Deck the Halls
December is my favorite month of the year. It is filled with hope and promise and generosity in ways that far exceed commercial adaptations. It is when we express our love for one another in ways that range from simple and heartfelt to extraordinary and excessive. Our circumstances may have changed (lingering COViD and selling our home), but our attitudes are still the same. We are blessed beyond measure and cherish each day. Joy to the World, it’s Christmas!
Our preparations for the holiday typically begin the day after Thanksgiving as we bring out the decorations and start dressing up the house. Over a period of several days, our home comes alive with festive colors, lights, and fragrances. Christmas trees, tablescapes, and exterior decorations come first, followed by holiday baking and menu planning.
When we lived in the big house, I decorated three Christmas trees, 1) the living room tree with precious family ornaments 2) the dining room ‘peace, love, joy’ tree with all gold ornaments and 3) the loft ‘Beanie Baby’ tree. Now that we are sharing a much smaller space with my MIL, adjustments have been made.
This year we decorated the slim seven-foot fake tree, (that used to hold my daughter’s collection of Beanie Babies), with an assortment of ornaments from my MIL’s sixty + year old collection. Her ornaments were stored sixteen years ago when she changed her tradition from Christmas tree to Christmas Village. Watching her memories come alive as we carefully unpacked each piece was a welcome gift.
The Peace, Love, Joy tree that I used to set up in the dining room of the old house has always been considered ‘my tree’ and has been a part of our Christmas decorations for many years. Some of the ornaments were gifts from my daughter and a few came from friends, but mostly I have hand-picked each one of them for what they represent. That tree represents all that Christmas means to me and is filled with hearts, angels, flowers, and unique pieces that make me smile. The box they get packed away in each year somehow managed to not make it to the storage unit 🙂
On The Table
The dining table decorations are a combination of a few of my things and my MIL’s dishes. The table won’t be as elaborate as in the past, but it is still pretty. Notice the top right of the photo to get a little peek at the scaled-down version of Nana’s Christmas Village. There was no room at the inn (as they say) for all seventy-five + pieces this year, so she chose a few favorites and we made them a part of the dining room display. Once again, changing and adapting to our new living arrangement.
The china plates are from my 92-year-old MIL’s wedding set, as are the monogrammed champagne glasses. The gold water goblets are a recent purchase from Homegoods and the rest of the pieces came from another box that didn’t quite make it to storage. Fresh flowers and candles complete the setup.
Our Christmas plate is mostly the same year after year – Individual Beef Wellington with a side of something green and potatoes. We change out the side dishes, appetizers, salad, soup, and dessert from year to year, but the Wellington is a constant. When it works, don’t fix it. Click the link on the photo for the recipe we use. The traditional Wellington is made with liver pate, but the mushrooms used in this recipe suit our ‘picky’ kids.
Christmas dinner is usually served in six courses, starting with cocktails and a cheese plate, followed by an appetizer, soup, salad, main plate, and dessert. Prep happens at least a day and sometimes several days before Christmas. Our key to a stress-free meal is to create a timeline, divide responsibilities, and maintain a steady but comfortable pace.
Dinner begins around 6:00 on Christmas day and will last well into the evening. Just in case you haven’t already figured it out, FOOD is clearly our love language, not only at Christmas but at any time of year.
Desserts are a big part of our Christmas celebration but there are no particular favorites that get invited for a repeat performance. Malcolm will make sure there is something delicious for everyone. Panacotta, coconut cake, cranberry cheesecake, chocolate in many forms…it’s all good. Given that whatever he makes will taste great, my only requirement is that it also looks beautiful on display!
Of course, our glass is always full of something festive and delicious. We will serve a variety of drinks throughout the course of this month as we host friends and family in our home.
honored commanded tradition is to ‘get dressed’ for dinner. There are no sweat pants, jeans, or flip-flops permitted at the table. Dressed in Florida means comfortable, but casual. I also use this occasion to nab a few photos by the Christmas tree, so it is nice to have everyone looking like we’ve at last managed a shower in between cooking and binge-watching Christmas movies! Love Actually, Die Hard, A Christmas Story…what’s your favorite?
Malcolm grew up in Philadelphia and has celebrated many white Christmases, but I have never known anything but a Florida Christmas. Temperatures in December range from 60 degrees to over 80 throughout the month, but the heat does not wilt our Christmas spirit. If it gets too hot to enjoy a steaming cup of cocoa, we just crank down the AC until all is well. Light displays, open-air concerts, golf car parades, tree lightings; we do it all in shorts and flip flops. Palm Trees wrapped in lights and pots of bromeliads or poinsettias stacked into Christmas tree shapes are normal sightings in our area.
Our family opted out of the commercial side of gift exchanges several years ago, but Malcolm and I still love sharing gifts from our kitchen with friends and neighbors. Past homemade gifts have included vanilla flavoring made with fresh vanilla beans and vodka, cranberry biscotti, apple sauce, Bailey’s Irish Creme Liquor, and of course, cookies.
We will continue that tradition this year, along with our annual donation to a local toy drive and our community food bank. In years past, I have participated in random acts of kindness throughout the month of December. Here are a few of my favorite ideas, just in case you are looking for ways to give a simple, but meaningful gift.
- Buy a stranger a cup of coffee
- Take cookies to a neighbor
- Leave quarters at random in a laundromat (I taped them to Christmas cards)
- Compliment a stranger
- Hide cash in toy bins at the local thrift mart
- Pay the toll for the person behind you at the toll booth
- Drop off sweets at the local fire station
- Tip your hair dresser, nail technician, etc. beyond the usual amount
- Spend time with an elderly person
- Make a festive floral arrangement for a friend or neighbor
- If the climate where you live is cold at Christmas, donate warm clothing, coats, gloves and blankets to a shelter
- Send Christmas cards with a personal handwritten message
- Smile and offer a kind word – always
Being with our family and expressing the love in our hearts, in ways that are individual and enjoyable while reaching out to others is what Christmas means to us. December presents a slightly polished version of who we are and how we live our lives throughout the year but if you can’t put your best foot forward now, when should you?
Over the next few weeks, we will be listening to lots of beautiful Christmas music and we all have our favorite songs, but I will leave you with this one.
Many thanks to Donna, Deb, Sue, and Jo for supplying the questions that prompted this post. If you would like to participate in the Festive Bonbon challenge, please click the highlighted link.