Over the top: Stephanie Failmezger crafts a dazzling holiday tradition through her Christmas tree

Stephanie Failmezger will be featured in the December Her issue. Photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

Stephanie Failmezger will be featured in the December Her issue. Photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

Stephanie Failmezger’s Christmas tree at her home in rural Peosta, Iowa. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

Rainbow Christmas tree. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

In the rural Peosta, Iowa, home of Stephanie Failmezger this time of year, you’re not likely to find garland draped from archways, elves on shelves or stockings hung by the chimney with care.

Instead, she reserves most of her merry energy for one thing: Her Christmas tree.

“It’s just always something I’ve done,” Failmezger said. “When the four kids were really little, we did a more traditional tree with their little cardboard ornaments and multicolored lights. But soon, those were going on a smaller tree. I’m a very visual person, and it drove me crazy.”

A mosaic artist and graphic designer, Failmezger’s large primary tree is her work of art, taking on themes of peacocks, white doves, partridges in a pear tree, Oriental fans, flowers, grapevines and the Grinch, among others.

In a nod to allyship — emphasizing social justice, inclusion and human rights — another previous year’s creation featured a rainbow effect from the bottom of the tree to the top, boasting between 350 and 400 ornaments making up rows of pink, purple, blue, green and peach, with an explosion of crimson at the top.

“I liked to think of it as my pride tree,” Failmezger said.

This year, “Alice in Wonderland” is taking center stage for the tree’s theme.

Waiting until after Thanksgiving to get to work and using a faux tree as her blank canvas (“You can’t bend and manipulate the branches of a real tree,” Failmezger said), each tree typically takes her one week to assemble the way she likes, bunching ornaments together with pipe cleaner and precariously placing other elements on branches for the full effect.

“There can be a lot of pieces just balancing on the tree,” she said with a laugh. “So, you have to be a little careful around it. Sometimes it changes, too, from the vision you have in your head to what you actually create once you start putting it together.”

Failmezger said the thematic inspiration tends to strike through mediums such as Pinterest. She also gleaned inspiration from her mother, who also loved decorating Christmas trees.

“She is very creative,” Failmezger said. “She was always using non-traditional things on Christmas trees way before it became a thing. I remember one Christmas tree in particular where she used beautiful, thick foil wrapping paper that made a beautiful silver.”

Once the inspiration is in mind, Failmezger will venture out to begin purchasing what she doesn’t already have in her arsenal of Christmas décor to bring her creation to life.

“The Mad Hatter is the tree topper,” she said. “Then, I combined a lot of other elements from the story, like pink and purple stripes for the Cheshire Cat. There are crowns and hearts all over for the Queen of Hearts, and diamonds and little guards to represent the cards.”

She also included large clocks and pocket watches for the White Rabbit, as well as small mushrooms and white roses painted red to capture that piece of the story.

“The presents also have to match my tree,” Failmezger said. “I always tell my kids if they bring presents to put under the tree, they have to match. For the most part, they listen, but they think I’m a bit over-the-top.”

Still, it’s a tradition that has grown on the family.

“I love it,” said Failmezger’s 21-year-old daughter, Emily. “It’s always different.”

However, one thing that remains the same year after year on the tree is the Christmas pickle, a German tradition of hiding a pickle-shaped ornament within the tree. The first to find it is said to receive good fortune in the coming year.

“It’s the first thing that goes on the tree,” Failmezger said. “I don’t know if anyone will find it this year.”

Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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