Has the way you decorate for Christmas changed over the years? I know it has for me. Those first years of marriage involved acquiring all the stuff: a menagerie of trees, Santas, snowmen, and Christmassy knick-knacks. It was all great fun in those early years, decking out our new house when we were first married.
Then along came the kids and their adorable, if not durable handmade ornaments, a few more decorations added to the collection each year, and of course, the advent calendars. So many advent calendars! Because I have three kids, there were at least three advent calendars, so that each child could take a turn each day. Usually, one paper chain, one wooden tree with little cubbies beneath it with an ornament for each day, and one painstakingly crafted (by me) felt Christmas scene that you added a new element to every day. And on top of that, those little cardboard ones with the sub-par chocolate. Whew! Why do we exhaust ourselves like this?
At some point I realized that there was too much stuff to set out each Christmas and I started to edit it down. For about the last five years, I’ve put a little less out each year. I’ve donated some decorations that I didn’t love anymore and handed some down to Chloe. I will save some items that I don’t use anymore to give to the kids (if they want them) just because it was a part of their childhood. At the bottom of one of the tubs are all those handmade paper ornaments from pre-school that I think I will deal with “this year”, but never do.
I accidentally found out that what really matters to me about Christmas decor is having lots of greenery and lights. Instead of things setting on tables, I’ve started hanging more garlands above windows and doors, and of course, wrapping the stair railing. Let me tell you, battery-operated twinkle lights were a revelation! This year I purchased a 25′ real cedar pine garland and hung it above our kitchen window and above the window near the kitchen table. I love the way it looks (and smells!), but my husband commented that it looked like we are living in Whoville (guess who’s the grinch in our house?). I’ve put together a few trays with pinecones and candles and I’m loving the simplicity of it this year.
And that’s what I’m craving this time of year–simplicity. Don’t get me wrong; I want a cozy home that announces”it’s Chrismastime” when you open the door. But I’ve learned that it takes a lot less than I realized to achieve that feeling. I want to have the bandwidth to enjoy the holiday instead of just “getting through it”. To have the space to read those holiday books, make some fudge, play board games, and watch some Christmas movies in a more stress-free way. (By the way, I’ve started my annual re-read of Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. I think I’ve read it at Christmas time for at least the last ten years. In some ways it has taught me how simple yet meaningful a Christmas can really be.)
And I’ve learned that the other senses are just as important as all the visual Christmas decor: the smell of evergreens, cookies baking, or a stovetop potpourri, the feel of fuzzy pillows on the sofa, and the taste of holiday treats. And we cannot forget Christmas music! We’ve moved away from loading up the CD player with five different Christmas CDs over to Spotify, which is a wonderful way to enjoy so many types of Christmas music. I have several Spotify playlists that I love, but two of my favorite albums that are a must-listen are A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi, and We Three Kings by the Roches. Those songs mean that Christmas is on its way to me.
It’s bittersweet to think back on Christmases of the past, but I’ve learned a lot about what feels right for our family and I know that will continue to evolve as our kids eventually move away, get married, and have families of their own. But for now, I’ll enjoy the Christmases we have left with our little crew.
Looking at your photos makes me wish (again) that I had your decorating skills (not to mention your photography skills!). I think I’m going to spend Christmas next year at your house. Is that okay?
As usual, I’m putting off decorating for as long as I can. I’m so old that I remember when people complained about Christmas-themed commercials airing before December. Nowadays, most people I know put up their trees on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a legit cultural shift, one that I have mixed feelings about. I know there are practical reasons for it. If you live in a household filled with busy people, it’s hard to find time to enjoy the holiday season unless you stretch it out over a period of four or five weeks. I get that. But other forces are at work here, including the gods of consumer capitalism, who would like us to shop until we drop. Over the decades, these forces have slowly leached away the spirit of the season. Peace on earth? Good will to men? Who cares about that? Let’s get more stuff!
Yeah, I’m a grinch, and I’m a grinch who does her best to hold off on Christmas decorating until mid-December. This is not without its problems, one of which is that by the time December 15th rolls around, all the good trees are gone and the ones that remain have a distinct Charlie Brown vibe. Another problem is that sometimes I end up not enjoying any of the season because I’ve built up such a strong resistance to celebrating too early that I end up not celebrating at all.
This year, I have a new plan. Although my house currently remains decoration-free, I have started decorating my dollhouse. I don’t have a lot of decorations for it, but I do have a few, and it’s a small way to get into the spirit without having to put in a lot of sweat equity. I’ve also been pondering how I might make decorating easier this year. Part of my grinchiness stems from the fact that while I enjoy decorations, I don’t enjoy decorating, and I especially don’t enjoy un-decorating. One change I’ve already decided on is that I’m going to put my Christmas village on the screen porch this year instead of in the living room. For a variety of reasons, all too boring to go into, it’s a huge hassle to set up the village the way I’ve been doing it over the years. By displaying it on the table on the porch (which we can easily see from the living room) I’ll make my life a lot easier.
Like you, I spent a lot of time in the early years of our family life … overdoing things a bit. Martha Stewart led me down many a pernicious path (oh, but the crafts I made were lovely!). It’s so fun when the kids are little and the magic is real. The problem is, as kids grow older, the magic fades but they still want the traditions to continue–the Advent calendars, the Christmas village, the wide variety of Christmas treats (which they grab on their way out the door on the way to friends’ houses). So you’re left doing a ton of work with very few warm and fuzzy payoffs. No shiny little faces peering at the tree before bedtime, very little buy-in when it comes decorating said tree (maybe it’s different if you have girls?).
As we begin our Christmas transitions over the next few years, I want to find ways to simplify all of it–the gift-giving, the decorating, the baking–in an effort to get back to a different kind of magic of Christmas. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how being a post-menopausal empty nester feels a lot like being a girl again (except for the creaking knees and hip pain), and as a girl, I was Queen of Christmas Magic. I knew Christmas was about music and stories and staring up at the night sky and looking for stars. It was about taking loaves of my mother’s banana nut bread to the neighbors on Christmas Eve and lying in bed telling myself stories about that time I almost saw Santa Claus. Maybe that’s a good tradition to return to–you know how I love stories! On a Christmas Eve long ago, a girl named Frances was awakened by the sound of jingle bells coming from overhead. She crept out of bed and put on her slippers …
Talk to you soon!