The beauty of vintage Christmas decorations is they never go out of style. Retro ornaments that brought joy way back when still delight people of all ages today. Some examples are a box of jewel-toned trinkets, 3-foot figures of Santa Claus, nutcrackers, nativity scenes, or Advent calendars. These timeless decorations often hold a special place in people’s hearts.
An avid fan of all things vintage is crafter and holiday decorator, Jennifer Perkins. In this post she shares valuable tips for newbie vintage collectors. Plus, check out ideas on incorporating vintage Christmas decorations into your display from Treetopia.
Jen’s Tips for Collecting Vintage Christmas Decorations
Serious collectors know to always see the world through holiday-colored glasses. They shop all year long and never forget to ask for a deal. I’m sharing a few of my favorite tips for collecting vintage Christmas decorations based on years of experience.
1. Buy during the off-season.
Wherever you are, always have vintage decorations at the back of your mind. Think Christmas, whether you are at a thrift store in July, the flea market in May, or a garage sale the week after the holidays. Keep Santa top of mind all year long if you want a stellar collection of vintage Christmas ornaments by December.
Oftentimes, dealers hold on to seasonal items and make them available closer to the actual holiday. That’s when they charge top dollar. When you do find holiday decorations during the off-season, they’re typically cheaper compared to the holiday rush.
2. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Can’t seem to spot vintage décor during the off-season? That doesn’t always mean the dealers don’t have them. Always ask the vendor if they have holiday decorations. Many times, flea market vendors have a small selling space. If it’s the middle of June, it might not be top of mind to unload the bulky vintage Santa blow molds from the truck.
It never hurts to ask. You might be surprised about what they have but haven’t unloaded yet. They might be happy to sell it to you. Trust me. One time, I came home with a giant box of unopened vintage Halloween decorations because I asked the guy if he had any. He did—in a box in his truck.
Sometimes, the dealers won’t really bring their holiday decorations to the flea market. But they might have a nearby store or booth in an antique mall in the area. Ask if you can see the vintage Christmas decorations there another time.
3. Check online, too!
Let’s say it’s Valentine’s Day and your favorite eBay or Etsy dealer has vintage hearts galore for sale. They might also have Christmas decorations they have yet to list. For example, if you like 1950s Christmas décor and the dealer has a similar aesthetic, it never hurts to ask. Another pro tip: Don’t underestimate Facebook Marketplace as a place to shop for vintage holiday decorations, too!
4. Buy in bulk.
One of my favorite things to hear while shopping at a flea market is: “Make a pile and I’ll make you smile.” Flea markets are a lot like Sam’s or Costco. If you buy in bulk, the prices get better. If you happen upon a dealer who has tons of vintage Christmas decorations, ask them what their best price is. Phrase it like, “Will you make me a better deal if I buy them all?” Most times they will.
Here’s some advice if you shop at a flea market towards the end of the last day. Remember that dealers are there to sell things, not display them. They don’t want to pack up all their goods and take them home. I hope this tip brings you luck.
5. Make it your own.
Traditional Dickens Christmas villages are not my style. However, they are easy to find at flea markets and estate sales. In my opinion, there aren’t many things a can of hot pink spray paint can’t fix, including a ceramic Christmas town. Consider customizing pieces to fit your aesthetic.
If you’re planning to do the same, keep this in mind before using a can of spray paint on any piece. Make sure it’s not highly collectible as custom additions will lower the value greatly.
6. Repurpose vintage finds into Christmas decorations.
When you’re vintage shopping, try to look beyond the obvious. For example, a Coke bottle crate is something you can transform into an Advent calendar. Other ideas include stacking globes to make snowmen and vintage toys to style as a tree collar.
Decorations that live around the house year-round can look like Christmas décor in the right vignette. Same goes for unique finds at flea markets or boutiques. Even an old dollhouse has potential. Turn it into a mini-Christmas village!
7. Remember that vintage tree ornaments are fragile.
My favorite flea market is outside in a cow pasture. Twice a year, I walk over grass and gravel from dawn until dusk to find treasures. I’m often far away from the car and can’t run back every time I make a purchase. That means I need to be careful when toting my scores. I may buy vintage glass Christmas ornaments from one dealer and a ceramic bust from another. Just like rock, paper, scissors, that bust is going to squish those glass ornaments and win every time.
If you know you’re looking for fragile things like vintage ornaments, take a hard-sided box and extra newspaper with you. These packing materials will help ensure your ornaments make it safely to the car, your home, and onto your tree. Also, getting the ornaments home safe is half the battle. Keeping them intact all year long is the next challenge. Hard-sided ornament boxes and lots of bubble wrap are a must.
8. Store your vintage Christmas decorations properly.
Some very old ornaments are made of malleable plastics. In the heat of a Texas attic, these may melt or distort. Keep this in mind when storing your ornaments. If you’re like me and have a soft spot for vintage holiday crafts, remember that heat also melts glue.
Sure, it’s hard to think about buying 200 ornaments in bulk during the off-season. Or to think Christmas thoughts when you’re dripping sweat at a flea market in the summer. Trust me. In six months, you will be so glad you did.
Creative Display Ideas for Vintage Christmas Decorations
If you have a large fireplace, display your collection of Santa figures on the mantel. Then, add a couple of tabletop trees on either side of your jolly troop. Complete the merry scene with a giant painting of Santa as a backdrop.
Keep an eye out for pretty, plaid Christmas decorations. It’s a unique theme that transforms your space with traditional colors of the holiday season. This pattern is a gorgeous pop of color against black foliage.
Turn up the shine for the holidays. Showcase your vintage Christmas decorations on a pre-lit gold artificial tree. Metallic ornaments make your display even more dazzling. A retro silver tree makes a great canvas, too.
Vintage Vacation Vibes
Who says you need to stick to the same old Christmas theme year after year? Bring home your favorite travel destination with a collection of vintage postcards. Instead of decorating with a tree skirt, set your tree on a pile of old-school luggage. Don’t forget a lightweight tree topper to tie the theme together.
And a final word of advice: make sure you have enough ornaments to decorate your tree. Keep in mind that too many might cause the tree to topple over. Check out our guide below to get an estimate, based on your decorating preferences.
We hope these tips help you start collecting vintage Christmas decorations. If they did, share this post with family and friends to inspire their holiday creativity. Or simply give them a great excuse to shop for Christmas in July or any other holiday of the year.