This ornament has been on my family's Christmas tree as long as I've been alive, and then some. It's older than my mother, older than my sainted late grandmother. This is Happy Hooligan, and every year he got a very special place on the back of the Christmas tree - tradition required us to hang him up, but nobody much wanted to see him. He's ghastly, and I don't think he looked much better when he was brand new, back around 1900.
According to family lore, Happy Hooligan belonged to my great-grandfather. I remember Pap-pap a little, and he was a kind, delightful man with a shining bald head, round wire-framed glasses, a ready smile and terrible taste in Christmas ornaments. If you're going to have a fault, though, better that you have terrible taste in holiday ornaments than to be mean-spirited.
As my brother and I grew older, we fought over Happy Hooligan - not over whose turn it was to hang him on the tree, but who would eventually inherit him. I insisted that my brother should have him, and of course, my brother thought he should come to me.
And then we found out what Happy Hooligan was worth.
As Christmas ornaments go, quite a lot. According to one of my guidebooks, between $450 and $600. I saw one on eBay go for around $500 a few years ago. I don't know what he might be worth now, but it doesn't really matter, since we're not going to sell him. He's part of the family. He's the part of the family that my parents lock in the attic the better part of the year, but he's family nonetheless.
Happy Hooligan (who was a hobo in a comic strip that began in 1900) is in a category of rare glass Christmas ornaments known as extended leg figures. They were expensive even in their day, so I've read, and were purchased only one or two a year.
So I've learned to love Happy Hooligan, or at least appreciate the fact that he's special. And who knows? Maybe that early exposure to old Christmas ornaments planted the seed of an interest that would become close to an obsession.
Still, you've got to admit: that is one unattractive Christmas ornament.
And my brother still says that when the time comes, Happy Hooligan is coming to live with me.