Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Baffled again…

January 4, 2018
festivestarcard

Sweet old Christmas card

…not for the first time! I was intrigued to see all the posts on social media over the festive season about how a real Christmas tree is so much better for the environment than a fake tree. Well, of course it’s better that people should be encouraging the growing of trees rather than spinning copies up out of aldulterated oil & extruded metal that could certainly be put to better use. But most of the posts I read seemed to imply that a fake tree would only have been used once; i.e. you should have been buying a new fake tree every year… oh dear, I’m on the wrong planet again!

I’ve been getting quite cross with myself; surely it would be horribly patronising of me to think that real people actually do do just that? That they’ll spend serious amounts of money buying a fake tree & decorations in this year’s colourways that are just going to end up at the Tip as soon as it re-opens after the festive break? Of course, there will be those with good reasons for getting rid of a tree; they don’t last forever, they do get scruffy & fall apart eventually. People move or change their homes around and need a tree of a different size or shape. Some won’t have anywhere to keep stuff until next year, or their old decorations hold sad or bitter memories for them. But equally, there will be people out there next autumn who are wondering how they can afford to decorate; perhaps they could be given away rather than dumped? Which might restore the environmental balance a little?

And – things can be re-used in different ways, putting a new slant on old memories. I was amused & intrigued to find a number of our old floral candle-rings, once used as table decorations, now looking glorious in a starring role on this year’s tree. (We have two cats, one relatively young and very playful; the few surviving old glass decorations stayed safely in their boxes this Christmas!) Decorations do somehow hold memories; I often “rescue” vintage ones and you can almost feel the weight of stories accumulated over the years. Sometimes bittersweet, but mostly gentle and goodhearted. Somewhere I have some festive printed crepe paper that my grandfather treasured from his childhood, which was always wrapped around the bucket we had our tree in; he was born in 1883, and grew up, as did my father, then I myself in a close & happy, if sometimes far-flung, family. That piece of paper holds memories of well over a hundred festive Christmasses, though hardly any of them would have involved much money!

And in the meantime, I’ve come up with a different interpretation of the word “Epiphany” – the realisation that I will still be picking Christmas tree needles out of myself and our soft furnishings in July… Happy New Year to you all, and may the recycling/remaking/reusing/making-new-from-old Force be with you!

jollyfestiveSanta

A rescued vintage Santa…

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Something somewhere isn’t right…

December 18, 2017

I had to run up to the supermarket on Saturday afternoon, having muddled up what should go into the freezer and what should go into the fridge after doing my market shop on Friday. (Excuse: I’d had a streaming cold since the start of the week.) I could hear carols floating over the allotments from one of the churches as I went up our road, and more carols floating over the green from the direction of the Square. The Christmas lights were flashing frantically, cars were circling the car park like hungry sharks, waiting to pounce on a space, and the supermarket was thronged with customers pushing overloaded trolleys stuffed with cheese dartboards and gallons of wine. Snatches of irritated conversations drifted past my ears…

“No, that was for Christmas Eve, dear. The cream is for Boxing Day!”

“Not that one, you know Jessica’s allergic to red colourants!”

“No, no, the Heston, not the Jamie!”

“Sorry, sir, we’ve sold right out of those now.”

I felt as if I’d landed on the wrong planet, not for the first time in the last few weeks. There was still more than a week to go until Christmas, but the good citizens of East Dorset are stocking up in good time, and by the looks of their trolleys they are all entertaining at least 20 people they desperately need to impress. Me, I’m just feeding 9, with mostly cooked-from-scratch-by-us food, some of it even grown-by-us. It’ll be a joint enterprise, and we’ll have a laugh as we prepare it together and try to cram 9 seats into our kitchen; the conservatory, which is much bigger, would be too cold for my 91 y.o. mother.

I’ve also had occasion to enter that great temple of Mammon, the Giant Shopping Centre in the big city 30 miles east. More flashing lights, lots of must-haves, more eye-watering prices for things that no-one needs, which might just raise a slight smile before ending up in a charity shop or possibly even the bin. Somehow it just all felt utterly surreal, absolutely divorced from any vestige of reality. No hint of midwinter magic, no connection to the Reason for the Season, not a glimmer of anything in any way genuine or personal. All that pressure to spend, spend, spend; all that glitter, no real gold.

We visited a new Scandinavian shop. There were some nice things, some of them definitely referencing genuine Scandinavian Christmas/Yule/midwinter traditions. But mostly, alas, just more plastic tat. I did buy a couple of items, one of them edible, one that will replace something that broke last year. But I can’t shake off a feeling that something underneath all this glitter and fake bonhomie and enforced generosity is terribly, horribly wrong… That this celebration really shouldn’t be all about greed, or even misplaced generosity. In all Northern Hemisphere traditions, it’s a celebration of the return of Light to the world, a promise that the darkness will be vanquished and growth will return. In the Christian tradition, a feast and a gift-giving to celebrate God’s gift to us.

