Life

Christmas spirit: Vintage, homemade ornaments spark memories

Caleb Condit/freelance

This Christmas tree in the Kathy and Jeff Kaidens’ house displays all of the ornaments made by their children and grandchildren.
Caleb Condit/freelance This Christmas tree in the Kathy and Jeff Kaidens’ house displays all of the ornaments made by their children and grandchildren.
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Christmastime has been Kathy Kaiden’s favorite holiday since she was young.

“My mom was a huge Christmas person. She just loved this time of year,” said Kaiden, noting that many of her own Christmas decorations were gifted to her from her mom. “My mom and dad made Christmas so amazing for us kids when we were younger and I want to carry on that tradition.”

Walking through the Kaiden’s home on the northeast side of Cedar Rapids, it’s evident that she has managed to do just that.

“I just really like Christmas,” she said. “I get so much enjoyment as I get out all the decorations and unwrap each one. I’m just flooded with memories.”

Kaiden rolls out the decorating right after Thanksgiving, boxing up all her regular decor and going room by room to put up all her collections. “It’s like therapy for me. I just so enjoy all the decorations and hope to be putting them out for a very long time.”

“So many of my decorations are ones my mom bought and gave to me,” she added. “She started all sorts of collections and I am so lucky to be able to have so many of her Christmas decorations. Now, this whole entire house is just full of memories. My girls say I’m like Norman Rockwell.”

Kaiden’s mom, Dorothy, who died 21 years ago, especially loved Annalee decorations, and the Santa and Mrs. Claus right near her tree were two of her favorites.

The Nativity scene displayed in the family room is particularly special, Kaiden added, noting it’s one of the things she asked her mother to pass down to her. “Each year as kids we’d get my mom a new piece to add to it. It’s just so special to me.”

Over the years, Kaiden has started her own collections or added on to the one’s her mother started. She has a large collection of David Frykman figurines as well has a large collection of snowmen. “I write the year on the bottom of each one and where I got it,” she said. “Trying to find some of these pieces is getting more and more difficult.”

The house also is adorned with signs wishing all who enter a merry Christmas. “The girls laugh because I love anything with words on it.” A merry Christmas poster in the kitchen is one of Kaiden’s favorites.

Each year, the Kaidens also cut down a real Christmas tree at Wickiup Hill Tree Farm. It sits in the front room and is adorned with a whole host of ornaments, some of which were collected on travels but many of which are vintage glass ornaments from Kaiden’s mother.

“My mom would have been 103 this year, so these ornaments are very old. And they are at the top so the grandkids can’t reach them,” she said, chuckling.

Another Christmas tree — this one artificial — holds all the ornaments made by her daughters and grandchildren. Just glancing at the tree brings a smile to Kaiden’s face.

Kaiden and her husband, Jeff, have lived in their home on the northeast side of Cedar Rapids for 22 years, having raised their daughters there, seeing them through college and now welcoming their families’ home to celebrate.

“When I was younger, my parents’ house was the hub during the holidays,” she said. “My siblings would all come home to see each other there. I’ve tried to recreate that feeling here in our home. I just love celebrating with my family. I love the sense of coming home for the holidays.”

Having her four grandchildren around is the most important part of the holiday season, she said. She loved having her daughters’ help decorate each year and now gets her grandchildren involved in the decorating, both the house and Christmas cookies.

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“We just had the grandkids over to decorate cookies last night and it was such fun,” she said. “It’s truly one of the highlights of the whole Christmas season for me. We love to cook and eat in this house. I just love having this house full of people who are eating and drinking and enjoying the holidays. We love to entertain. Jeff and I have always tried to make this an open-door policy kind of home.”

Having lived in their neighborhood so long, the Kaidens developed friendships with neighbors and had fierce Clark Griswold-worthy outdoor light decorating challenges for many years. Though most of their original neighbors have since moved one, the Kaidens love the idea of staying put.

“We’ve had tremendous fun in this neighborhood,” she said. “We have a lot of land out here, which wears on us during the warmer months, but we stay for the kids because they just love coming out here and we love having them.”

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