The True Spirit of Christmas

There’s something so touching about Christmas trees.  It’s not just the beauty of the lights and the ornaments.  It’s the tradition of creating a beautiful display that stands for something bigger than ourselves:  a renewal of light and love, and the memories of all the Christmases that we’ve enjoyed through the years.

The display above is one I did several years ago, inspired by a Russian Folk Tale called The Snow Maiden.  You can see her silhouetted in the white cathedral between the trees.  It celebrates my Russian heritage, which makes it all the more special to me and my family.

Something I look forward to each year is decorating a tree for the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s Festival of Trees.  More than 80 brilliantly decorated trees designed by local merchants, non profit organizations, community members, school children and artists are displayed at the museum at 13 Broad Street from November 30 through December 31st.

This year, I indulged my love of dogs:  all kinds, from Poodles to Bassett Hounds to Golden Retrievers!  The tree celebrates all things doggy, everything from paw print ribbons cascading through the greenery to a dog’s best friend, his bone.

It’s all great fun, and a delight to be involved with so many creative and talented people at the museum.  I hope you’re able to make a visit this year!  Learn more at the Nantucket Historical Association’s website.

 

I’d like to share a story with you that means a great deal to me.  About 12 years ago, my good friend Theo, who lives in Switzerland, told me about a Christmas with his family. The Swiss celebrate on Christmas Eve, when they decorate the tree together, light candles, open gifts and enjoy a sumptuous meal.  His son (also Theo) had just come home from college for the Christmas holidays.

Soon after their celebration began, Theo, Jr. explained that the local butcher and wife were closing their mom and pop store and tonight was their last night in business.  A new “chain store” had come in, and was slowly but surely ending their village life as they knew it.

“We all have so much,” he said.  “I’d like to return all of our gifts, and give the money to the butcher.”

The family quickly tallied up the value of all the presents and were shocked at the total. Theo, Sr. came up with a couple of thousand in cash to match the amount.  As a family, they all went to the butcher’s shop that night and presented their gift.  You can imagine the scene:  tears of joy and overwhelm from the butcher and his wife.  Everyone felt complete peace as they walked back home in the snow.

The very next Thanksgiving, I discussed this story with my family and we were inspired to make some changes to our own holiday. We wanted to create a celebration with meaning, rather than just gift-giving.  We agreed that children should still receive gifts, to commemorate the Three Wise Men and the Christ Child.  Anyone who had something already that they just HAD to give to another should do so.  Or a tiny token could be given, such as a small handmade ornament.

We realized quickly that no money had to be spent:  visiting a lonely or elderly person and giving them the gift of one’s time was just as valid as a donation to a favorite charity.  The possibilities were endless, and each person was asked to report back at Christmas dinner to tell their stories.

It was the best Christmas we ever had!  No one had the usual fatigue of being up all night wrapping, or wracking their brains about what to buy, or complaints about the traffic and the crowds.  We were refreshed and excited to hear everyone’s story.

The gifts were varied and profound:  one person sent the Sioux Indians in the Dakotas warm wool blankets to help them get through the harsh winters, another sent a large donation to Greenpeace, a water buffalo was sent from Heifer International to a lucky family overseas.  One person went to a nursing home and gave their gift of time, another made amends with a friend over a past dispute, and someone gave a ride home to a very elderly woman with too many grocery bags and placed them all in her home.  I loved this story because the woman’s name was “Grace,” my mother’s name.

We delighted in how this made us all feel in touch with the spirit of the season and especially with each other.  This year, like others, Frank and I will be purchasing a heifer through Heifer International.  Their motto is “peace begins when hunger and poverty end.”  Visit their website at www.heifer.org and consider giving your own gift of peace to a community in need.

 

May you all feel the true spirit of Christmas in your own holiday celebrations, and enjoy the love of family and friends throughout the new year.  LOVE LAUGH HUG! (repeat)

Celebrating the Twinkling Season

I love the holidays, and one of my favorite tasks of the year is creating festive interiors for my clients.  This is truly the twinkling season, and time for making magic in every room of the house.  In this home, featured in this month’s ONLY Nantucket Magazine, we used fresh greens for garlands and wreaths, dressed seven full-sized, themed trees matched to each room’s decor, and embellished with mistletoe and holly, little white lights and gauzy bows!

