.
When not on display in all their glory, our ornaments make their home in a barn on our property. The majority of the year, our tiny glass teardrop icicles and commanding red finials live an organized, tidy life in the barn, carefully wrapped and tucked away in approximately 400 labeled boxes, placed on shelves upon shelves sorted by ornament color. Each ornament is tracked and accounted for in a thick, ever-evolving binder we call the “ornament book.”
There’s good reason that binder is so thick—our collection totals 55,000 ornaments. Most of them are crafted of glass, with some plastic, wire, and acrylic ornaments, mostly for outdoor use. The collection’s predominant colors are red and gold, with plenty more colors thrown into the mix, from silver and green to turquoise and copper. We also have a varied selection of icicles, some dainty and thin, some long and iridescent.
Our process for storing our ornaments hinges on forethought and organization, which is necessary when overseeing a collection so large and so important to Longwood. We start planning a given year’s Christmas display the January prior, during which time the designers and staff choose their desired ornaments from our collection, prioritized by room or space. The Music Room team members, for instance, get to choose their ornaments first, as the Music Room is a highlight of each year’s display.
What comes next is month after month of careful planning to make sure we have what we need; we order or craft what we don’t already have, and make sure each ornament is ready for its intended display. Each year, we use a spreadsheet of all ornaments that will be used in the display, categorized by ornament identification number, count, color, size, weight, material, and the space in which they’ll be displayed. By March, we finish selecting the ornaments that will be used in November, and we make it a practice to take chosen ornaments to their intended space to view them in context, making sure they’re ready when Christmas installation time arrives. Putting in lots of work beforehand ensures that the install process runs smoothly and efficiently!
A few days before the Christmas installation begins, a team of staff and students spends hours in the barn, labeling and organizing the ornament boxes that are needed according to the spaces where they will be used. We then carefully load up the boxes in our large box truck and deliver them to the Ballroom and other locations to start the process of decorating. (Here’s a tip: we hang larger ornaments on the inside and smaller ones called “tippers” on the outside of the tree. To hang each ornament, we first straighten out each ornament hook and then wind the wire around the branch so it appears as if it’s attached to the branch itself!)
When it’s time to take our Christmas display down, we carefully wrap each and every ornament, place it back into its labeled box, drive those boxes back to the barn, and reorganize them back on their shelves, making space for any new ornaments and making sure all are accounted for. The ornaments then enjoy a few months’ slumber back in the barn, waiting for the day when they’ll be unwrapped and hung once more, basking in the twinkling lights, wonder, and magic of Christmas at Longwood.