First, two Christmas-related PSAs:
1.) “Happy Holidays!” is not a secular greeting. “Holidays” comes, quite literally, from “holy days.” By all means, stoke your outrage about the very real war on Christmas (which originated, interestingly, not with secularists but with non-liturgical Christians wary of liturgical Christians and continues, IMHO, as much with overzealous Christmas enthusiasts who omit the observance of Advent as with those who would denude the public square of every last Nativity scene), but, please, do not cede the perfectly cheery and charmingly alliterative “Happy Holidays!” to the enemy. Please do feel free to say “Happy Holidays!” at other times of the year, too, as, for example, during the Easter Triduum or the, er, Autumn Triduum.
2.) The Twelve Days of Christmas begin, not end, on Christmas Day. They span the time between Christmas Day and the Epiphany, the feast at which we celebrate Jesus’ revelation of Himself to the three wise men from the East. If you’d like to observe the Twelve Days of Christmas, here are some ideas to get you started.
Whew, I feel better. Now, on to the holiday home tour, which is actually just a little window into how we observe Advent and attempt to prepare our hearts for the First and Second Comings of Jesus, as well as a little crash course in the iron-clad interior design principles that guide my seasonal decorating (pursue beauty! eschew kitsch!).
First, the two essentials — an Advent wreath and a Nativity scene. Our Advent wreath could not be plainer, and I love it:
Well-crafted, real wood, cleverly designed to remain plain or to be encircled by elegantly arranged, live greenery (which I have yet to add, even though it is already the third week of Advent!). Keeps the focus on the candles themselves, with their intimations of faith, hope, joy and love. Those candles, in turn, keep the focus on Christ’s counsel to keep our lamps burning:
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him! Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise ones replied, “No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.”
While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards, the other virgins came and said, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But he said in reply, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. — Matthew 25:1-13
Other than lighting the appropriate number of candles each week, what exactly do you do with an Advent wreath? In our home, because Sweet Potato is so small and has a very short attention span, we simply pray the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) and then sing this slightly cheesy, very sweet song to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”:
See the candles burning bright,
One by one each week we light.
Advent is a time to wait,
Not quite time to celebrate.
When this waiting time is through,
It’s Christmas joy for me and you!
We’ll pray the “O, Antiphons” from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24. It’s helpful to remember, though, that even “just” lighting the candles is an act of faith, so, when we remember to do even that much, we’re grateful! As Father Alfred Delp, S.J., put it (and the November issue of Magnificat quoted):
Those who wait for you will not be disappointed (Ps 25:3). Despite this gloomy time, with a certitude about life and faith, we have set up the Advent wreath, even though no one knows how long it will stand or whether all four of its candles will be lit.
The course of the liturgical year and the message continues, and we keep on doing things — but not for the sake of custom and tradition. It comes from a sense of certitude about things and mankind and revelation — things that are fixed and valid in and of themselves. These give mankind the right to light candles and to believe in the light and brightness of existence. …
Advent is similar to the time before Easter. When we go forth toward the great mysteries, we should consider the proper order of our lives in the weeks beforehand. Ahead of time, from a distance, we should review our lives and take a sober look at things because reality is still the place where true joy grows and where we build things that can support a load.
We keep our Advent wreath on that silver tray so as to be able to relocate it wherever we can best recollect ourselves for the evening whether that is our kitchen table, our living room ottoman or the cedar chest in our bedroom.
Like our Advent wreath, our Nativity scene is also painstakingly simple:
We don’t even have a stable, although I’d like to find one that fits our rather tall figurines, eventually! The manger will be empty, of course, until Christmas Day. When Sweet Potato and Mint Julep are older, I’ll adopt the idea to encourage them whenever I catch them at an act of virtue to quietly, secretly place a bit of straw in the manger and, in that way, make a soft bed for the Bambinelli!
Meanwhile, our three wise men are to the East, preemptively meditating upon the mysteries of Christ’s Passion and Death (it’s why one of them brought myrrh, after all!):
This is the first Christmas I’ve also discovered the wonder of cuttings from my own landscaping:
The space above your sink should be pretty — or so says Auntie Leila!
And always the choicest offerings for Mama Mary!
In this home, we do those Christmas classics of stockings and poinsettias:
Given my German-from-Russia heritage, a Christmas tree is a must! In keeping with the Oilman’s Czech descent, we apparently ought to hang it upside down, but I haven’t figured out how to engineer that one yet!
Two beautifying touches that came from my mama are this exquisitely quilted throw in my living room …
… and a darling chalk pillow in my bathroom (which is bare of rugs today because Monday is Laundry Day and they’re in the dryer):
Plus, I couldn’t resist spoiling Sweet Potato with her own Christmas tree (I had a mini artificial tree from my apartment-dwelling days that was begging to be repurposed in this way):
She loves to point at it and say, “Oh!!!”
She especially loves the Cinderella carriage ornament from Lolo and this Nutcracker, who matches the Nutcracker atop her wardrobe:
Normally, I can’t bear to rebel against the red-and-green color scheme of Christmas, but her room was, is and always will be pink as long as I am in charge of designing it!
Perhaps because of these few festive touches throughout our house, Sweet Potato seems to be increasingly aware that change is in the air — although she, like we, doesn’t quite realize the magnitude of this wait. In proportion to the degree Mint Julep will jolt us out of any and all complacency, just so did that child in a manger more than 2,000 years ago stir “the hopes and fears of all the years” — and so He will when He comes again!
UPDATE: Among the many interior design blogs that I follow, The Nesting Place is a new pleasure! The tagline — “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful” — so perfectly captures the reality of making a home within the limits of time and space. It’s the perfect site to binge read when you are, quite literally, nesting, which I officially am. Last night, for goodness’ sake, I sprinkled my mattress with baking soda, vacuumed it and, with the Oilman’s help, flipped it (h/t to This Transparent Soul for that effective way to refresh a bed)! At any rate, the Nester is hosting a virtual parade of homes and so many of the linked houses are just lovely; check it out!