[Above, a slender crescent moon hangs like an ornament in a striated, pre-dawn solstice sky.]
Well, I suppose “simple” is in the eye of the beholder. But after the exhaustion that was Halloween for me this year (three weeks to put it up, two weeks to take it down), I felt I needed a rest. Late November to early December is always “hell month” for me, with so much de-decorating, redecorating and seasonal switch-ups going on; it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a break with a streamlined Yule.
Which isn’t to say the house is bare, with just some Grinchy hooks and wires on the walls. But I did manage to condense two weeks’ worth of decorating into three days, no mean feat. And all I used was four boxes of “background” material (like snowflake garlands for the doorways and bookcases, white cotton batting for “snowy” shelf coverings, and pinecones for accent) and one small box of tchotchke, plus new acquisitions since last holiday.
OK, to be fair, that did amount to four large plastic bins full, but it’s still just a tithe of the 70 or so boxes dedicated to yule décor which are sitting in my basement, bewilderingly wondering when they’ll be called into service (sorry, guys – catch you next year!). I’m embarrassed to say that the bins contain thrift store purchases accumulated from weekly visits to Goodwill throughout 2022, since my friend Trina first initiated me a year ago into the wonders of what’s available when others declutter. I bought some items retail and online, too, but about 95% of the new stuff came from thrift outlets.
And I actually added to the haul with fifty-five new pieces acquired there this month alone! I’m beginning to think I may have a problem, but it’s nothing that an extension to the house and a staff of curators can’t fix. Decades ago I diagnosed myself with TLS, which, for the uninitiated, stands for “Tchotchke Lust Syndrome.” I simply cannot refrain from buying small (or large) decorative bibelots – when in their presence, the frenzy overtakes me, and I buy, buy, buy! Eventually I had to justify my sickness by styling myself as “a collector” which, let’s be honest, is really just a fancy term for hoarder.
I had it under control, by my lights anyway, for years, but there was a definite flare in 2022 with the discovery of Goodwill. So many fabulous cast-offs, so little time (and so little dime, with some great values to be had!). Anybody out there know of a good 12-step for this? “Hi, my name is Alex, and I’m a tchotchkaholic.”
Be that as it may, this really is a much simpler holiday for me. So much so, that I actually baked! I never seem to have the time anymore, and haven’t made cookies since 2018, before my father died. In keeping with my theme, I left things simple there, too, baking only drop cookies and thumbprints, and none of the more extravagant offerings of the past.
The point being, I only had the energy for even that modest foray into Famous Amos territory because I took it easy on the decorating. Not decking the halls quite so extensively has allowed me to relax and enjoy the season more – I even reread a couple of the classic Christmas children’s books I always lay out on the hassock at this time of year, which typically go unopened. I could get used to this!
So the house is looking festive, but not overdone. And believe it or not, I’m actually enjoying it! Having less on the shelves allows me to truly focus on what I do have on display, which is especially fun this year, with everything a newfound friend who deserves the special attention. I was discussing my new love of minimalism (OK, that’s not going to happen, but by my usual standards…) with a friend, who suggested I might want to develop a lottery system, going forward, just pulling a few boxes at random for each season, and then rotating these year to year. Who knows? I might just try it!
I should also mention that the bins and few boxes weren’t the only things I used to create this wimpy winter wonderland. There’s also the matter of swapping out the linens (pillows, throws, tablecloths, placemats), but that just entails a quick trip the laundry room where these are stored in metal cabinets and an old bureau. I mean, that’s not really decorating, right? The old season stuff has to go back anyway, and the new season stuff is sitting right there, so… this process might take an hour, on a bad day.
The other “non-decorating decorating” arena is the china for the hutch, which is even easier, since it resides in cabinets right there in the kitchen, where it’s displayed. Again, we’re talking half an hour’s effort, max. Add to that an amorphous group of items known generally as “bagged stuff” (meaning things that are stored in bags on the basement floor, not boxed or binned), which for the yuletide season includes faux potted poinsettias, faux white trees and bare white branches, and a huge resin snowman and Santa.
Having set the stage, let’s go explore!
I made a decision early on to go with a “White Christmas” theme as backdrop. No holly, no mistletoe, no winterberry, no evergreens, no seasonal florals at all except the aforementioned poinsettias. Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a few white “evergreens” in various sizes, so I placed these strategically atop the bookcases and at their edges, used bare white branches as “dividers” between bookcases, and lined those cases and the doorways with snowflake garlands. Since the box containing the snowflake garlands also houses quite a few snowflakes, those went up, too, leaving the walls looking not quite so post-Grinch-Whoville bare.
