I realize this is two weeks after Christmas, but it is 12th night so I guess I am still in keeping with the Holiday Season.
I often hear folks repeatedly say that they hate Christmas - the gift giving, the music, the TV shows, crabby shoppers, and even the religious aspect. I also hear folks say that Christmas is never like what is portrayed in books, movies, or Currier and Ives & Norman Rockwell paintings.
Why, then, is Christmas at my circa 1944 bungalow house "just like the ones we used to know?" Why have I had numerous friends tell me that a visit to our house "makes their Christmas"?
I'm not being boastful here, just truthful.
If you haven't figured out by now, I absolutely love the Christmas Season. And I do my best to make it what I want it to be. This means, to me, giving it that old-time look and feel that people only dream about. I do this through a number of different means.
First off is the music. As I have written in a previous blog, I choose period-sounding old-world Christmas music, usually performed on authentic antique instruments such as a forte' piano, hammered dulcimer, fiddle, music box, and the like. Cd's of this type are readily available at Amazon.
Next comes the candles. When I was a child, my mother would begin to light candles right after Labor Day ended. It gives any home - no matter how recently built - that old-timey look.
Decorations...this is a tuffy. We have a mix of 19th and 20th century in our Christmas decor: garland around the ceiling with tiny lights inside, for instance, hangs in our living room and kitchen. Also, on our computer desk we have an antique (circa 1950) nativity scene. I also have a few of my Dickens Department 56 lighted houses on the piano - modern, yes, but they have that old, traditional look and feel. Now, in our back gathering room, we have our candle and electrically lit spruce Christmas tree, freshly cut down by my eldest in early December, with very period-looking decorations, including popcorn (not real but very real looking). I put up greenery (traditional cedar) without any sort of lighting attached throughout this room, and have my beeswax candles with the glass globe coverings on our table and mantle. Another manger scene, a nutcracker, and an old world Santa Claus completes the picture.
There are so many "Hallmark" Christmas decorations out there that many woman (sorry - not sexist, but that's who I have seen purchase most of them) just have to buy. Items like singing Christmas Trees, wreaths that speak, or the silly flags that show a snowman hanging from the front porch do not make for a traditional Christmas. I'll be honest, I personally do not even consider them cute. Now, I will admit to having a singing Christmas Homer Simpson, but he is kept near our very modern TV. And that's where he stays.
Greenfield Village has a wonderful tradition of presenting "Holiday Nights," where folks can visit the open-air museum at night and see homes of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and how they would have been decorated (or not decorated, in some instances) during their time. (hint: this is where so many of my ideas have come from)
The Holly Dickens Festival is a fun way to spend a day as well, cavorting with the characters right out of Dickens' story and hearing Christmas music new and old performed live by singers and choirs. And the authentic Victorian setting of the beautiful Village of Holly cannot be beat. This festival is absolutely FREE!
The Crocker House in Mt. Clemens (built in 1869) has a Wallow and Wassail every year, with a minimal cost, that brings Christmas "home," so to speak, by way of roasting chestnuts on an open fire, live music (including a traditional pump organ and singing), great traditional food, homemade sugar plums, and, once again, a period atmosphere.
If you do not live in the Detroit area, I would bet there are similar events that take place in your area as well. A quick search of your newspaper or a call to some of the city halls in your area can direct you. Or, start one of your own. Yes, it is a lot of work, but the end result can be quite satisfying.
Christmas shopping does not have to be a chore. In fact, it can be quite fun. Here's what we do - first off, set a cost limit, and not too high, either, and make sure you stick with it. Second, make most, if not all, of your purchases on line. Amazon and eBay are my two favorite places to shop. You can get great items at a very low cost. We have been able to get twice as many things for us and our kids than if we went to the mall. And, that's the best part - you don't have to go to the mall!!
Another tradition, modern in a traditional sense, is to watch classic movies. I especially love Dickens "A Christmas Carol," and watch several versions AND read the book yearly. Great Victoriana.
At our house, Christmas dinner is eaten strictly by candle light. Being that we are Civil War reenactors, many times we will eat while wearing our period clothing. Talk about having the "look"! But, even without the old-time clothing, the candle-lit dinner certainly is an awesome atmosphere. And, having soft hammered dulcimer music playing in the background (the stereo is in another room) adds greatly to the desired effect. And, try some period food and drink - it wouldn't be Christmas at our house without my wife's wassail, a traditional Christmas/12th Night drink. You can add 'spirits' if you desire, for a more authentic taste.
And when gift opening time comes around, take your time and take turns, allowing one person to open one gift at a time per round. This way, everyone has the opportunity to enjoy everyone else's treasures. Yes, this can work with young children as well. Be a parent to them and insist that this is the way it will be done.
Don't forget the most important part of the Holiday: please take time - whether you attend church or not - to spend with the One Who's birth we are celebrating. Read the biblical passage of Jesus' birth (Luke 2: 1-20) if you are homebound, if for no one else's than for your own sake.
Oh, one more thing- do not be afraid to say "Merry Christmas."
Christmas can be what you want it to be, with minimal costs. Yes, you may initially get a few off-handed remarks (especially from family members), but they, too, will learn to appreciate what you have done for them.
Now, print this blog and place it where you won't forget it for next year.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Wassail to you all on this 12th Night!