Friday, December 13, 2013

How We Do Christmas On the Doorstep

It's difficult for me to write Christmas decor blog posts, and not because I dislike Christmas. I like Christmas quite a lot. But I like it in small, controlled doses, and you might have noticed that Christmas doesn't generally come in that size any more.

Those small controlled doses don't translate well into Holiday Super-Blogger-Ama of craft projects, decor ideas, and food, and so I always feel a bit......well, inadequate to producing seasonal magic.

But that's comparing myself to how others choose to celebrate, and that way lies dissatisfaction. And overall grumpiness. Also, I have no Scrooge-y wish to rain on somebody else's holiday parade. If anyone enjoys hauling 35 storage containers of garland out of the garage attic every November, more jingle to them. I mean that. Really. Just don't ask me to understand it.

So what do we do around here? I thought about this a lot as the boys and I were doing our annual festive foofing last weekend. I realized we have five basic guiding principles for holiday decor.

1. We concentrate on a few spots instead of the whole house

Last year's post-holiday vintage score. It's already shedding, but I love it!

From the standpoint of personal taste, having every available surface covered in holiday knick-knackery makes me feel anxious, and like I need to dust. From a practical standpoint, because I'm a working single mom I don't have a ton of time to decorate, and I don't have a ton of time to put it all away in January. We put up a tree in the front window of our living room. We decorate the living room credenza, the fireplace mantel, and maybe one other horizontal surface (this year, it was the dining room buffet). Aside from a few small touches elsewhere, like holiday kitchen linens, this is it. It's doable in an afternoon, or broken up into smaller segments if the schedule demands. And in a house my size, it's plenty.

2. We build our collections one or two pieces at a time

I'd rather have quality than quantity, and so I tend not to go to discount stores and buy gobs of cheap tinselly stuff, even if it's a "bargain." Every time I have I've tended to regret it. So I buy one or two things--usually vintage--that I love each year. Limiting it tends to make me wait until I know I really love it before I buy, like the green and gold garland, above, that I purchased this year, and the embroidered runner underneath (it's called Hardanger work) that I found years ago. Going slowly also means I know when to stop. I have a collection of vintage bottlebrush trees that I love. But when they filled the fireplace mantel, I knew I had enough of them.

3. We use what we have

We aren't the type of people who shift entire rooms of furniture and clear entire horizontal surfaces of all the everyday decor items. Our holiday decoration collections are small because I multitask our everyday stuff. I love the color green and lucky me, it's a Christmas color. Adding some holiday silk greenery to the Royal Copley vases that always live on the mantel is quick and simple. The gilt sunburst clock already looks holiday-worthy (The red ball ornament is just me feeling silly). There's plenty of vintage stuff in the house--milk glass, green pressed glass, chippy old china-- which will work as Christmas decor, isn't plastic, and is flexible enough to use in different ways during the season and throughout the rest of the year too.

4. We don't do themes

While I do try to keep a few things consistent across holiday decor items, like lots of green and gold, we don't like themed trees. They seem department-store sterile to us, and we'd rather have our tree crammed with all the ornaments collected over the years, from the lumpy purple glitter pine cone Noah made in preschool to the fragile blown glass memento from the Henry Ford Museum. All of them-- elegant, homely, homemade or purchased with someone's personality in mind-- are meaningful and sentimental. That means a lot more to me than carrying through a color scheme of the year. The ones in the photo above I made from antique postcards and trims from the children's great-grandmother's sewing box. While holiday crafting doesn't happen every year, we love that those homemade ornaments add a very personal family signature to our tree.

5. We start when we want to, and pack it up when we want to

My favorite holiday, the one I throw my soul and effort into, is Thanksgiving. I can really get behind a holiday that is about gratitude and over-consumption of carbohydrates and butter. I like the colors of the harvest time of year. I want to linger in that late autumn stage as long as possible. It's not complicated by the angst and pressure of gift giving, or by elaborate decorating schemes. People are happy with a few pumpkins and drawings of hand turkeys.

The only way retail has managed to make any inroads to commercializing Thanksgiving is by trying to shoulder it out of the way with the holiday they already have a firm stranglehold upon: Christmas. It's the one thing I get sour about.

I generally don't get my Christmas things out until the weekend after Thanksgiving. It seems a little late compared to the annual retail jump-the-gun, but it gives me a little space between the two, a little breather before I jump into the next thing. I need that.

I always wrap things up by Twelfth Night, or the Feast of Epiphany, which is Jan. 6. In some cultures it's bad luck to have the tree up past that day. For me it's not so much about superstition, but about it being enough. Four to five weeks of Christmas is enough for me. Enough to feel satisfied, but not so much it overwhelms, or loses it's specialness.

Do you have any holiday decorating philosophy? What makes you happiest?


I've been pretty spotty on posts for the last few months, but I'll be around more in the next few weeks. I have a small project to share and I'm looking forward to getting back into my blog writing more regularly. Thanks for waiting around for me and checking back! 


  1. Your philosophy is just like mine. Never before Thanksgiving (also my favorite holiday). No themed trees, ever. Unfolds slowly. If I have to give a whole afternoon up to it, I feel Grinchy. Simpler every year. Less is more.

    Glad to hear you'll be posting more--love seeing what you've been doing.

    1. I hope it's a relaxing and Merry Christmas for you too, Rita!

  2. I am SO with you on this.....I really LOVE Christmas, but honestly there is only so much decorating I can do! I am NOT going to shift my entire house around and spend days upon days decorating only to spend days upon days packing it all up again. We decorate like you - with touches here and there.....and to me it is just perfect!

    Merry Christmas!!!