The advantage to that approach is that these white winter elements can remain in situ until late February, and don’t require a facelift come mid-January, when more Christmassy items are removed.
And although I had much less to put on those shelves than in yuletides past, I decided to retain the usual layout. For example, I’d still reserve the standard three shelves for snowmen, even if I only had 20, as opposed to the normal 200. This spacing-out of bric-a-brac allowed me to do something I’ve always wanted to do, but never had the room for – trim the shelves with bits of greenery from the garden. My friend John brought branches of holly and winterberry to supplement my spruce (my own being still too small to harvest). Looks so nice!
So I also kept my “white yule” shelves, the “burgundy santas” shelves, the “red santas” shelves and the “specialty santas” shelves and just stocked them with new items of that theme. I had to add a couple of subcategories in the “specialty santas” areas, which normally includes “santas in sleighs or on reindeer”, “santas in chimneys”, “santas by mantles”, and “santas with lists”. It seems that snowbirds of a feather do flock together, and this year saw a huge influx of santas smoking pipes and santas with sacks, the dominant themes of these acquisitions. I actually found nine pipe-smoking santas this year; I don’t think I had more than four in the collection up till now. The “sacks” subcategory was so large I was able to further subdivide by sack color, grouping brown or tan sacks in one area of that shelf, and green sacks in another.
Another high scorer was green santas, a genre especially near and dear to me. As noted above, that was the one small box of previously displayed tchotchke that came up from the basement this year. I had acquired five new pieces, and wanted to see the whole family together. The prior items were relatively small in scale, and had used up just one corner of the three shelves reserved for standard red santas (those not fitting any specialty category), but the new arrivals were much larger pieces, and I now found that I needed an entire shelf to accommodate them all.
I found some truly unique pieces this year, like porcelain hinged boxes that were actually music boxes, with small vignettes inside that rotate when the tune is played and the lid raised. Also a Santa carrying a lamb, something I don’t think I’ve seen before (and incorporating a Christian theme of Jesus as “the lamb of God”, perhaps an attempt to bridge secular and sacred), and a Santa on a sled with a cask – Saint Bernard Santa? My favorite bizarre image is a Santa sitting on a chimney (not in it or going down), with an empty bowl on his lap. It looks like nothing so much as Santa on the toilet with a barf bowl, so I have christened him “Stomach Flu Santa.”
There’s also a fascinating wooden Santa, in three sections with multiple images, which rotate, so you can mix-or-match tops, middles and bottoms. The middle section is the most varied, with one Santa abdomen holding a star, one a tree, and one a wreath. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that this was indeed a unique, hand-crafted item, one of a kind, but as with all thrift store purchases, its origins are lost.
Most of the decorating focuses on the living area. In the kitchen it’s predominantly china I already had, plus a layout of holiday-themed mugs at the kitchen window which I never get to put on display. The exception to this dearth of new items would be the dining table, which has a bouquet of garden greens resting in a flat white disk with a ring-around-a-rosie of snowmen. What its original purpose was, I can’t say, it’s far too large in diameter for a pillar candle. And around that are four new sets of yuletide salt and pepper shakers, a pair of snowmen, two different sets of untrimmed evergreen trees, and a cardinal sitting on a nest. Another new S/P set, of Santas with overlarge candy canes, sits on the bottom level of the hutch, aside a new birdhouse-themed cookie jar.
It was a great year for cookie jars in general, of whatever season. For Yule, in addition to the birdhouse, I found another snowman at Goodwill (and bought a new one retail), for a total (I think, memory fails) of eight in the collection. Also a cookie jar of a Santa in burgundy (a Nonni Biscotti collectible, the second I’ve acquired from a series of Santa cookie jars which they have produced over the years), a trimmed Christmas Tree, and a white Santa in sleigh.
Upstairs is even sparser than the first floor, but I did maintain my usual doorway treatments, of swagged snowflake garlands hung with clear snowflakes. There’s a few pieces on the hall bookcase, including a set of faux antique chocolate molds of Santa and reindeer. The bathroom houses the most interesting collection upstairs, with a set of lotion/soap pumps.
Several new wall hangings were also acquired, mostly retail. My favorite is a set of 5×5” giclee art prints by Darren Gygi. He’s got tons of these wonderful images, for all seasons; I chose to focus on yuletide greens, selecting winterberry, holly, mistletoe, mixed evergreens wreath and white poinsettia images. I have them hanging together on the approach to the stairway, and they make a lovely set. That was mail order; I also bought an old-world retro Santa image on a slate backing, at a local shop.
All in all, a far cry from the typical yuletide mishigas (if I may toss out a passing nod to Hannukah), but perhaps something I can endorse going forward. If only they close those darned Goodwill stores….