customizing a vintage ceramic christmas tree

by | Nov 30, 2021 | Antiques, Holiday, Winter | 38 comments

You know when you’ve owned something for so long that you’re just sort of seeing past it?  You no longer see the potential in it, but just what it is and what it’s always been.  Such was the case with this vintage ceramic Christmas tree.  We’ve had one in our house for as long as I can remember and it’s always looked the same.  My mom made one at a make-your-own ceramics place in the early 1980s and my uncle’s wife at the time made one as well. When I was snooping around in my Opa’s attic over 20 years ago, I found the tree my uncle’s wife made nestled in a box of paper.  It’s exactly like my mom’s tree that I grew up with, so I asked if I could have it.  For many years, this ceramic Christmas tree was just a nostalgic decoration, one that didn’t particularly feel like my style.  Some years, I set it up in one of the boys’ rooms, and other times it just stayed in the box.

customizing a vintage ceramic christmas tree | miss mustard seed

Recently, I saw Natalie from My Vintage Porch collecting similar vintage ceramic trees, painting them white, and changing out all of the colored bulbs to clear.  It had a total “duh” moment.  I can change out the lights?!  Of course, I can!  Why did I not even think of that?  It’s because I was seeing right through it.  I had lost my eye for seeing its potential.  Seeing a vintage ceramic Christmas tree through Natalie’s fresh perspective gave me a fresh perspective on mine.  I liked the green glaze and snowy caps on the branches, so I decided to order some clear replacement bulbs and just replaced the colored bulbs.

The Marshall referred to in the inscription was my uncle Marshall.  My son, Marshall, was named after my Opa.  There are a lot of Marshalls to keep straight in our family.  And Marians.  Holly, on the other hand, is one of those family members who just sort of disappeared.  She divorced my uncle when I was very young and I don’t ever remember hearing about her again.  I have no idea what even happened to her!  She might want her tree back…

(So, apparently, I got the story wrong.  Holly made both trees and gave one to my mom and one to my Oma.  My mom did make a nativity set, which I have.  So, Holly might be wanting both of her trees back…)

Anyway, the bulbs I ordered were just slightly smaller than the original bulbs, so I use some hot glue to hold them in place securely.

customizing a vintage ceramic christmas tree | miss mustard seed

And what a difference!  Now this vintage ceramic Christmas tree is a favorite!

customizing a vintage ceramic christmas tree | miss mustard seed

I put it on the pine chest in the foyer to act as a nightlight and so the lights are visible through the sidelights of the front door.

customizing a vintage ceramic christmas tree | miss mustard seed

customizing a vintage ceramic christmas tree | miss mustard seed

These ceramic Christmas trees are making a big comeback, so keep your eyes open for a good vintage one at thrift stores, yard sales, etc.  You can find some vintage ones on eBay and Etsy, unfinished ceramic ones to paint, and new reproductions.

I’m a bit partial, but I think the shape of mine and the base are particularly pretty compared to others I’ve seen.  I’m glad that someone helped me look at it with fresh eyes.

38 Comments

  1. Cheri

    I wish so badly I could have even one of the many trees I made in the early 80s! Not even sure what happened to mine!

    Reply
  2. Sue in Northern Iowa

    Brilliant! I am going to do the same with mine, now. Thanks for the idea!

    Reply
  3. Cindy pegram

    I have the same tree my mom made in the 70’s. What a great idea to change all to white. It looks modern and you can always go back to color .

    Reply
  4. Monica Duelley

    Hi Marian – I love your ceramic tree. Black Rose Antiques puts out a white one w/ an iridescent glaze on the checkout counter during the holidays. Instead of bulbs, the holes display the small round lollipops we all loved as kids. The colored wrappers are a cute stand-in for colored bulbs, and kids both young and old get to have a treat after shopping!

    Reply
  5. Brenda Flower

    I made two of them in the early 80’s. I gave one to my parents and kept one for my house. After my mother died in 94 and my father moved away I got it back. They both go out every year and figure someday our 2 sons will end up with them. Much care is taken to putting them away every year. By the way I do like the change that you made to yours.

    Reply
  6. Victoria McKinney-Vareschi

    I took all the bulbs out and insert toothpicks to serve shrimp on mine. (unlit of course!)

    Reply
  7. Lynn Rue

    Wonderful wonderful idea! I have my grandmother’s tree but the colored bulbs are not coming out of the holes! They don’t seem to be glued in though, maybe I’m just afraid to pull too hard!
    In any case I’m glad to have the tree.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Mine were glued in as well, so I used a pair of pliers to pull them out. I was pulled straight out and they popped right out with a bit of pressure.

      Reply
  8. Karen K from Buffalo

    As soon as I started scrolling down & saw the top of your ceramic tree with the one clear light, I got the idea of clear lights for my late Mother’s ceramic Christmas tree, too. I love the idea & I saw your’s on your butler’s cabinet & saw how terrific it would look! I got my clear plastic bulbs on Amazon in case any one was wondering. Thanks Marian!

    Reply
  9. Peg Maines

    Love it! Have one my mother made, but, where did you find a replacement star for the top? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Janice

      You usually can get bulbs and stars at ceramic shops . I replaced mine a few years back.

      Reply
      • Rita

        Wish I made one of these at the ceramics studio on base in the early 90s. I did make an oversize chess set that we still have. I have to say this is probably one of the prettier trees I’ve seen as well especially with the snow.

        Reply
  10. Wendy

    I think we threw ours away last year! 😂

    Reply
  11. Nancy

    My husband’s mom made one when all that was a fad and his older brother has it. We saw them for sale last year at Walmart and he snatched one up. It’s kinda cute and was only $25.

