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Take a Bough: First Lady’s Christmas Trees Rooted in Celebration of History

Oklahoma City University First Lady Dr. Jan Henry’s Christmas trees sparkle inside Wilson House, the presidential residence on campus. She has taken, for her, a moderate approach this year with three charming trees, each with its own theme: the Glass Ornament Tree; the Birds Tree; and her newest, the Stars Tree.

The Glass Ornament Tree is huge. So huge, and so laden with ornaments that it’s divided into regions based on theme. For Jan, each ornament is a snapshot of her life over the past 20 years or so.

Jan spends hours each year decorating her trees and savors the process. “Nobody touches my ornaments,” she said, with mostly mock ferocity. “I am selfish about decorating this tree. I enjoy each memory as I unwrap each ornament. It’s like opening your history. The story of my family is on this tree.”

And it’s true. Each of her kids has a region. A branch of the family tree. Tiny photos of them as children are framed in hand-crocheted borders, made by their grandmother. Jan has surrounded their ornaments with tiny frames containing pictures of their children. Other ornaments are chosen according to what her grandchildren are enamored of at the moment, which explains the blown-glass tractor and train.

Another region of the tree is dedicated to ornaments either brought home from or representing the many places around the globe the Henrys have visited. Here hangs a miniature British double-decker bus, a tiny Tower of Pisa and an Eiffel Tower alongside ornaments she hand-carried home from Russia.

She and her husband, President Robert Henry, share a special affinity for Santa Fe, also well represented on the tree. “There is a Christmas store in Santa Fe,” she said, “and so each time we are there, I add another ornament.” Most are tiny glass replicas of famous Santa Fe buildings like the acclaimed Pink Adobe restaurant, the La Fonda hotel, the Palace of the Governors and the St. Francis Cathedral.

There are a few dentist-themed ornaments, representing Jan’s profession, and a couple of judges for President Henry, a former federal judge. 

A dear friend, known (thanks to son Josh Henry) as the Rabbit Lady, has contributed her share of (you guessed it) rabbit ornaments to the tree. “We’ve got about 13 years of rabbits,” Jan mused. “And rabbits multiply.”

The Bird Tree is the smallest and is perched on a large windowsill in a cozy sitting room with a fireplace. It’s been a part of Jan’s holiday forest for about 15 years and is dotted with owls, a symbol of law, and other feathered friends, most made of natural materials. A flamboyant exception is, of course, the electric blue peacock. Tucked in between the branches, near the trunk are a number of nests, and looking for them adds to the fun of this tree.

The Stars tree is the newest tree in the Henrys’ neck of the woods, and debuts this year. Inspired by the Henrys new home, OCU, Jan’s star search commenced this fall. She was able to transplant a constellation of stars already in her collection to the new tree, among them some gorgeous, embroidered pairs of stars she found at the annual World Neighbors bazaar. Two shooting stars and one Swarovski crystal beauty she found in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, perch proudly amid finds from Target and other local shops.

As the Henrys' celebrate their first Christmas on campus, one wonders if perhaps Jan’s ornaments decided to tell their own story this season.  As the fates would have it, the very first ornament Jan unwrapped as she began her hours-long holiday tradition, was a glass replica of the iconic Gold Star Building in the heart of the OCU campus.