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 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)

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