Come along with me and take a look at the little details that add up to a lot of holiday cheer.  I hope you’ll be inspired to create your own unforgettable winter charm!

A grand display of red roses in a clear crystal box is always eye-catching and elegant, especially when combined with candlelight.

Formal columns have become whimsical candy canes, white hydrangeas grace the cocktail table from John Boone, boxwood tucked into antique garden urns make a festive hearth.

A Christmas tree bedecked in gold and silver gleams in the corner of the music room.  Wreaths tied with gauzy pale green ribbon adorn each and every window, and exotic white and green fringed Parrot Tulips, unusual for Christmas, strike just the right note in the elegant gathering space.  The Rose Tarlowe ottoman is perfectly placed for guests to sit and enjoy a sing-along, underneath a chandelier graced with evergreens.

A rock crystal chandelier sparkles above a table with the spirit of the homeowners’ beloved Nantucket:  white hydrangeas and red winter branches are a celebration of the island’s simple beauty.  The mantle is gloriously layered with evergreens, ribbons and stars; a stocking hangs by the hearth, waiting for St. Nicholas.

The kitchen has another candy cane column for a punch of gaiety; glass hurricanes on the counter are filled with little crab and lady apples.  A five-tiered gift box cake is waiting for guests to arrive:  there’s a party planned this evening!

The stairwell leading to the master bedroom suite is a feast for the senses:  fragrant cedar, spruce and boxwood swags are wrapped in ribbons; a single silver ball dangles from the sumptuous crystal chandelier custom-designed by Dujardin Design Associates.

A delicious tray of holiday confections add the sweetness of sugar and spice to the homeowners’ celebration: this couple blends their backgrounds and heritage in style, embracing both Christmas and Hannukah.

Whatever holiday you embrace, make it your own season of abundance and grace!  And remember to make it merry.  If you’re on Nantucket, look for the December issue of ONLY Nantucket for more of this holiday home!

 

Living Brightly on the Earth

Few things affect our moods and the beauty of our surroundings more than light.  Especially in the winter months, the lights we choose to vanquish the shadows of the early evening darkness are critical to living well, and for many of us, feeling happy. Luckily, LED lights, the most efficient lighting available, are getting better and better.

We’re used to the warm golden glow of incandescent bulbs, but they’ve been described as little heaters that happen to put out light. Incandescent bulbs burn out quickly and are inefficient energy users when compared to newer sources of lighting.  LED lights (Light Emitting Diodes) were first introduced six years ago, providing a greener option than compact flourescent lights (CFLs), which contain mercury.

The first generation of LEDS, though, cast a cool, bluish light, which was a problem for some consumers.  Thanks to recent developments in LED technology, the new bulbs produce a much warmer light, closer to the warmth of traditional incandescent bulbs. Lest you believe that LED lights can’t be beautiful, take a look at the glorious holiday light display at the famous Longwood Gardens in Delaware.  The Gardens converted to 100% LED lighting this year, and their Christmas event is more spectacular than ever.

Although LED lights are more expensive initially to purchase, they last significantly longer, in some cases, for as long as 20 years.  This makes them invaluable when placing them in hard to reach ceiling and recessed fixtures, and for commercial buildings and skyscrapers.  LED lights reach 80 % efficiency, which means 80% of the electrical energy is converted to light energy, with only 20% lost as heat energy.  Compare that with the incandescent bulb, which converts only 20% of the electrical energy to light energy, and loses 80% as heat energy.

Incandescent lights, contrary to rumors, will still be available, but the old 100 watt bulb is being replaced by 72 watt bulbs with the same light output and a longer life.  Whatever kind of lighting you prefer, energy efficiency has become a driving force in the industry. That’s good news for your home, your office, and the earth.

 

image source incandescent light bulb:  www.electrical-online.com/incandescent-lighting-101/

image source LED light bulb:  http://www.engadget.com/2009/03/29/geobulb-led-light-bulb-uses-just-eight-watts-rings-up-at-120/