Denise Harris and Margot Amestoy live on Bainbridge Island and collect Christmas treasures to decorate their homes.
In addition to both of them being Christmas collectors, Harris and Amestoy are cousins and best friends. “She [Amestoy] was my best friend from birth,” says Harris, explaining that their mothers were best friends. “She was there the day I was born. That’s how close we are.” In addition, Harris’ father married into the Amestoy family, which brought them cousinship.
“Christmas was always a pretty big deal in each of our houses,” Harris says. She explains that the Amestoy family had longtime traditions. “It turns out our Christmas traditions overlapped because of the friendships we had within each other’s families,” she says.
Amestoy’s family gathered toys as a tradition. “Her [Amestoy’s] parents collected toys, but we’re talking like in the 1930s,” Harris says. “They had these toys that would be under the Christmas tree. So, it was always a lot of fun to go to their house. … They continued to have that kind of Christmas every year.”
The two women collected miniatures as children. In adulthood, they each collect two main types of Christmas décor. Amestoy has a mini village and Nativity scenes. “I have the village with antique pieces from my grandmother’s house and my parents’ house, but also — because we’ve had this thing with miniatures — I ended up collecting … little, Nativity scenes. I now have a hundred,” she says.
Harris creates a winter train set the same way Amestoy sets up a mini village. She starts with a piece of plywood and her process is “quite involved,” she says.
Harris collects glass ornaments as well. “I have, over the years, pretty much done away with anything that were not glass ornaments. … My tree is pretty much all breakable,” she says. “I have probably 500 ornaments on my tree, and I do them by groupings.”
Using their collected ornaments, Harris and Amestoy put together their Christmas trees. Harris explains, “My tree is all divided up into sections. … I have travel and leisure. … And the whole top part of the tree is celestial things: There’s stars and moons and snowmen (because snow comes down). There’s a whole section of Santas.”
Some of Amestoy’s tree ornaments have an interesting history. “When my mother was young, she wanted them to keep up the tree, and it was so dried out that when they started to undecorate it, it caught fire,” Amestoy says. “My grandfather grabbed the tree and raced out and threw it out (and burned his arm doing it). One ornament survived from that. … We hang it up every year because it’s the only one left.”
As they take care of their own Christmas decorations, the two women also help each other. “I go over and help Denise and she comes over and helps me,” Amestoy says. After all, she explains, they have been “best friends all our lives.”