The joy of a hand-made ornament lasts for generations

Sue Regen with her main helper, her jigsaw. — Photo courtesy of Robert Giambrone

What did you get for a holiday gift? It’s a question asked every year by millions of people. For the friends and family of Sue and Rich Regen of Chilmark, the question is more likely to be, “Let me tell you about the ornament Sue made for us this year.”

Sue Regen has been making Christmas ornaments for friends and family for 58 years. “It all started during WWII when my parents wanted new Christmas ornaments but didn’t have the money,” Sue said. “Also materials were limited by the war effort. That’s when we started making wooded cut-out ornaments.”

Sue started making them herself in the eighth grade and except for the four hectic years during college, she hasn’t missed a year. In the beginning, Sue’s father used a hand coping saw, but Sue transitioned to using a jigsaw with a fine jewelers blade. Also when the tradition started, common holiday themes such as snowflakes, angels, and candy canes were ornaments but over the years the patterns have become more intricate and personal.

For example, Sue makes ornaments based on her spiritual insights and the experiences of the people in her life. In the early years of her children’s and grandchildren’s lives ornament themes included comic book characters, horses, and boats, but as they matured their interests were reflected in ornaments such as a soccer, lacrosse, and a princess ornaments, the last with the actual face of granddaughter Mackenzie superimposed on the ornament.

The “Storks Nest,” the family’s seasonal Chilmark house, has been in the family for five generations beginning with Rich’s grandmother. Many of the ornaments highlight traditional Vineyard themes and family memories.

Grandson Zack enjoys sailboats, so a sail on the Shenandoah was commemorated with an ornament. To remember the great joy one grandchild experienced kayaking at Squibnocket Pond, Sue made an ornament of father and son kayaking. He was two year old, and that was his favorite Christmas gift that year! Other Vineyard themes included the iconic Black Dog, representative of the famous Black Dog Tavern and the family’s memories of eating there.

On summer vacations, Sue has made ornaments with her grandchildren that she entered in the Ag Fair. Grandson Conner won second place one year.

“This is Christmas to me,” Sue said. “I like making something personal and lasting. It’s my way of extending my love to friends and family every year. Now it’s been so many years of giving ornaments that some people have their entire tree filled with my ornaments. I love hearing about how much people remember us during the Holiday season because of the ornaments.”

Sue includes a description with each ornament, explaining its meaning. Each of her more than 150 designs and hundreds of ornaments has their own special story and many extend from the Vineyard to all over the U.S.

As the holidays come and go the value of these hand-made ornaments to their recipients far outweighs the latest gift gadgets, and the joy they provide will last for generations.

This year’s ornament theme is Joy. The word features a dove hanging from it. “Despite life’s challenges, losses, and struggles, there are still many moments of joy, and that is what I want people to remember,” Sue said.

Robert Giambrone and his wife, Jane, of Rochester, N.Y., look forward to the ornament every year. “We find nothing more meaningful and personal than these ornaments,” he said in an email to The Times.