Monday, December 13, 2010

Olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share...

Like the lyrics to the beautiful song by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi, the winter holidays evoke memories and dreams more than any other time of year. I suppose this goes back to ancient times when humankind hunkered down and nestled in for the winter season, replacing the vigorous activity of farm and field for the introspection of fireside warmth.  For me, Christmas is a time of dispensation, when the normal pattern of everyday life is briefly dusted with magic, and we indulge in traditions that cheer us and give reassurance against the dark and cold beyond our walls. Little Augury recently posted some of her favorite Christmas traditions, and requested some from her readers. Herewith, my own “Top Ten” cherished holiday rites:

1) A Christmas tree, decked with treasured ornaments that each have a story. The cloudy, craquelured glass balls from my childhood are among the most cherished.
Our Christmas tree, c. 1953

2) The Manger. Having been raised Roman Catholic, the Manger scene will forever be integral to my Christmas. My Mother’s set goes under our tree, and I temporarily displace some books to make an arrangement in the library of the well-worn figures that were under my Grandparent’s tree during my childhood.
My Mother's manger set from the 1970's. The sugar angels are c. 1965.
3)  My annual Christmas card. I believe I’ve missed only one year out of the 39 or so that I’ve been doing this, starting when my children were small. The cards used to be individually hand-made, but as my painted or collaged designs got more elaborate, I started having them color-copied. I still assemble the cards by hand.
lino block print, 1970

Paper collage card, 2007
4) Decorating to the hilt! I love the annual transformation of my home into a holiday house with something special to see at every turn:  little surprises tucked on bookshelves and table-tops, greens, berries and poinsettia blossoms (mostly artificial but still beautiful) garlanding door frames and mirrors, as well as our annual Nutcracker display. The topiary trees at each end were made by me, using moss harvested from the lawn of our German apartment building, c. 1995. They have been part of my Christmas decorating ever since.
The Nutcracker collection, 2006

5) Baking. Everyone knows that goodies you eat during the holiday season will never cause you to gain weight. Right?

6) Christmas Eve dinner with family at the home of my cousin and her husband.

7) My musical friends’ annual Christmas party, which always culminates in everyone gathering round the grand piano in their Victorian parlor, to sing Christmas carols, loudly and lustily, accompanied by flute and trombone (played by father and son, respectively.) 

8) The Victorian Christmas house tour in Old Allegheny West, an enclave of lovingly-preserved Victorian houses on Pittsburgh’s North Side. I discovered this wonderful event a decade ago when I saw an article about it in House and Garden magazine.

From the 2007 Victorian Christmas House Tour

9) Gluhwein! What the Germans drink to keep warm during outdoor winter events, such as Christmas markets. I will soon be enjoying some here at home. One does not, of course, buy the prepared bottled stuff. First, you make a mull with lemon, orange, cinnamon, clove and other aromatic goodies, sweetened with sugar or honey, simmered for awhile (filling the house with incredible aroma) then add red wine and heat, very gently, so as not to burn off any merry-making molecules, and serve. Good cheer indeed! A must while out on the nighttime patio viewing the December star-scape.

10) Elizabeth’s bears. My soon-to-be-84 year old Mother has been collecting teddy-bears (for affection, not value) for quite awhile now. At Christmas, the entire collection makes its annual appearance all around the house. 

Wishing all of you the happiest of holidays, and may you enjoy just rewards for all the hard work I know you you've put forth to make them special!

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