yule crescent3

A Simple Yule

[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.

LR yule overview
It may not be obvious at first blush, but this really is a scaled-down Yule for me, with just three days of decorating, as opposed to the usual two weeks

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.

The previously-owned gigantic white-gold Santa is getting a run for his money as biggest-in-show with the newly-acquired wooden Santa by the tree, nearly 20″ tall!

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. 

The 33 snowmen I purchased this year are just a tithe of what’s in the collection, but they do their best to fill the allotted shelves, while their brethren enjoy a well-earned rest in the basement

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.”

Just some of the “Specialty Santas”, meaning those with particular elements that set them apart from a “normal” Santa; here we see Santas in chimneys on the top shelf, Santas with pipes in the middle and Santas with lists on the bottom

spec pipes
A detail of the Santas with pipes – I found nine for the collection this year!

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. 

white yule2
The “White Yule” collection (above, which includes silver, grey, yellow and gold items) gave the sparsest showing this year, but includes some truly remarkable pieces, like the Santa astride a polar bear in the detail below

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!

ceramic tree1
This lighted ceramic tree was made by my aunt for our family in the ’70s; normally, there’s no room to display it, and it’s relegated to my bedroom for the season – it seems to be enjoying its newfound prominence this year. Note also the wall of yuletide linens and pillows behind.

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!

Burgundy Santas crop up with some regularity, but I don’t think I’ve ever found so many in just one year before

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 red & green Santas shelves are also a lot more bare than usual, but making a decent showing; believe it or not, this ailurophile has never found a Santa with a cat before – this year I found two (extreme right and extreme left, bottom shelf)!

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. 

green santas1
Green Santas were the only previously-owned collection that made the cut for display this year – I had found five new large items, and really wanted to see the whole collection together; formerly, they took up just a corner of one shelf, now they have expanded to dominate it all

Having set the stage, let’s go explore!

end tables1
It was a good year for kitchenware and china, particularly cookie jars, as this table display attests; the only items pictured which were not acquired this year are the tins of goodies on the floor beneath

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.

More specialty Santas, plus a few stocking-hanger interlopers that had nowhere else to go; atop the bookcase is a Santa at the mantle; first shelf is Santas in sleighs; second shelf is Santas with sacks – brown or tan sacks to the left, green sacks to the right (see below)!

santa sacks trim

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!

A collection of cardinal snow globes graces the pedestal table of the stick lamp, along with a bouquet of cuttings from every evergreen in the yard (plus some donated winterberry from a friend)

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.

Normally this archway is festooned with garlands of mistletoe and poinsettias, and hung with blown glass Santa ornaments, but I rather like the simple effect of this “White Christmas” treatment

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.

The kitchen hutch shines with my collection of seasonal yuletide plates, glasses and mugs

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.”

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My collection of yule-themed mugs rarely sees the light of day, but brightens the sill and shelving at the kitchen sink window this year

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.

This marvelous winter greens bouquet was brought for my Yule Dinner by a generous friend who cut it from his own garden; note also the new salt-and-pepper sets beneath

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.

hall overview1
Not a lot going on in the hall this year, but a few stray pieces managed to land on the bookcase shelves there, including the faux chocolate molds (middle shelf)
A new snowman cookie jar, with a green Santa head mug awaiting some accompanying hot cocoa, is set off by a bouquet of holly and orange winterberry, the only seasonal adornment in the office

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.

Where else for a collection of yuletide soap and lotion dispensers than the bathroom? I only had one of these last year…

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.

I absolutely love the new set of winter greenery-themed prints at the approach to the hall

DR window2
This old-world image of Santa on a slate backing adorns the dining room window area, flanked by new large wooden snowflakes; even the leftover Halloween white mini pumpkins don’t look out of place in this “White Christmas” theme

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.

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A light snowfall a few days before the solstice has lingered in patches here and there, for a somewhat White Yule

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….

Alex Miller is a professional writer and astrologer, author of The Black Hole Book, detailing deep space points in astrological interpretation, and the forthcoming Heaven on Earth, a comprehensive study of asteroids, both mythic and personal. Alex is a frequent contributor to “The Mountain Astrologer”, “Daykeeper Journal”, and NCGR’s Journals and “Enews Commentary”; his work has also appeared in “Aspects” magazine, “Dell Horoscope”, “Planetwaves”, “Neptune Café” and “Sasstrology.” He is a past president of Philadelphia Astrological Society, and a former board member for the Philadelphia Chapter of NCGR.

4 comments, add yours.

Irmgard Dering

…that will leave a smile on my face for the rest of the day!
Thank you!


LOL about TL syndrome. I always associate collecting with the sign of Cancer and I hope it’s not verboten to discuss your chart which I know has Mercury stationary in Cancer sextile a detail-oriented Moon in Virgo! So I think you come by it honestly! I really like the Santa on the polar bear, seems very Canadian! Even though you scaled back this year, your displays are still impressive, and I’m glad you have found more time to relax. Thanks for spreading the seasonal joy, Alex, and have a very Merry Christmas!

Susan Pomeroy

Alex, I’m torn somewhere between “OMG!!!” and “Alex, it’s positively austere!”

Emma Esperanza Acosta Vásquez

Antes en la familia hacíamos pesebre, ahora no, nos da pereza después desbaratar todo, guardar y poner orden. Lo felicito por su decoración.

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