Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Making Christmas: Decorations

Our holiday music usually gets us in the right mood to break out the trimmings. This is a topic of great interest to me. Certain decoration memories are the first to pop into mind at the thought of Christmas. My parents didn't deck the halls with everything Christmas, but a few festive pieces made the month memorable for me. First, the jewel tree - a framed, velvet-backed tree made from old brooches, earrings and other jewelry. It also had red lights poking through. Hard to describe. Maybe I can get a picture of it. But I loved it. Also that German tiered, candled carousel thing - please, family, help me out here. The Christmas tree advent calendar - how I loved pinning a new ornament on it each day. And perhaps my favorite was when we went to Grandma's house. She wrapped her stair banisters & railings with thick pine boughs and white lights. A totally simple decoration but convivial beyond description.

This is our seventh Christmas together, and we have always spent it with one or the other of our families. Somehow not spending Christmas at home has also meant not really decorating for it. Our first Christmas married my Mom sent us a full-size tree skirt she had made. We had no tree so I went over to McGuckins and bought a 2-ft artificial tree with lights in it. Every year since then, we pull out the pathetic little guy, on which ornaments are disproportionately huge, wrap the tree skirt around twice, and top with a lopsided star. That same first Christmas my mother-in-law gave us a white porcelain nativity set. Since then we got a sign from my Mom that says, "Dear Santa, define good," and another nativity set I fell in love with last year. This year I searched on ebay for a hanging advent calendar, thinking Hazel is old enough to enjoy counting the days that way. I was looking for a tree like my Mom's but ended up unable to resist this Santa.

It's not much but it's a start. This year we are spending Christmas with the Hickmans in Colorado, but starting next year we will do Christmas in our own home. I want to make it meaningful, memorable, and - an ultimate goal I always seem to fall short of - classy, even though I lack a natural gift for decorating. We'll get a real normal-sized tree, and ornament it. Maybe hang lights and make popcorn cranberry strings. A holiday centerpiece.

When we were in VA for Thanksgiving I snuck out one night for a solo trip to Target. I got a few things on my list, then wandered slowly through the aisles, savoring the luxury of browsing. I spent a long, long time in the holiday aisles, admiring the modern decorative pieces, from stocking holders to swags to trees, daydreaming about a home decked out holiday-style. I did go to our Target here for some things today, and with this post on my mind, I spontaneously sprung for a wreath kind of like this one, but more berries & less green. It's pretty, and hanging on our door to greet us whenever we come home. I've also taken note of pieces and ornaments I've seen that I like, and plan to check back at the stores and websites after Christmas to see if I can take advantage of post-holiday sales. After all, things get expensive, and I don't need anything else for this year anyway.

Mention of ornaments brings us to the final subtopic here - the tree. I had an interesting discussion with Dave & Michelle last year about decorating it. Like my family growing up, they have a hodge-podge, eclectic ornament collection and Dave felt it looked too messy so he bought some ornament sets to bring a little cohesiveness to the look. I agree that a tree looks beautiful with coordinated pieces, but if it's too coordinated it doesn't look homey. Every year my Mom sends us an ornament-of-the-year of her own choosing, so I figure we can use those for the variety, and buy some sets for some aesthetic harmony.

What I hope to eventually achieve is a merry but peaceful atmosphere with all holiday decorating, a place that feels special for a special time of year. I look around and see I have a long way to go.

How do you decorate your home? What have you seen in other homes or stores that you like? How do you decorate your tree? What have you seen that you liked?
Have you seen the most awesome ornaments anywhere this year (that I should look into?)


Mia said...

This is our 5th Christmas together and we have never stayed at home either. This Christmas will be no exception as we will be in Colorado with Forrest's family. This is the first year however that we haven't decorated. We just felt like for the amount of time and energy it takes we would be gone too much of the month to enjoy it. It is a little sad for me beucase I miss it all.

For me, the decorations I remember the most from childhood are two tree skirts that are decidedly out of style, but I love none the less and have inherited from my mom. There are also a few ceramic nativity pieces that my mom made for Christmas one year that I have inherited. We also had this metal mery go round nativity thing that was powered by candles, it was really cool but I have no idea who has it now. Also I have two hand made Hmong pillows that my brother picked up on his mission. I tried to give them back to him when he got married but thankfully he let me keep them. I also remember these angel pillow/dolls that my mom made. She made one for each of her kids when they were born, I have no idea who has them now.

What I have collected since I have been married... I have the Willow Tree nativity set that I love beyond words. I could leave it up year round and not get tired of looking at it or thinking about the glory of Christ's birth. We have a big ol fake tree that is cumbersome and hard to put up, it is pre lit and I would ditch it if I weren't so cheap/practical. Our unifying theme is red and silver glass (are they really galss?) balls. Then we have an eclectic mix of santas and snowmen. We also have a personalized ornament for each year that we have been married, ie "our first Christmas" "baby's first Christmas" and so on. I received my first kid made ornament from Zo today which I already love.
On "the list" of things I want to get in the future. I want a framed picture of Mary holding the Christ Child. I want lights for the house, which will never happen because Forrest refuses to put them up. I also want personalized, classy, stockings (not the fuzzy red ones with glitter paint names we had as kids). I also want a big wreath to hang on the front door and smaller matching ones for the front facing windows.

