Christmas trees are showing more character this year.

Tweety, Mickey Mouse and Barbie are among them, bending boughs once occupied by angels and Santas."I love Barbie. I grew up with her, and my daughter and I collect the dolls and now the ornaments," said Roberta Shafer, who was checking out the collection of Barbie ornaments at Bullock's.

"I already have two of each style (swimsuit and ball gown) and eventually I'd like to have enough to decorate my entire tree with them."

But Barbie isn't for everybody.

"I'm against the image of Barbie dolls. They're not a realistic image for little girls, and I wouldn't put one on my tree," said Natalie Alexander of the San Fernando Valley community of Woodland Hills.

"However, I like the cartoon characters, like this one from `Aladdin,' because they represent fantasy and fun."

Personal shopper Tinker McGuire said cartoon and storybook characters, and themes including sports or tea party ornaments, are the current trend in ornaments. Tiny leather baseball gloves have been particularly popular, she said.

"I think people like a personalized theme this year, and probably that trend is most popular in California because it's so culturally diverse," McGuire said.

Christmas trees, which date back to medieval Germany, always have been a source of self-expression.

Through the ages they've been decorated with gilded apples, candles, cookies, paper roses and painted egg shells, but they became fashion must-haves during Queen Victoria's reign. The British queen not only set the trend in clothing and home furnishings, but also in Christmas trees, according to Jane M. Hatch, who wrote in "The American Book of Days" that soon after the queen's tree was featured in a leading women's magazine bedecked with wax tapers and sweetmeats, President Franklin Pierce set up the first official White House Christmas tree.

By the time colored electric lights were created in the early 1900s, most families had plugged in to the new holiday tradition.

Other garlands included popcorn and cranberries, and they began to hang shiny, mouth-blown glass ornaments from Germany instead of following the early Victorian tradition of edible ornaments.

Glass baubles still are popular, and designer-manufacturers such as Christopher Radko of New York and the Polonaise of Poland company continue to mimic old-fashioned styles, including snakes, which were popular in the late Victorian era.

"The snake was to remind them of the Garden of Eden, but the snakes had clown faces so as not to scare the children," said Radko, whose ornaments are sold in department stores and gift shops.

Although Radko and Polonaise are best-known for traditional designs, both companies have acknowledged the trend to nontraditional tree ornaments this year.

Radko has designed a snowman sporting a red AIDS awareness ribbon on his heart, while Polonaise has an Egyptian collection that includes a sphinx, Queen Nefertiti and a pyramid. The Egyptian collection already has sold out at the Christmas Collection store in Woodland Hills, salesman Dan Renn said.

Got a Trekkie in the family?

"Star Trek" ornaments are selling, as are characters from "The Wizard of Oz." Nordstrom, meanwhile, features a tree decorated with tiny teacups, teapots and "Alice in Wonderland" characters, and Target has colorful dinosaurs and giant bananas to hang on the tree.

Besides evoking a smile, ornaments can twinkle, revolve or play music. But the glittery red ornament in the Current Inc. catalog emits a shrill, ear-splitting sound. It's a battery-operated heat detector aimed at preventing Christmas tree fires, said company vice president Lee Meyer.