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The glow of Christmas past

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    David and Iris Iwana decorate their home with over a dozen Christmas trees, Santa in his sleigh and scores of vintage ornaments and other items.
    A display honoring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer near the front door of the Iwana home.
    David Iwana shows his favorite Christmas item, a Matchless Wonder Star, a tree topper made in the 1930s.
    David and Iris Iwana’s special tree is decorated with Italian glass ornaments.
    A framed original Christmas print from Harper's Weekly from the 1870’s.
    A display of papier-mache candy containers from the early 1800s, under a glass dome for protection, acts as a table centerpiece.

Step through the door of David and Iris Iwana’s home and beneath some crystal mistletoe, and you’ll find Christmas on every wall, in every room and in every nook and cranny. It even infiltrates the air, with holiday music playing softly in the background and the welcoming aroma of fresh-baked cookies.

"We just love the holidays," said David Iwana, 63, a retired insurance broker who also celebrates his birthday in December. "It’s all about Christmas. It’s about the Nativity, the birth of Christ all the way to Santa. It’s all of the above."

He loves showing guests the couple’s vast collection of vintage ornaments, lights and the other Christmas decor that fills their Mariners Ridge home in Hawaii Kai. Iwana can speak with authority about the history of the Santa Claus legend and the evolution of ornaments and lights.

In the home’s great living room with tall ceilings, Santa sits in a cutter-style sleigh with a bag full of toys at his side. The sleigh, adorned with turn-of-century bells, was a Craigs­list find. The Iwanas brought it home, fixed it up and set it atop their indoor rock garden.

The Iwanas are members of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past, an international club for Christmas antiques collectors. They said they particularly treasure items that remind them of their childhoods.

"It brings you back to a time when things were really simple," said Iris Iwana, 62, a retired banker.

Her husband grew up in Southern Cali­for­nia. Iris Iwana lived in Pearl City before moving to Cali­for­nia for middle school. Married for 34 years, they moved to Hawaii in 2002 to be near her family and also because they love the aloha spirit here.

For both, Christmas holds similar memories of family getting together over food and celebrating love. They keep that tradition going by hosting the Christmas get-together for their extended ohana.

"I remember we would spend lunchtime with my dad’s side at our house and after that go to my mother’s side," said Iris Iwana. "Then we would go to town to my aunt’s house for Christmas dinner."

When most people are gearing up for Halloween, the Iwanas are pulling their Christmas collectibles out of storage, starting with their favorites. The decorations start going up in October and stay up until at least March.

David Iwana still has the very first ornament his parents gave him as a kindergartner — a plastic blue twirler that spins when placed over heat. He’s gone on to collect a dozen more of them.

His wife cherishes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ornaments made from wine bottle corks that their son and daughter made when they were in grade school. She added to the Rudolph collection with other items along the way, including a vintage snow globe, a Gene Autry album and a 1950 copy of the illustrated pop-up book by Robert L. May.

Among the vintage holiday cards in a glass display drawer built into the coffee table is another priceless family item: a handwritten Christmas card from Iris Iwana’s dad to her mother in Hono­lulu in 1945 while he was serving in Italy as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They were engaged at the time and later married.

In all there are more than 15 Christmas trees, both big and small, throughout the three-bedroom house — each with its own theme, ranging from Asian, Hawaiian and Disney to turn-of-the-century Germany. Some of the trees themselves are vintage, made from goose feathers.

The most stunning of the bunch is a 9-foot-tall tree decorated with an array of mouth-blown glass ornaments from Italy dating from the 1940s to the present.

Iris Iwana’s first collectible purchase — a black-and-white mime — is on the tree. She bought it at the Bullock’s department store near her University of Cali­for­nia at Los Angeles dorm in the 1970s.

There are glass Santas, angels and sea animals as well as Mother Goose characters, three astronauts, a spaceship and the Three Wise Men. Many were collected during their travels to the mainland and Milan, Italy, where they met the De Carlini family that makes them.

Hanging the glass ornaments is a monumental and delicate task that requires teamwork, with Iris Iwana handing them one by one to her husband on a ladder.

"Most of our old ornaments were previously loved, so you can feel that when you put it up," he said.

The Iwana vintage Christmas collection includes early-1800s papier-mache candy containers of Bels­nick­els (a German character associated with St. Nicholas), bubble light rockets from the 1960s, holiday-decorated tobacco tins and holly-patterned silverware and china.

On the walls there is a framed 1870 Harper’s Weekly Christmas illustration by Civil War artist Thomas Nast (often credited with creating the popular image of Santa Claus), a 1904 Christmas calendar by the CD Kenny Co., and pages from "A Visit of St. Nicholas," a turn-of-the-century illustrated book.

David Iwana particularly values his Matchless Wonder Stars, glass-prismed lights from the 1930s in different color combinations. When they’re lit, he said, they’re magical.

"It’s nostalgia, a time gone by. It’s the spirit or glow of Christmas past."

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