Maren said...

Our decorations have evolved over the years, and I think I'm pretty happy with where things are now. That's not to say that it's perfect, but I think it's ok.

I somewhat sheepishly admit (because I know if I don't, you'll find out anyway) that I inherited the advent calendar. It has already become very important to our December celebration. We also stick a piece of paper in each pocket with some kind of daily activity. (Like "sing 2 hymns" or "read a Christmas book" or "buy the tree" or "visit the gingerbread house exhibit in town".) Mom said Pat has one, too, and she sewed pearl buttons on it and put loops on all the onaments so you don't have to pin them all on. I did the buttons this year and replaced a few of the crumbling old ornaments with new ones. It's lovely.

You can have the jewel tree, but only because I'm holding out hope that Mom will make me my own.
I also found a very small candle-powered-carousel in a catalog once, and need to find new candles this year so we can keep using it. It's not as grand as Mom's but nice anyway. Plow and Hearth catalog has one where brass angels go around and ring brass bells. My neighbors have it, and it's nice, too. We have a few other decorations from Mom- old stuff she didn't use anymore or didn't want, like the big pillar candles with pictures sequin-pinned to them (Mary and child on a green candle and stocking with poodle on a pink one- remember?), plus the green mirror ball that plays Silent Night when you pull it down on its string. It was broken when Mom gave it to me, but I fixed it up and is one of my most precious decorations.

I always liked those 12 Days of Christmas porcelain bells Mom hung from the chandelier. I also remember how we had a strap of sleigh bells on the front door handle, and now make sure we have plenty of "door bells" at our house. They're fun for the kids, especially.

We still have our little table-top tree and it is now the ones the girls get to trim by themselves. They have a very ecclectic assortment of (mostly non-breakable) ornaments and it's lots of fun for them. They also get to help with the big tree, but it's more under my direction. I have tried to keep the things I buy for the tree in the green/red/white/silver/gold vein and keep the lights white for simplicity, but I have plenty of other colored ornaments to liven it up.

One thing that we put on the wall each year is a Santa kilim (rug) from Turkey. I'm not the hugest Santa fan, but I figure it's ok because he was Turkish. It's pretty subdued, anyway- no reindeer or sleigh or huge bag of toys. Just a few things in his hands to give away.

Our first Christmas married, I bought a grapevine wreath which had a few pine boughs and cones around the bottom of it. It was a splurge because we didn't have much to go buying decorations, but I added a bow to it and was so happy to have something to hang on our door. I've tried to add something very small to it each year and it's quite lovely now. I now buy a simple balsam wreath to go on the side door as well. I won't get into outdoor lights, but they're nice, too.

Stockings? Are we there yet?

Disco Mom said...

Mia, yes, yes and yes. Your candle merry-go-round is my german tiered carousel thingy. The candle heat makes it turn, I love that. My nativity I love is Willow Tree, same thing. So beautiful. Forrest needs to explain himself, why won't he put up lights? We have a family tradition of making stockings for each new in-law and baby. BUT, if we didn't make them by hand, it would be easy to find classy stockings to buy. I saw some gorgeous beaded satin ones today, and I found a website I've had fun looking on - some stockings I like are this, this and this. They're all fun to look at.

Disco Mom said...

Maren, you beat me to the post! We must have been composing at the same time. Stockings will be their own mini-post and I'll put a picture of Ginger's.

Disco Mom said...

p.s. you are a punk for getting the advent AND jewel tree and remembering those wonderful 12 days bells. You can keep the pillar candles, though.

kat said...

I am no crazy Carol, but I have started to expand the Christmas decorating a tad.

I still have the 2.5 foot fake tree, and dream of having room for a big real one. But until then I do still enjoy having the wee matching silver, red and glass tree. So far Katie has been respecting the 'very fragile' designations of things. We'll see how that goes.

I also love the twig ornament tree centerpiece deal I got a few years ago from our good friends at C and B. It is time for some new ornaments, however, so I too need to be spying out some deals to buy AFTER Christmas.

This year I made the ornament-a-day advent calendar. I was hoping Katie was old enough to think it's fun, and I was so right! I used the pattern of the traditional Reese tree, but sewed sequins all over the tree to look like lights, and found a cool font to cut out the numbers for the days. Took longer than I expected to sew up - OF COURSE - but I'm loving it, and I love how excited Katie gets to hang an ornament each day.

I LOVE stocking hangers, and am almost ready to build a fake mantel, just so I have a good excuse for cool stocking hangers. Of course, then I also need cool stockings to go on them. I love that you make stockings with scenes representative of each person. I would like to do that, but now the task seems daunting. My mom is still trying to get me to knit matching stockings for the new additions to the family - kids and in-laws - and so far I'm about 4 socks behind, with no desire to do them. I never liked those stockings anyways!

