19 Dec Home for the Holidays

Last night I made the mistake of eating a handful of double-fudge Christmas cookies before going to bed. The caffeine in the rich chocolate kept me awake for hours. I didn’t exactly see visions of sugar plums – more like long to-do lists. I got our tree up fairly early this year but let other things lapse, like this blog. We learned to decorate for Christmas from our friend Scott, a Christmas expert. Scott owns a museum’s worth of vintage Christmas ornaments. He’s got many way-cool ornaments and accessories. The oddest item in his collection is an automated wood nativity scene that looks a hundred years old and has figures as big as bowling pins. Scott has schooled us in everything Christmas. When scouting for vintage glass ornaments, he instructs, look for the ones with the very thin necks – they’re the oldest (1930s or earlier). Tinsel, he tells us, used to be made of lead. Stuff like that.

Christmas experts will tell you that, to decorate your tree properly, you have to layer the ornaments, hanging them closest to the trunk, then working your way out. This gives the ornamentation “depth” and makes the tree look robust with texture and color. Garlands should be draped last. And draped, mind you, not just tossed over the branches. For the dedicated vintage Christmas fan like Scott, it can get quite complicated. Jill and I have settled on 1940-1960s lights and 1920-1960s ornaments. These make our tree look old-fashioned and motley, just the way we like to live. to see our Christmas decorations in full, go to our house site: houselove.org

It took us nearly three nights to print out, fold, write, and address our annual holiday cards. It’s the only time of the year that we allow ourselves to be so indulgent, going low-tech with snail-mail missives to friends and acquaintances. I’m not sure why we need an excuse, like the holiday season, to slow down and make contact as we never do at any other time of year. When I see friends I haven’t seen in years, I feel a firmer sense of who I am and where I’ve come from and wonder why I don’t see people more often. In lieu of a friend’s embrace, I thoroughly enjoy holding something he or she has written upon. It’s a kind of comfort that has few equals. Certainly email doesn’t come close. Phone calls are fine but, then, you don’t get to hold a phone call or set it on your bureau and glance at it every day in passing.

According to the Greeting Card Association, 90% of Americans enjoy receiving greeting cards and, apparently, that percentage of households buys greeting cards (most of which are for Christmas). I used to send cards year-round. I got into this, I suppose, by having watched my mother send and receive cards throughout the year. Her generation is big on letter and card-exchanges. My generation – the baby boomers – may be the last to pursue this old-tech communication so faithfully. I suspect younger folk send emailed animation, if anything at all. Actually, my own mother just sent me an animated email greeting yesterday. I don’t know how she got so tech savvy.

Jill and I never receive as many cards as we send. But I suspect most card-senders make the same claim. Everybody’s just too damned busy. My surmise is that most people enter the holiday season with an intention to send out lots of cards, but then life keeps getting in the way and they run out of time and then, suddenly, the holidays have passed and the cards languish among so many other good intentions at the bottom of a desk drawer. I’ve sent cards out as late as the end of January.

While some of us are decorating our houses and exchanging festive cards, others of us are scrambling to survive. Should I add “needless to say”? I’m not about to wax sermonic but I should mention that my household helper, Will, just lost his job this week. He’s upset, you can be sure. I’ve called him over to do some work around the house but I can’t give him more than one day a week. When I phoned him this morning he was “filling out applications,” he said. Jill and I will call around to see if anybody needs a reliable hand. My mother’s sending us a Christmas ham. If Will has a refrigerator, he can have the whole thing. But I suspect he doesn’t have a fridge.

May the new year bring us peace and many public projects that put the willing to work.