Advent, My Way #9

Vintage Polish ornaments.

Toy trains.

Nutcrackers.

This is the stuff of which Christmas collections are made.

It seems that Christmas decorating lends itself to themes, to the collection of lots of a particular kind of decoration.

So many different kinds of decorations are available, maybe it’s inevitable that we must make choices and collect one kind of ornament, whether for the tree or for the mantle or the sideboard.

Maybe it grows out of a childhood fascination, as with toy trains. Maybe it’s an extension of another passion or hobby. I knew a woman who collected pigs, in all forms, throughout the year, and her Christmas tree was a spectacular piggy fest.

It’s no different at our house. Our Christmas décor, while eclectic, still features certain collections.

For atheists, we have a peculiar number of nativity crèches.

We have an inordinate number of tree decorations that have an Adirondack, outdoorsy look to them.

But the favorite collection, the one that comes out every year, even when we are pretending Christmas is just another day, is the collection of Santas.

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They line the mantle. They gaze out at us with their impassive, nonjudgmental eyes.

I like them because they are folky-looking—not too shiny bright. I like them because they represent things we care about—they are diverse and represent many lands. We have Santas that represent Haiti, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, many places.

The dark faces fit among the white ones.

 

Others are tied to our region and to our college alma mater.

I like them because they bring their pets, to visit ours. Of course Santa would care as much for animals as for people.

I like them for many reasons.

I love them because of what Santa represents—a kindly soul who, somehow, knows what each of us desires most, in our heart of hearts, and brings it to us and leaves it without expecting or wanting anything in return . . .

Our Santas have not taken their place yet this year.* That should happen this weekend. When each one comes out of his box, we’ll greet him like the old friend he is and place him carefully among his fellows.

They will remind us that we already have our hearts’ desire, everything that’s really important, and we need nothing more from them, none of their presents.

Just their presence.

I imagine some of you will be spending the weekend in similar ways—unwrapping ornaments that delight you, finding some you had forgotten about and will fall in love with anew.

Of all your decorative Christmas items, is there a collection, or even just one special ornament, without which Christmas would not be complete?

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* The photos come from a previous post. I like the Santas so much, I just keep writing about them! It wouldn’t be advent with them.

Advent, My Way #7

It’s time to decorate for Christmas!

You bring out the ornaments—the ones your kids made when they were little, the ones you were given the year you bought your first house, the ones you made from something you saw on Pinterest.

You find the wreath and tartan ribbons and lights for the tree.

You dig out every candle you own and the candlesticks and that special plate for Santa’s cookies.

Of course, you’d never forget the special Christmas stockings, to be hung by the chimney with care.

But what about books? So many of you love books—do you have special books that come out just for the holiday season? Books to re-read, books that are beautiful, books that, for you, are the essence of what the season means?

In our usual minimalist planning for Christmas, I don’t think about this kind of detail. But there are three books that I will run across occasionally during the year that make me think, “Damn. I should put that out at Christmas—I love that book.”

And this year, I’m remembering!

The book I love the most is this one.

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My sister and I grew up in that era when it seems that every kid took piano lessons.

I didn’t care much for the lessons and never learned to play the piano very well—it seems one was expected to practice between the weekly lessons!

But this little book of Christmas music moves me no end.

It sort of captures what Christmas looked like in the early 1960s. I swear, in that era, Santa and the reindeer were not as plump and cutesy and cartoon-ish as they have become.

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It has my grandmother’s handwriting on the cover. I love seeing the unique handwriting of people I’ve lost from my life.

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It has the songs that I loved best then and the ones that still hit me in the solar plexus now. They’re all here: Silent Night, Away in the Manger, The First Noel, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

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And it has a few that make me smile now, even though I paid no attention to them then.

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It also displays my incredible artistic talent and vision, as I used it as a coloring book. I liked coloring better than playing the piano. (That got me in trouble when I colored the libretto from my mother’s recording of Carmen . . . )

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So, the music book will sit out this year, on a music stand because we don’t have a piano any longer. Seeing it will remind me of a simple time, loving family, the moving melodies of Christmas, and of my sweet, magical childhood.

And, I’ll ask it again. What about books? You love books—do you have special books that come out just for the holiday season? Books to re-read, books that are beautiful, books that, for you, are the essence of what the season means?

Advent, My Way #2

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As luck would have it, the quilt on my quilting frame right now is red and white, perfect for this time of year!

I like the traditional colors of Christmas best–the white of pure, new snow, the red of a feisty Cardinal, the green of pine boughs.

If you celebrate Christmas, what colors do you favor? Or do you celebrate a different winter holiday, with its own traditional colors?

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From the Permanent Collection: The Holiday Linens

IMG_3050One of the best things about the holiday season, to me, is seeing how people choose to decorate their homes. I really believe that, when you show me how you decorate, you tell me who you are.*

Do you buy new ornaments every year and switch up your color theme? Do you have a white tinsel tree that channels the 1970s? Are your most-treasured ornaments those that your children made of pipe cleaners and marshmallows?

Christmas trees, and holiday decorations, in general, seem autobiographical to me, as if our personalities are imprinted in our choices. And, I expect, a lack of holiday frippery sends a message about our priorities, too.

It probably will come as no surprise that at home, here at Love Those Hands at Home, we tend toward the vintage, the handmade, the natural. I am in no way suggesting that our choices are the best or the prettiest or to be emulated—just that they are highly predictable, when you know the people who live here.

