Ornament tradition brings women together

Robin Gohn hangs ornaments on her tree adorned with 25 years of handmade treasures. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Robin Gohn hangs ornaments on her tree adorned with 25 years of handmade treasures.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

Of all the surprising materials in the hundreds of unique ornaments on Robin Gohn’s Christmas tree, one is common among them all. From a duck made of cotton balls to a noodle angel to a deconstructed pinecone flower, every ornament is made of memories.

For the past 25 years, the Christmas tree has been collecting the handiwork of approximately 20 women per year. Gohn, the head cheer coach at Oak Harbor High School, has been holding the annual get-together at her home for 23 of those years. Her neighbor started the tradition and Gohn took over when the neighbor moved away.

Each woman is asked to make 20 ornaments using any materials she can imagine. Then they come to Gohn’s house for an evening of fun, food and fellowship -- no kids or calorie-counting allowed. Some drive in from as far as Bonney Lake and Stanwood.

For two hours, 20 women get together and put all the stress of the holidays, family and life’s challenges behind them.

“It’s more about fellowship and touching base. Some of these people I see once a year,” Gohn said. “Some of the ladies I don’t know at all but they come with a friend and we get to know them.”

“We’re all different. She might be religious, she might work at the school. But we all have something in common,” Gohn said. The six degrees of separation theory is true at the parties as women recognize each other from years ago or as employees at schools or stores.

While it may not be the same group of women throughout the years as some move away or have life-changing moments, “One thing is consistent -- after we all get through the frustration of picking just the right ornament, finding all the supplies and finishing them up before the gathering, we have a great time just being together once again,” Gohn said.

At the party, the women conceal the handiwork they sweated, stressed and burned fingers over until the moment when each woman stands to talk about her ornaments to a chorus of “oohs.”

“It’s amazing, the imagination, especially after all the years,” Gohn said. She held up the polymer clay Noah she made this year and pointed out ornaments as simple as two emery boards forming skis to the more complicated hand-sewn snow buddy and crocheted angel.

Gohn has been making polymer clay ornaments for 11 years. She keeps her creations, like Buddy the Elf, Santa Claus and Snow Mom, out year round to remember the good times.

Just because these women enjoy creative work doesn’t make this an easy task.

“We all cuss and fuss and burn ourselves,” Gohn said, laughing.

It was a moment of celebration for Gohn as she finished her ornaments at 10:30 p.m. the night before the party -- but not without a burn from baking her clay creations. Some women get right to work in January as a way to reflect on the holidays but Gohn generally starts working on hers in October, which is no simple task as she had to roll hundreds of balls of clay to make 20 versions of Noah’s feet, heads and eyes, plus she resized her pattern after her first attempts were too small.

Gohn laughed as she recalled one lady who finished sewing her snow buddy ornaments during a past party. She was literally sewing them and throwing them at the ladies -- “here!” Gohn said.

“But they always pull through with fabulous, amazing, how-did-you-do-that sort of things,” Gohn said, pointing out a baby Jesus ornament made from a dowel and thread spool, and champagne in a bucket of ice made from a flower pot, beads and a push pin.

“We got such a variety this year. I was so excited when the ladies came in because you’d think after 25 years, what could you think of?” Gohn said.

This year especially the women have been using recycled materials and items from nature, like acorns, pine cones and paper from old books.

“They’re really stepping outside their creativity zone and going for it,” Gohn said.

Whenever the women look at the tree, the memories of their hard work come flooding back.

“They’ll stand here and say, ‘I remember.’ ‘Oh, I was pregnant when I did this,’ and ‘Oh, I remember when I had to throw this away,’” Gohn said, adding that it’s all about the memories.

“There’s so much Whidbey history in those ornaments,” Gohn said.

Along with the time and creativity, there’s a story in every ornament and a piece of the time the women spent together.

“It’s an inspirational tree,” Gohn said, adding that the women who attend have been through divorces, cancer and life changes. But when they get together for that one night out of the year, Gohn calls it a “safe zone,” where the women can let go of whatever’s happening on the outside world and just have a good time.

“It’s always very humbling and nice that they take the time out of their busy holiday schedules,” Gohn said, adding that her favorite part is the fact that the ladies will still do this after 25 years.

“Christmas comes and goes but I have this always,” Gohn said.


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