Twelve Days of Christmas : Day Four
by David Todd McCarty | Thursday, December 17, 2015
I’ve already covered Christmas Tree decorations, so I won’t be covering that here. If you missed it, go back to Part One and start over. Stop skipping around. These are rules, not suggestions.
Today I want to talk about decorating for Christmas. This is something that I accept as a very personal matter, so I’m much more loose about this aspect of Christmas. To each his own, as they say. I don’t care much how you decide to decorate your home for Christmas. This is how I choose to decorate mine. I’ll go ahead and just say for the record, before my wife Jane jumps in here, that I don’t do any of the decorating, so this is more of a theoretical discussion. I will also go on record saying that Jane does a wonderful job and we share a common aesthetic, so it’s all good.
Now that we no longer have kids living in the house, we’ve more or less dispensed with the childlike, tackier decorations usually associated with young children. For instance, if we were to have a Santa, he’d be a whimsical, folk art Santa, as opposed to a cartoon Santa. That sort of thing.
Over the years, Jane has taken a decorating philosophy of less is more. Partly, I think that’s due to getting older and not wanting to lug all that shit down from the attic. Every year, just a little less comes down the stairs. Fewer things get hung. Fewer trinkets make their way out of their boxes.
I’m still a sucker for Poinsettias, the only Christmas plant that I’m aware of. I think there’s also a Christmas Cactus, but that’s for atheists and perverts.
By the way, there is no “t” at the end of the point. It’s Poinsettias, not Pointsettas.
If you’re not familiar, been living in another country or under a rock for the past century, these red and green leafed plants are the most ubiquitous plant in America at Christmas, behind the Christmas tree.
There’s also mistletoe, but very few people really know what mistletoe actually looks like. I bet I could hang a bunch of thyme or basil from a string above the door and no one would know the difference.
Poinsettias are the Christmas plant of choice but contrary to popular belief, the red parts are not flowers, but actually leaves called bracts and are not toxic despite a long-standing urban myth. The colors of the bracts are created through a process called photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. After that, they like a lot of light.
The plants are native to Mexico and Central America and were first made popular in America by Albert Ecke, a German immigrant living in Los Angeles. He became intrigued by the plant and sold them from street stands in the early part of the Twentieth Century. His son, Paul Ecke, developed the grafting technique that we know today, but it was the third generation of Eckes, Paul Ecke Jr., who was responsible for advancing the association between the plant and Christmas. He sent free plants to television stations for them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas. He also appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show and Bob Hope’s Christmas specials to promote the plants.
In addition to the poinsettias, we decorate our house with the usual collection of flotsam and jetsam accumulated over 20 years of marriage. A small nativity scene. Ornaments in vases. Greenery in the form of boughs and wreaths. The usual.
Our house was built in 1725, and was once a tavern and stagecoach stop for travelers on their way to Cape May from Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. But by the time we bought the house, the fireplaces had all been removed, probably around the turn of the last century. One of the first things we did was have a fireplace put back in. Therefore, we actually have a mantel to decorate.
The mantel gets decorated for every season, and is probably the centerpiece of Jane’s seasonal decorating. But I always think of Christmas as the real show for the mantel. In addition to the wreath that hangs in the center, the candles and pine boughs, the ornaments and the bows, we have a collection of Christmas stockings.
When we first started out there were five stockings. One each for Jane and I, and one for each of the three children. At other times, there might have been stockings for the dog or cat, I’m not sure. Once the kids were grown and got married, we added stockings for husbands and Jane and I lost ours. Now that we have four grandchildren, they’ve taken over the stockings. So apparently, the stockings are fairly fluid when it comes to actual ownership.
As I’ve said previously, we don’t do a lot of exterior decoration, but Jane is a big fan of the pine bough ropes. They get hung across our front porch and sometimes even include lights. She also hangs them over all the doorways and windows downstairs. Some years the staircase also gets the treatment. No other adornment. Just the greenery.
For years, she also hung greenery bows, like a bowtie, under each window, but they are a pain the ass, blow in the wind, and make a mess. So we’ve kind of let those drop.
There are a few other things that round out our Christmas Experience, but they tend to be things we always have going on. Namely scented candles and lighted candles in the windows. We have both of these things going all year round. But they still add to the ambiance should you visit during the holidays.
Along the same lines, although a fire in the fireplace is not purely a Christmas decoration, it also ads to the seasonal feeling and is considerably more enjoyable than the channel on the television, regardless of whether not it’s high definition now.
It’s fun going all out when your kids are young, and Christmas is all about youth, but it’s also nice to slow down and keep it small as you get older.
One year, we took the kids to the Caribbean for 10 days for Christmas. We didn’t decorate the house. We didn’t buy a tree. And the only presents we exchanged were pollyanna gifts bought on the island and you couldn’t spend more than $20. It was probably the most relaxing Christmas we’ve ever had. We spent Christmas day on an isolated beach, napping in the sun and catching starfish. It was pretty great.
But I still prefer a traditional Christmas. I’m funny like that.