The handmade ornaments will have to wait for another year to have their story told—I had not world enough or time to fit them in this year, alongside the candy and other priorities.

But the red and white vintage linens have made their annual appearance, and they tell a large part of the story of who I am at the holidays.

I value traditional, old-school, quality. All the holiday linens in my permanent collection are red and white. It’s the classic color combination of the winter holidays for me, evoking peppermint sticks and holly berries against the snow. It hints at Santa, an ideal of generosity and giving we can embrace, even if we don’t share points of view about miracle births in mangers.

I love this long, long piece of fabric.

IMG_3059It is heavy and sturdy, of fine quality. It was probably originally sold as yard goods–the pattern repeats regularly and, if cut and hemmed, each piece would be the size of a dishtowel. In its length and understated elegance, it serves as a mantel cloth here every year.

IMG_4153I love this hand-embroidered runner, with dark red and pink pinecones.

IMG_3077It was made by hand, not by a family member of mine, but by someone’s mother or grandmother. The careful work seems symbolic of all handwork done to add color and vivacity to plain cloth.

IMG_3218And I love this exquisite show towel.

IMG_3069It is ostentatious and would’ve been purchased and displayed, never used to dry hands, to make a statement about the wealth and superior taste of the owner. It’s not those characteristics of the towel that appeal to me, though. It is, simply, the quality and beauty.

This towel is finest-quality linen, almost crispy, with a glorious sheen on the natural-colored fibers. The bands of red add interest and depth. The fringe is as showy and untangled as the day the towel was made. The intricate weaving shows wildlife, both in the red bands and, more subtly, in the tone-on-tone field of natural linen. Sheer vintage linen perfection.

IMG_3075These linens come out every year, as reliably as the Christmas stocking my husband stitched for me and the wreath on the lighthouse outside.

IMG_3130When they have been ironed and placed where they show to advantage, I feel my house reflects my taste and my values.

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Are there holiday decorations that communicate about your closely-held values?

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* This is to borrow liberally from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who observed, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” I believe that is true, too!

Christmas Senses: The Smell of Oranges and Cloves

IMG_4089I like my Christmas to smell.

Yes, I want to see bright lights and colors, as well as snow on the ground. I want the taste of peppermint and the feel of flannel PJs but mostly I love the smells I associate with the winter holidays.

You probably know the smells I mean. Evergreen boughs. Cookies baking. A wood fire. Caramel and chocolate and mint.

And the best smell of all, to my way of thinking—oranges studded with cloves.

Every year at this time, my husband gets a big bag of oranges and a big jar of whole cloves and makes pomanders while he watches football on TV.

He has done this for many years and, because the cloves dry and preserve the oranges, we probably have pomanders around here that are older than some of you!

Pomanders make a wonderful addition to holiday decorating.  They are natural and rustic and nostalgic but can also look quite modern, with the geometric design and bright contrast of colors.

And they are very easy to make. And pretty inexpensive. And they last, it seems, forever. You can even put them out in the fall and leave them out all winter because they don’t scream “Christmas.”

But, really, we make them mostly for that heavenly, spicy, zippy smell of bright citrus mixed with exotic clove.

Are you ready to start?

IMG_4061You’ll need:

Oranges—get small to medium ones. They don’t have to be perfect and expensive. Save your money for the zester (see below).

Whole cloves—don’t buy these in the little tins in the baking aisle, unless you only want to make one or two pomanders—they’re expensive that way! Try a restaurant supply store or a place like Sam’s Club, or order online, where you can find a whole pound for about $15-20. That big jar in the photos holds 11 ounces and has lasted a long time.

You won’t need but you’ll want:

A good zester—you can make pomanders by sticking holes in the orange with a skewer and putting cloves in the holes. But my husband’s method is so quick and sensible that, if you’re serious about this, you should consider it. He uses a heavy-duty zester—the brand is Rosle. This zester sells for about $25, which, I admit, is a crazy price for such a tool but it makes this job so easy! And I’m sure you occasionally want zest for a cocktail or something, right? Or is that just me?

To make your pomanders, use the larger hole on the side of the zester, called a channel, to carve a design in the orange. It’s very sharp so you can easily do stripes or swirls or spirals or a happy face. You can probably do monograms if you choose! Be sure to carve enough lines for a lot of cloves—remember you’re trying to preserve the oranges.

IMG_4072Once you have the design carved, stick the pointy ends of the cloves as far as they’ll go into the white pith of the orange. The cloves should go in close to each other, almost touching. Don’t be stingy—remember you’re trying to preserve the oranges!

IMG_4077How easy is that?

So easy that, while you’re doing all this, you’ll have plenty of time to breathe deeply. Smell that wonderful smell. Finish one pomander and make another. And another. Tuck them into baskets and bowls and tie ribbons around them and hang them from a wreath or a tree.

IMG_4092You may find it quite addicting! And next year, you’ll make new ones to nestle up against the ones from this year. The old ones will be dried out and a little pale and not as fragrant but, hey, that happens to all of us eventually!

IMG_4073Pretty soon you’ll have generations of pomanders and a new family tradition. Start now!

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One more thing—don’t throw the little scraps of orange rind and broken cloves away!

IMG_4100Put them in a sauce pan on your stove with some water and maybe a cinnamon stick and let it all simmer. Pay attention and add more water when needed and fill your home with the smell of Christmas!

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