Home For Christmas: The Cowart home decorated for Christmas
Donna Cowart claims there is a little gypsy in her since she has always loved anything with sparkle. Even as a child, she said her favorite decorations on the family Christmas tree were a set of handmade ornaments her mother, JoAnn Franco, had made from a Lee Ward felt kit.
“The ornaments were so beautiful,” Donna said.
“There were three wise men, two camels and a horse in the set and they were the prettiest things on the tree, because the lights would sparkle off the sequins.”
Donna, who is married to Richie Cowart, said she was lucky enough to inherit the set her mother had made all those years ago and now it, along with hundreds of other shiny ornaments and beautiful beads, adorn the couple’s Christmas tree.
Donna has always had a flair for decorating even when the budget was tight. She recalled the couple’s first Christmas together.
“We were such paupers. We were at Mississippi State University where Richie was finishing up his degree in accounting,” she said.
Donna had already graduated with a teaching degree.
“We drove on Richie’s little motorcycle and picked out our first live Christmas tree,” Donna said, adding the nursery had to deliver it to their apartment in the Cotton District.
Donna said she had always liked more than just ornaments on a tree, and because it was all she could afford, she strung popcorn and cranberries for garland.
Since that first Christmas together, Donna has continued to layer her tree with garland and started her extensive bead collection after the couple moved to Houston, Texas.
“There was this store called The Original Christmas Store, and it was the biggest Christmas store that I had ever been in. It was amazing,” Donna said.
“They were having their big Christmas in July sale, and I found gold and red beaded garland on sale. I probably bought six strands of red and six strands of gold and that was the beginning of my bead collection,” she said.
The beaded garland is only one of Donna’s Christmas collectibles. She has also amassed angels in all shapes and sizes as well as Nativity sets.
“My Daddy didn’t call it a nativity, he called it the manger scene and growing up everything focused around baby Jesus and the manger,” Donna said. Her family even put the “manger scene” under the Christmas tree, “Mama did not always wrap a lot, because Santa Claus would put everything out.”
Donna always gravitated to the three kings in the nativity, she said, because they were “gypsily dressed, and they came on camels.”
In fact, after moving into their current home on Cherry Bark Lane 20 years ago, she began her Fontanini collection with the three kings and their camels.
She said she started out with them because they were large in size and filled up space in her then-new home. She has since enhanced the collection through the years by adding Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, angels, animals, and a drummer boy.
Traditional Southern is how Donna describes her decorating style, and this is evident by the way she masterfully layers colors, patterns and textures, not only in her home décor, but also when decorating for the holidays.
And because she likes the interest mixing and matching creates, when it comes to the holidays, each year she likes to do things a little different.
“There is no picture in my mind of how I will set a scene,” she said, referring to the focal points of her Christmas decorating.
“I will pull out like, say the Nativity set first, and I will decide where I am going to put it. And then I think, what can I do different this year that I didn’t do last year,” she said, “and then it just becomes a process of putting together my pretties. It is like a puzzle. You will put something out and maybe it won’t work, so you use it somewhere else.”
Donna said her process just evolves as she is working and admitted this does take time.
Like the Christmas tree for instance. Donna said she has never calculated how many hours it takes her, from start to finish, to decorate the tree, but typically it is a three-day process.
“First I pull the tree out and set it up,” she said, which includes fluffing out the branches and elevating the tree on cinder blocks.
“I have been elevating my tree since I moved into my first house on Woodstock,” she said, “because the house had tall ceilings, but not a whole lot of room to put a fat tree, and thinner trees just seemed to look lonely from the floor up, so I elevated it.”
Donna also realized when she elevated the tree, her beads and ornaments that had been hung on the lower branches showed up better as well as the wrapped packages.
On the second day, Donna said she adds the lights and beads.
“Last year the tree had 1,200 lights when I bought it, and I added probably 1000 more colored lights and maybe 1,000 of those multi-function lights,” she said.
Finally, on the third day, it’s time to decorate with ornaments. Once finished, she drapes beautiful taffeta or dupioni silk under the tree to cover the cinder blocks.
“In our house, we say the tree does not fully come alive until the packages have been placed underneath,” Donna said.
So when the couple’s two children Alexandra and Richard were at school, she made sure to wrap some of the presents so the tree could be lit up when they returned home.
Four years ago, to add to the thrill of lighting the tree, Donna found a magic light wand.
The remote control device works as a receiver and once you punch the button on the wand the tree lights up.
Fortunately, the magic wand arrived just in time to usher in Donna’s grandson’s, first Christmas. Now that he is older, Samuel (Yates) loves using the magic wand to light up his Pops and Coco’s Christmas tree when he comes to visit.
Donna said Richie loves Christmas decorating and Christmas just as much as she does, but that he does not have her patience for decorating.
“The few times he has helped with the lights, he would try to string too many together. I would tell him he could not do that because it would blow a fuse,” and sure enough, she said, there were times the lights went out.
This, however, has not deterred him from pitching in at times and when he does help, Donna said, he likes playing holiday music.
“When Richie decorates he cranks up the Christmas music really loud,” she said, and he also makes sure holiday tunes are playing on Christmas morning.
“This used to be one of our Christmas traditions when the kids were young. Richie would turn on the music really loud before the kids came down to see what Santa had brought them, and then we would have hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls.”
Though Donna has a saying, “Everything needs a little sparkle, shimmer and shine,” she said, she and Richie agree the real meaning of the Christmas season lies in things unseen.
“We enjoy the whole Christmas season with a feeling of reawakening and as a time for new hope,” Donna said.
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