The Barbie Tree

Jillie is still too young to play with Barbie dolls, but at twenty months, she is old enough to delight in their beauty and long tresses and fancy dresses. And besides, her grandmama is having a hard time waiting! I thought of my friend Gloria’s Barbie Christmas Tree she surprised her granddaughter with several years ago, and the spirit mounted, and I just had to do it. With some collecting of Goodwill dolls, some dressing and hair styling, and lots of help from Gloria, my Jillian will have her own Barbie Tree when she comes to visit Christmas Eve.

Here’s the history of The Barbie Tree and the story of two grandmothers who are living Barbie doll dreams through their granddaughters.


by Gloria Fortner

She sits on a child’s wooden garden bench in her grandmother’s living room and stares at the decorated Christmas tree. She is five and it is most unusual for her to be silent and she hasn’t said a word in an hour. Is she okay? I’m thinking. Her big blue eyes are larger than ever, her lips are parted, her hands folded in her lap, and her chin lifted up gazing at the tree. Finally, she turns to me and says, “GG, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I wanted to surprise you.”

“Where did you get all the Barbies?” she says. “And ALL the pretty dresses!”

“I was shopping at Goodwill and someone had dropped off fourteen Barbies in pretty dresses. I thought they would be beautiful on a Christmas tree and you would love it.”

My granddaughter, Anna Grace, and I have a history of playing with Barbie dolls. Barbies were born after my doll-playing years, and I have two sons. When Anna Grace was three years old, I bought one Barbie doll to see if she was interested. The doll had a Native American look and we called her Sacagawea for the leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition. We soon added an Asian beauty and several traditional Barbies.  She was content to play for hours. We dressed/undressed, cut hair, styled hair, added ribbons and clips, named them, and traveled on adventures. They were swimmers, gymnasts, shoppers, and explorers. They had boy dolls—Kens—to escort them to fancy parties. I don’t know which one of us had more fun playing with our vast collection of thrift store Barbies.

After finding the first fourteen dressy dolls, I kept looking for second-hand Barbies in party dresses for the Christmas tree. At Salvation Army and Southern Thrift, I found more dolls and plastic bags filled with sparkling dressy clothes. Bingo! My plan fell into place.

As Christmas approached, excitement built as I dreamed of a beautiful Barbie tree. A local church on Highway 70 had gorgeous “real” trees every Christmas. As soon as they opened for business, my husband and I drove to the church to make the plan a reality.

“Need some help with a tree?” a young man asked.

“Yes, I’m looking for the perfect tree.”

“You’ve come to the right place. What size?”

“Eight to ten feet tall. And fluffy.”

He smiled and showed us a few trees, most of them too skinny.

“No, none of these will work.” I said. “Think of a tree you would put on a cruise ship. Tall, gradually getting wider all the way down to the floor. This special tree is for my granddaughter, and I’m going to fill it with Barbie dolls. The branches have to be strong enough to support the dolls. It’s a surprise.”

“NOW I’VE GOT IT! Come with me. Does it have to be full all the way around?”

“No, one side will be next to a window and one side in a corner.”

We went with him to the back of the tree lot where the larger trees were located. He walked up to this absolutely gorgeous tall, full, fluffy Fraser fir.

“That’s it.” I said.

“It has a bad spot on one side. But I can reduce the price.”

“Not a problem, this is the tree for us, how much?”

Looking around at the other big trees and the big price tags, I held my breath.

“Ninety bucks, I’ll put it on your tree stand and pack it for you.”

“Do you have tree stands to fit this tree? Our stand is too small.”

“Yep, come with me. Are you in a truck?”


“Well, I’ll have to show you how to put the tree stand on when you get home.”

“I can’t manage it when I get home. I need you to attach the tree stand here.”

This is the magic of the Christmas season. I’ll never know how that big tree ever fit in the back of my 2004 Toyota Solara. We put down the back seats, and the young man angled the tree into the car.

“Ma’am, y’all have a nice Christmas with your little granddaughter.”

We generously tipped him. The tree and tree stand were almost dragging the ground when we left the lot, and we were all smiles.

At home we moved all the furniture to make room for the tree. Then we unloaded it exactly as the man told us. Perfect, gorgeous, fluffy tree filled the space and the smell of evergreen lingered in the living room.

That evening and the next morning, I dressed The Barbie Tree. First, I laced white lights among the branches. Next came the dolls. Beautiful, elegant dolls. Forty in all. I tied each doll in place with a ribbon that matched her dress. Anna Grace called the prettiest doll “Janet,” her mother’s name. I dressed Janet in a lovely white formal topped with a deep fushia satin cape with white fur on the headpiece and front openings, and I put her at the top of the tree. A favorite red-haired girl in a bright green dress rested on a branch where Anna Grace could easily reach her. Disney’s Tinkerbell, Snow White, Cinderella, Bell, and Pocahontas graced the tree. Latin, Asian, Black, and Scandinavian beauties added an international flavor of gorgeous girls in glittering dresses of all colors. It made the tree a Miss Universe Pageant.

Now, Anna Grace has come over for grandparent-sitting and the revealing of The Barbie Tree. She smiles big, her eyes bright and glassy with joy, then she puts her pillow on the little bench beside the tree. She lies there and looks at the lights and the dolls—all the pretty dolls.


Anna Grace enjoyed the tree throughout the Christmas season. At year’s end she was delighted to take it down. She placed all the Barbies in a line on the floor, counting each one. It was time to play with the best Christmas decorations ever.

It’s been five years since The Barbie Tree. The family still talks about it. Do we still play Barbie? Occasionally, we do. Sometimes Anna Grace slips into the closet, puts her favorite dolls in the Barbie Volkswagens, and she is off on another adventure, usually shopping or to the beach. They are a connection we will always treasure.

Recently Anna Grace said, “GG, I have beautiful Barbies somewhere at my house, but these thrift store Barbies are the ones we played with the most.”

And GG, Grandmother Gloria, has told the story many times, and at least one other grandmother has taken the bait. The tradition continues with a woman who also had two sons—no daughters to share dolls with—and now her twenty-month-old granddaughter Jillian will have a Barbie tree this year!


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