    We go round and round about the clear non-blinking lights (me) vs colored ones that blink and flash (him). Ick. Merry Christmas anyway!!!

    Reply
  12. Teresa Turner

    Where is the garland you have above the ceramic tree in your foyer from? Looks real.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      It is a mix of two garlands. One is a eucalyptus garland from Amazon (they also have it at Walmart) and one is a pine garland from the Magnolia line at Target.

      Reply
    • Rick Bellington

      I wish I had the one my mom had given me in the early 70’s. But my x-wife took it and kepted it my 2nd wife got me one for Christmas many years ago it is one of my cherish procession that my now late wife gave to me.

      Reply
  13. Traci Madison

    I have a beautiful white ceramic tree with a deep blue base and blue bulbs. I found it at a yard sale for $1.00.
    I will set out to find a green one and put white bulbs! It’s beautiful.

    Reply
  14. Maureen

    When we bought out house 38 years ago, the previous owner left one of these trees behind. However, ours is white and has red birds as the lights. And your correct about the base. I love the one that came with yours compared to the plain one that mine has.

    Reply
  15. LENORE

    Hey everyone, don’t throw out your old bulbs or your tree. They can go for lots of money on Ebay every year. Maybe even stronger in Sept. Oct. price-wise. I know they make new ones but people really love the old ones and will pay up for the more unusual or bigger ones, I think Atlantic Molds are one of the ones they like. If you want to make changes, try not to damage it forever. Yikes. Save the trees… LOL

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I kept the original bulbs in a baggie in case future generations prefer the colored lights.

      Reply
  16. Cheryl McCorkle

    I just purchased one at an auction because I have always thought they were cool. But, when I tried to make it fit with my decor it just didn’t work. I just ordered some white lights for mine as well!! I love the new look you made with your tree and I can’t wait to do mine! Thanks for a superb idea!!

    Reply
  17. Jeannie

    We’ve never had one in our family but I always thought the were cute. LOVE what you did with the clear lights.

    Reply
  18. M.J.

    Looked for the vintage Christmas trees on My Vintage Porch, did both a search and tried looking through everything where I thought they would be, but could not find them. Please clarify. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      She has shared them on her Instagram account – @vintageporch

      Reply
  19. Babs

    Holly called. She wants her tree back.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yeah, she might!

      Reply
  20. Carole Prisk

    They are actually quite collectible now with prices at $100 and up in antique shops. Most home made ceramics are left on the shelf, but these trees are having a “moment”.

    Reply
  21. Genevieve

    That’s brilliant! It looks lovely with the clear bulbs! Love easy updates with big impacts! 👏🏻

    Reply
  22. Lauri Gustafson

    Love the white lights! My Grandmother made several of these trees in the 80’s and gave one to each of her daughters. My Mom put hers out every year, and the last few years that my parents lived in their home they used it as an alternative to their large tree. My sister claimed it when we were going through my Mom’s holiday decor so it has a new home where it will be cherished for many more years!

    Reply
  23. Patty

    The large star on top of my vintage tree comes out. I tied a simple bow around the stem of the star and also hung a cute sign ornament which says “get your jingle on” and reinserted the star. These add dimension to the tree, and a bit of whimsy! On a smaller ceramic tree with no hole on the top I added a tiny Santa hat over the top.

    Reply
  24. Shari andrews

    Check on amazon

    Reply
  25. Jill

    Oh man, this post pains me. I had a beautiful white ceramic tree with clear lights that was perfect and I found it at our dump when my husband and I were newly married. I packed it up and brought it with us through 12 moves over the past 13 years and then finally when we moved into our current home I looked at it and thought, why do I keep this? So I gave it to goodwill. 😭

    Reply
  26. Alexandra Carter

    I love what you did with yours!! It looks like a completely different tree. I have on emy mother made, and one my grandmother had too. I will definitely have to bring it out this year, and the update that you have shown can easily be reverted if necessary.

    Reply
  27. Jenw

    I’ve got one too! My mom’s had rubber cement/glue holding the lights in and looked awful. After years in the storage tub (I couldn’t make myself toss it) I finally dealt with the glue earlier this season. Now to put the “lights” back on and set it up somewhere!

    I also have a nativity my mom did at the same ceramic place as the tree…would love to see yours! Mine has all the people in the scene with more child-like features. My son and I were setting it up just last night and he said “Why are all the eyes closed?” I told him they must be praying for Jesus…then told him that closed eyes were probably easier for Mawmaw to paint! 🙂

    Reply
  28. Valeria Weaver Atchison

    Great find! Yours looks like the classic Atlantic A64 tree which many slip casters are still pouring. The glaze color might be harder to reproduce exactly b/c it looks like the layered technique. Sadly one of the classic glazes used in most layered trees back then has been discontinued. Other glazes could still provide a similar look but won’t have the slight hints of brown that yours has. It’s one of my fav glaze combos.

    Reply
  29. Teresa

    I see many reproductions in stores now but the vintage ceramic trees from the 70s/80s are quite desirable and pricey in vintage, antique and consignment stores. I sold one this year in
    a consignment store and got over $150.00 for it. It was a very large, white tree with blue lights from the 70s.

    Reply
  30. Bonnie

    I passed on one at a local garage sale because it was missing lots of bulbs and I didn’t realize they were so easy to get. Still kick myself over that. Later I had the chance to get one at a friend’s estate sale. I have a second one and can’t remember where I got it. I love them! (Colored lights, even.)

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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