Decorating for the Christmas season has been a different experience for me this year. Slower, simpler and later. Much closer to the holidays than is usual for me. The urgency to fill the house with red and gold, to light every flat surface and shred of greenery with white twinkling lights, to have not one, not two, but three urns bursting with boughs, balls and birch pillars, didn’t happen.
It might be because we had our floors refinished last week. I don’t think so. Several times I retreated down the narrow stairwell, through the stone-walled ancient basement of our farmhouse, to the shelves straining to hold too many boxes of festive decorations. The black marker lettering, red tree, gold tree, mantle, warm white lights, garlands, candles, angels. I felt no intrigue, no pulse of ambition to carry them upstairs, to shift our beam-laden wooden home into a holiday postcard.
The floors are now smooth and shiny. The furniture is all back in place. The mantles are bare. The carvings, shells and favourite rocks are stored away. The mammoth fir tree has been wrestled into the house from the porch and graces the corner of our living room. The three white poinsettias also purchased two weeks ago, are doing their best to represent seasonal decorations. I’ve retrieved the red snowflake pillow and matching blanket and strewn it on the corner of the couch. Two plaid throws replace the usual cozy gold blanket and brown faux fur that the dogs love. My beloved driftwood feather display has been removed from the centre of the dining room table. Replaced with another storied centre piece. A hollow palm frond smuggled back from Spain. The perfect low vessel to line with birchbark and lay in a pine cone garland. Small white lights woven between the frosted outcroppings make it worthy of the large table.
Throughout the afternoon that I set aside to festoon the house, I am slow and clumsy, searching. The background accompaniment of Christmas music moves me forward. Twice I stop to send an audio clip of a family favourite song along with a picture of my efforts to the kids. When they were little we did this together. Now I send pictures. And sit in warm anticipation of their arrival. \
Deciding that the single tree this year will be red, with white accents, I convince my husband to help with the lights. Messy strings of tiny bulbs, heaped together in a basket, to be unwound and tested. The large extension ladder is nuzzled close to the tree, the first row draped over the hockey stick and with a gentle wrist shot, thrown around the unreachable top branches. Caught by me as I stretch upward from a precariously wobbly stool. While we’re up there, the angel is violated by the handle of the stick and positioned clumsily on the spikey peak of the tree. I’m missing the kid’s voices from below directing and critiquing. The dogs, angry with the missing cozy blankets, are ignoring us.
Despite struggling with muted energy, the tree evolves to a picture of red, white and green. I choose my favourite paper mache birds and animals to grace the mantles. Armed with a bag of battery-operated light clusters and a 24 pack of double A’s, I illuminate the mantle garlands and a single urn by the front door. Tired of the social convention of clear lights, I opt for the red, green, blue and yellow bulbs that are reminiscent of my childhood.
I haven’t combed the house and home and how to be perfect magazines, as I usually do, in preparation for the season. Instead, I open up every box in the basement and pick out what I like. I abandon the notion of what looks right. I appraise my work from a nurturing eye . . . is it pleasing to me? Words from the decluttering goddesses . . . does it bring me joy?
I’ve found freedom in slowing down and finding my own way. Listening to only my inner voice and leanings. Renouncing monochromatic themes, minimalism, and elegance. Christmas is family time. Our home will be an imperfect jumble of six people, four dogs, stockings and gifts, too much food, chaotic mornings as we head out to ski, and long evenings of card games.
The decorations will remind us of the seasonal celebration. They will bring back old memories and create new ones. The colours will add warmth and character to the rooms where we gather. I will smile at the bright red cardinals clipped to the tree branches, the owl nestled in the boughs above the blazing fire, and the multicoloured lights on the outside wreath. Happy with my choices. Blessed to share them with my family.
At least, that is my experience.