Holiday ornament tradition thrives in Winnetka
12/07/2012 Winnetka Pat Horne, of Evanston, looks through all the past years handmade ornaments from the Winnekta Holiday Lighting fund on Friday, December 7, 2012. Horne who lived in Winnetka, started the project in 1992 to help fund the holiday lighting throughout Winnetka. | Michael Jarecki ~ For Sun-Times Media
Ornaments are available for $42 at Phototronics, 740 Elm St. and Ellen’s on Elm, 841 Elm St. in Winnetka. For further information, contact Phototronics at 847-446-7510.
Updated: December 13, 2012 11:00AM
WINNETKA — What started as a small tradition two decades ago is running strong with the sale of the 2012 version of the Winnetka holiday ornament.
In 1992, after successfully launching the “Save our Streetscape” campaign to plant new trees on Elm Street, former Multiple Choices owner Pat Horne started a fundraiser to pay for holiday lights to decorate the newly planted trees.
Horne approached John and Cynthia Abendshien, then owners of the “Home Alone” house on Lincoln Avenue, and asked if they would lend their home’s design to appear on the first holiday ornament. The “Home Alone” house, which appeared in the 1990 film, remains the most sought after ornament of the entire collection.
“They were so gracious to let us do that,” Horne said. “They did not want to allow any commercialization of the house except for us. It was my pet project.”
Each year proceeds from the sale are given to the village to help pay for the holiday tree lighting fund for downtown Winnetka. Estimates are the sale has generated over $80,000 for holiday lights in the 20 years it has been going on.
One of the most popular releases was the New Trier High School ornament in 1993. The run was so popular that a second release of New Trier ornaments was made available in 2002. A very limited number of New Trier ornaments are available again this year.
The series covers memorable landmarks within Winnetka, including the Village Hall (1994), the Winnetka Community House (1995), the Winnetka Woman’s Club (2000), the Winnetka Historical Society (2005), Christ Church (2007) and Faith, Hope & Charity Church (2011).
“Everybody wants the New Trier one for a graduation or going away gift,” Horne said. “There are a lot of fun stories to go along with the sale of these ornaments. One lady had her wedding at Christ Church and she ordered a bunch of them for her wedding party. One customer moved to Seattle and still buys them.”
In 2009, Horne sold her Multiple Choices business, which is now known as Ellen’s on Elm. The ornament sale was turned over to her friend, and Phototronics owner, Betty Skalski.
Going into each holiday season, Horne and Skalski never know how popular each ornament will be, but note several families in the village look forward to the sale to keep their collections growing.
“You never know which one is going to be the hot one,” Skalski said. “New Trier and Faith, Hope & Charity have been very sought after. I have a list three pages long of people waiting for the Faith, Hope & Charity one.”
The two are more than happy to share their stories and memories of each ornament, but just don’t ask them for their artist’s name. It remains a closely guarded secret.
“It’s a lady whose name we will never tell anybody,” Horne said.
“She wouldn’t be able to do this for us if she took other jobs,” Skalski said. “She’s worried everyone would bother her for their favorite if they missed one.”
The ornaments have been available every year except 2010 when the artist was unable to make one.
The 2012 version is available for $42, of which $25 is tax deductible, and features the Winnetka Children’s Fair taking place on the village green.