This year our friends gave us a wreath, and after a day I hung it on the INSIDE of the door so I can enjoy the smell and the gorgeousness of the pine/red/pine cones. No one comes to my door anyways!

And let's not forget the advent calendars my mom does for everyone in our family, as well as all the students that work in the registrar's office. Who doesn't love candy everyday?!

Margaret said...

I also got an ornament a day advent calendar this year, thank you very much Kat. I think it's awesome, but it took too many ornaments from our tree. Kalle and I do a tacky tree. It has tons of lights and every ornament I've ever received, bought or made. I love it. I put the fragile ornaments at the top and the rest at the bottom so the kitties can attack them. We don't have stockings because we always go away for Christmas, but we do have a stocking for the cats, which is hung off the kitty condo. Every wall in my living room has a bit of Christmas decoration on it.

Jenifuz said...

This year we upgraded our tree because of a great deal they had at Joann's the day after Thanksgiving. It's not great but it's pre-lit so we don't have to do as much work. We did add some colored lights to it so it's nice and bright. We've only been away for Christmas once since we've been married. Because of that we've gotten the decorating thing down. My mom collected Nativity sets from all over the world and when she died my brothers and I split them up so every year, I get out as many as I can from the 20 or so I have and put them all over my house. It's nice to see a reminder of why we have Christmas everywhere you look. We have matching glass balls on the tree but we also add a few homemade ornaments every year. The rest of the decorations have been whatever I get around to putting up. We hang some garland and a few extra lights. As a kid I remember the lights and garland on the stair banisters all the time. I loved it! I made an advent calendar that you put up a piece of the Christmas scene of Santa and his reindeer once but it's not coming out this year. I was going to design one that was the Nativity scene but I never have any time. It's fun though because as you get closer to Christmas the more detailed the picture becomes.

Maren said...

Just to clarify: I DON'T have the jewel tree, but have been sending old jewelry to Mom for years because she claims she is going to make me one on green velvet. I don't want hers, though, because I don't prefer pink lights.

Tona said...

We have now been 12+ years in the same house, so our decorations are pretty ritualized at this point.

The first thing to go up is our countdown calendar, a "clothesline" of ribbon in the kitchen and in each clothespin there is a tiny coin envelope with the date on it & something that we'll do that day. This year, for some reason, there are actually blank papers in the envelope, which is a first.

And sleighbells hung on the doorknobs - totally necessary, I love the sound when people come in and out.

Next the nativity scenes come out - we have a small ceramic handpainted one like the one we had growing up, which is one of my prize possessions. Then we were given a larger and fancier ceramic set so that one gets a whole tabletop to itself somewhere. We have a small wooden set that packs like a puzzle into its little stable box.

We also have a big family collection of nutcrackers so those are unboxed next & put on the dining room mantle. Stocking holders (big heavy brass pears with hooks) and a lighted artificial pine garland go on the living room mantle.

Window candles in every street-facing window. A lighted wreath attached to our lamp-post outside. Maybe some bush & tree lights, maybe not. Our house is set so far back it doesn't feel like I have to put on a show for the passersby. Some years I have more energy for that than others.

We also have a stack of Christmas books (including the Younce family classic Treasures of Christmas) that we put in the "reading nook"s book basket for curling up and enjoying all month long.

We also have a "kids tree" and a big tree. The kids tree is a little tabletop one & they can make decorations for it or use whatever's in the box from last year. We always have gotten a real tree. D can't get over how pricey they are now, he still thinks they should be $10. I guess it would save a lot over the years to get an artificial one. I actually tried to suggest it this year, to save on the needles all over the rug, but the kids were horrified because burning the tree in January in the yard is one of the favorite things to do (with permit from the FD, of course). Those things go up in a HUGE blaze. Mom made us a gorgeous crazy-quilt tree skirt and I almost hate to cover it with presents. Luckily we have an abundance of closets in which to stash the gifts until close to Christmas. Of course I often forget where I stashed them. Classic me.

For me also, decorating involves the smells. I have some scented candles (the big jar kind) which are just for Christmas. This year I am liking Christmas Wreath from Yankee Candle. I like the piney ones, not the cinnamon & baked goods ones.

tona said...

Are we talking about books in this post or a different one? I've got a list of my faves.

Maren said...

I really wanted a pine-scented candle this year, so I showed Laurel which one I wanted and went over it with her several times before my birthday. "Remember, Laurel, I want the pine cone candle at Agway." (Yankee's balsam and cedar.) She had it down, but when she took Quinn to the store to show him, he was horrified to see how much the big ones cost. They bought me three votives. Next year I guess I'm buying it myself.

Disco Mom said...

Maren, next year tell one of your sisters which one you like and you can get it for your birthday! Quinn can kiss my butt, they don't cost that much - shell it out for your loving wife, Mecham!

Tona, watch next post for books.

tona said...

Yeah, ditto on that, we'll get it for you. We know how much they cost but also HOW LONG THEY LAST!! You keep it out for a while then you put it away and get out another one when the season changes. It will last for a half-dozen Christmases at least.

tona said...

Had to add this one:


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