I’ve been reading up about Christmas traditions all around the world. It seems that most people in most countries don’t put up their trees or decorate their houses until about the 23rd or 24th of December, which is how it was in the home I grew up in, in the dim & distant past. In many countries, the main meal & present-giving is actually on the evening of Christmas Eve, with Christmas Day being reserved for church and family visits. Boxing Day is livelier, with sport & dancing back on the menu, but still very sociable & family-based, rather than a rush to spend yet more money at the “sales”. In some countries, gift-giving doesn’t happen until Epiphany, or 6th January, tying in with the visit of the Kings to the baby Jesus, with their gifts of gold, frankincense & myrrh.

I particularly love the Icelandic idea of the jólabókaflóð, or Yule Book Flood, where everyone receives at least one book on Christmas Eve, then retires to bed with chocolate to read it. Of course, by then they’ve done the big meal and the gift-giving, but how much more relaxed & sane than my usual frantic last-minute Christmas Eve scrambles does that sound?!

I suspect we could learn a lot from countries that take a more laid-back & sociable approach to Christmas. Somehow we’ve been railroaded into the spend, spend, spend mentality & the one with the lowest credit card bill is a loser. Not a game I want to play any longer… judging by people’s anxious faces in the mall, I’m not alone.

So I think I’m going to re-think Christmas-yet-to-come (again!) and take a leaf out of other books from all over the world. We’ll start low, just with an Advent wreath at the start of the month, and build up slowly; the tree certainly can, and should, wait until 23rd at the earliest. I shall insist on at least one book all round for Christmas, too, although retiring to bed with it and a box of chocs probably isn’t practical until Boxing Day evening. It’s important to me that we don’t feel “all Christmassed out” by the 26th, as we so often have done; that there’s time for calm reflection, and there are genuine moments of holiness and sheer magic.  Time to listen to the rhythms of the earth and sky, hear the birds sing and the bells ring out.

And of course, time to wish all my friends “out there” a genuinely happy and peaceful Christmas – or whatever midwinter festival speaks best to you.

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An early tree…

Re-used, renewed…

December 6, 2017

My lovely mother is over 90 years old. She’s had a rough time of it for the last couple of years, since my dear stepfather drifted gently away. The first Christmas after he died, we had to “spring” her from hospital into a nursing home, possibly before she was really ready to come home but considerably after the hospital started trying to discharge her. The second, last year, she’d not long been out of hospital again, and had no heart for celebration; we did her a jolly little Christmas tree for her flat, but she didn’t want us to use the old family decorations, some of which are probably older than I am. “Too many memories,” she said wistfully. So I made some small-scale decorations from various odds & sods I had hanging around, and it did raise a little smile.

So this year, I took her our old fake tree, complete with the decorations we used last year.  Once again, she’s not that long out of hospital (the main reason I’ve been so quiet) & currently has a live-in carer helping her rehabilitation. But this year, once I’d festooned it with last year’s decorations, she said, “It’s hardly got anything on it! Be a darling & fetch the box from the top of the wardrobe…”

So the old decorations came out again. I had to be careful not to overload it, but I think she’d quite have liked to use every decoration & length of tinsel in the box. I caught her beaming at the tree when she thought I wasn’t looking, and she was rather chuffed when we spotted a helper at window of the nursing home opposite pointing the tree out to a resident. She may not be as well as she’d like to be, and still has a long hard road ahead  to regain her relative independence, but something somewhere inside is healing all the same.

MumsTree17

Knit your own Christmas tree…

December 6, 2016

Not really! But surely I’m not the only person dismayed by the price of “real” trees and the profligacy of a society that just throws out perfectly good imitation trees just because they’re not this year’s colour or shape, or don’t fit the space available any more?

This week it became apparent that a small, pre-decorated Christmas tree might make a nice surprise for someone. So off I went to my favourite emporium, the local Tip, where needless to say they’ve been inundated with redundant Christmas trees over the last few weeks. A few pennies secured me a promising well-taped-up box, which said it contained a 6′ “Woodland Pine” tree. As the box was only about 3′ long, I was fairly sure that this would be easily re-jigged into a smaller tree, and so it proved when I got home; three graduated trunk sections, with lots of slot-in “branches”, taped with different colours according to size. It just took a minute with a pair of pliers to move the fitting that the top piece of the tree sits in from the middle to the lowest section of the trunk, and a small bit of masking tape wound round to make it stay put in the larger tube, making a 3-4′ tree. The smaller branches slot into the lower trunk perfectly well, and the plastic stand was unbroken. It’s not a thing of beauty, but I’ve tied a festive-coloured scarf around it so it’s not visible.

