Sunday, November 29, 2009


This is the time of year when I look at all the catalogs and commercials enviously, thinking how nice it would be to have this or that. Wouldn't it be fun to shop for new Christmas ornaments and decorations, find just the right festive handmade gift on etsy, or buy cute holiday clothing before the actual holiday?

I visit my friends' houses and see their holiday decorations tastefully sprinkled throughout. Their decorations seem to have a home - they fit with the rooms, with their lives. I doubt any of them have to scrub the cat hair off of the baseboards before they put up their trees. And we seem to be the only ones who have a ton of Christmas decorations but no flat surfaces to put them on ... our everyday stuff expands instantaneously to fill every available open space, so a table can be clean at noon and full to overflowing by dinnertime.

And then I read "my" blogs, the ones I subscribe to, written (mostly) by crafty ladies I admire. Their families celebrate simply, bypassing the mall for the handmade, trading the tinsel for a warm fire and good friends. The decorations their children make are adorable, and take center stage in their holiday scenes. Their photos of their holiday preparations practically glow with love and warmth and intention, making the commercial holiday onslaught seem that much more tacky.

They make advent calendars from toilet paper tubes and used security-printed envelopes, and they look adorable. Some skip Christmas and celebrate Solstice instead. They hand-make each and every gift they give, and they never report anyone complaining and asking for a gift card next year.

And each year, I have to decide who I'm going to be this year. Mall rat? Decorator? Crunchy granola matriarch? Part of me wants to do each. I want the thrill of the hunt, and the chance to be the one who finds the perfect, over-the-top gift for each person. I want to have the cozy, glowing home with tasteful decorations that photograph well. I want to skip the craziness, make hot cocoa, and tell stories by the fire.

When we moved to this house almost three years ago, I had to face up to the fact that the decorating strategies I had used at the house in Kentucky just weren't going to work here. Our house is 1,000 square feet smaller than the one in Kentucky, for one thing, and it's a totally different style. A brass hunting horn on the wall in Kentucky looks festive - but on the wall of a 1970s split level in Cleveland, it looks ridiculous. So we've been weeding through the decorations each year, sending some on their way to Goodwill and keeping the ones that fit best. Wreaths that used to hang in every front window of our house with a candle burning every night of the holiday season? Gone, because we have a total of 1 window on the front of this house. Icicle lights we used to hang along the straight front roof of the house? Gone, because they inexplicably have burned out at both ends but shine in the middle 1/3, so even if I wanted to use the tangly little bastards, they'd look dumb.

I think this year we'll be paring down the candle selection, seeing as how many of them date to before we were married, and they just sort of sit randomly around the house not looking particularly decorative for a month before we put them back in the box in the attic. I've got to do something about the Advent Calendar Situation, as well, since I've got several paper ones that I had when I was a kid, plus the Pooh one I bought in college, plus the one I cross-stitched, plus a new Playmobil one for this year. And the kid is only interested in them for the first four or five days, anyway.

I'm going to try to continue the handmade gift thing. We made it through the gift exchange with the in-laws already, which is half the battle. And I did manage to find some pretty kick-ass gifts for the kids we buy for who I know won't appreciate a quirky handmade anything. But I honestly don't know what I can make for Liza that she'd actually appreciate as much as she would a new set of Tinkertoys or a dress-up skirt that plays the Nutcracker music. I'm even coming up blank on etsy ... but maybe something will turn up.

So tell me, what do you do to celebrate the holidays? Are you a decorator? A mall rat? A crunchy granola parent? We want details!


mlf said...

This is the time of year when it is great to be Jewish!

Oh, wait, instead of one set of presents we have to get 8 sets of presents for each night of Hannukah. Plus another set of presents when we visit my folks on Christmas. So I need to find 9 presents for my wife. Plus another 9 presents from each of the kids. With 3 kids... oy vey that's a lot of presents.

At least we can avoid some of the mishegas of the seasonal expectation. The 10 year old is requesting underwear and long pants for December peak retail season. The 7 year old is fascinated by the concept of rocks that burn and would love to get some coal. Their expectations are well matched to reality.

Anonymous said...

guess i'm a decorator. if it doesn't move, it gets decorated. if my DH is napping in a chair, he's in danger of waking up festooned with baubles. i fling festive fripperies with abandon everywhere for the holi-daze! tastefully, of course...

love, love, love this time of year. it's even more fun with the grandchildren, to watch thru their eyes at the magic of the season.

mlf said...

The more honest answer to your question is that we are a hodge-podge of crunchy and mall rat.

For friends and coworkers, we are making seasoned salt (named Savannah Salt with pictures of elephants) as well as flavored olive oil (nothing says Hannukah like olive oil) to give away this year.

As well as getting the BlueRay player and a sharp kitchen knife.