At the time of this writing (December 18th to be exact), I am battling a bad cold, the tree is up with lights but no ornaments, the paper whites and amaryllis bulbs are growing at a snail’s pace and not likely to bloom for Christmas (again), and the outside of my house is decorated but the dried orange slices on the wreaths have gotten soggy from all the rain. On the bright side, my daughter, daughter-in-law, and I managed to bake mounds of cookies (nothing fancy) and the rain has stopped for now so that I can start bringing more greens into the house (you need more greens? My poor husband says in the pouring rain).
My mother grew up in a house where no decorations went up until after the children had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. She often described the wonder of those Christmas mornings when the whole house was transformed into something magical. And although as a mother herself, she didn’t wait to do everything, she did decorate in much the same manner—bringing fresh wreaths, garlands, and greens into the house on Christmas Eve and not having a single present under the tree until Christmas morning. I can remember as a child how Christmas Eve smelled and how it felt—so different than any other single day of the year.
This year, I’ve written about enjoying the process of decorating rather than the finished product. I’ve liked a quote from British designer Rita Konig about not worrying so much about getting to the end. Just keep on tinkering, she says. Because even though my mother waited, she worried. She filled the dining room table with all her beautiful decorations and some years it was insurmountable (let’s just say she got grouchy).
But Lord knows we can all understand. Especially today in our image saturated world and our image saturated brains—we want it to be finished and we want it to be perfect.
My sister would say that my problem is relying too heavily on fresh greens and flowers as opposed to faux greens and keepsakes. And she would be absolutely correct—but as impractical and expensive as fresh can be, I just can’t seem to let it go (I’ve learned to beg for scraps of greens wherever I go and to wait till the last minute when flowers are practically being given away, but this is no way to live!).
For validation of my own process of decking the halls, I’m reading about the custom of bringing fresh greens into homes that dates back to pre-Christian times. Branches and evergreen boughs were hung in doorways and windows in celebration of the winter solstice, and as a reminder of brighter days ahead. By the 1600s the Germans were bringing whole trees inside (it might have started when Martin Luther went for a walk in the forest and brought an evergreen tree home for his children because its beauty reminded him of Jesus’ birth).
Of course (I hear my sister saying) this isn’t the 1600s.
All of this is to say: even those of us for whom decorating is part of our business don’t always get it right. It is enough, in my mind, that the intention to bring beauty into a space is there. And it doesn’t hurt to learn the trick that the very best hostesses have always known: put on a smile, light lots of candles, and keep the eggnog flowing (bless the sister-in-law who just sent over a jug).
So, here’s to a happy Christmas—fully decked or half-decked or barely decked.
In 2019, I hope to inspire you, to guide you (mostly through my missteps), to brighten your days a little, and to share stories of home and garden (I’m always so inspired and impressed with yours).
* Photographs by Michael Sneeringer, Jr. @elsneero