I happened to be visiting the city this morning, and visits to £land and W!lko’s secured me two small sets of battery lights, one clear and one coloured. The intended recipient doesn’t bend too easily, so I thought battery lights would be easier for them to cope with. I’d already bought some pretty acrylic “jewel drops” for our own tree; there were more in the box than we’ll need, so I put some on the little tree to scatter the lights. And I’ve made some felt hearts out of old, moth-eaten blankets, stitched round with gold thread rescued from old needlework boxes, and some of those have found their way onto the tree too.

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However I did bust the budget when it came to topping the tree; it had to be an angel or a star, and I didn’t have anything suitable, or enough time to make something. So off we trotted to a town up the road which has a an all-year-round Christmas shop, where I invested in a pretty little glass angel, which gives the impression of being lit up with an LED or two underneath her. But she is not in any way begrudged; I’m just glad that saving money on the tree itself has allowed me to buy the loveliest tree-topper in town!

budgetree2

 

A Very Merry (and traditional) Christmas to you all!

December 26, 2014
ChristmasCake

Hark, is that the sound of a celestial choir…?

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy & well-blessed Christmas, and a chance to rest & put your feet up!

All the candles you see on our festive table have been rescued from our local Tip, aka The Household Recycling Centre, in the last few weeks, most of them completely unburnt & still packaged. They’ve glimmered & danced on our festive table throughout the Christmas feast & are still glowing long into the evening. The flowers were a gift from my cousin, and my lovely Cake Angels come out to play every year. Which is probably very unenterprising of me, but they’re a bit of a tradition now, and certainly less stressy than trying to achieve the perfect icing. There are times when long-established traditions are a welcome framework, rather than a bind, and in the hurly-burly that the modern Christmas has become, it’s nice not to have to innovate & plan ahead, but just to reach for the box of much-loved Christmas ornaments, pop them into place and go off to help Santa with that sherry…

 

It’s beginning to feel a lot like – a frugal Christmas!

December 18, 2013

Once again that certain date is racing up towards us and the bank account is groaning under the strain of buying for a big family. We don’t go over  the top with presents or food, and never have done, but the sheer quantities involved mean there will always be a distinct bulge in the budget at the end of December. And I’ve been sad to read people panicking online this week that they can’t afford to give their loved ones a “real” Christmas, which they seem to imagine looks like the one you see on the adverts, with lots of plastic toys, plastic decorations, plastic-looking food & a plastic-looking family. So a few ideas to cut the cost (and the plastic – horrible stuff!) whilst retaining the joy and good cheer might be timely.

The catering itself isn’t very much different to an average Sunday dinner round here; a few more faces, a few more trimmings and a few more hours with the cooker blasting away, perhaps, but plenty of willing hands to help, too. Good solid food & plenty of it, followed by treats like nuts and a well-chosen cheese board, but no dubious “gourmet” delights that no-one will actually eat, only stuff that can be eaten cold with salad, made into leftover dishes or frozen for later reference. I rarely have to do much shopping after Christmas until well into January, apart from fresh fruit, bread & dairy stuff.

But the setting does need a bit of adjusting, we can’t fit 11 round the kitchen table… however, we can run two market tables end-to-end down our conservatory and use the folding wooden chairs we use for doing the markets. This year’s festive board will be dressed in 5½ yards of pure vintage silk – an elderly & slightly damaged sari, before you panic that I’m about to ruin something priceless – and I’m really rather proud of my planned centrepiece. I came across a handful of mismatched tall crystal glasses at the Tip yesterday, and some old floral decorations; I can just see the glasses lined up down the centre of the table, with tea-lights glowing & twinkling inside, and pale silvery, slightly glittery hellebores laced around the bottom of the stems. Something like the picture below, in fact, but with sparklier glasses & less OTT greenery, when it’s all cleaned up.The china will be my parents’ old China Tree set, I found a set of 12 matching glasses at the Tip recently, and I don’t suppose anyone will even notice if the cutlery doesn’t match; hopefully they’ll be too busy eating, chattering & laughing.

We’ll be using our “fake” tree, acquired at vast expense – part of £1, if I remember correctly – at the Tip some years ago, in about May. It’s a perfectly nice one, even if it doesn’t smell like a real one; then again, it doesn’t make me come out in a rash like a real one does. I’m not quite sure why people find it necessary to buy a new fake tree in the latest “fashionable” colours every year; seems somewhat wasteful to me, but I know they do. And I’m not really happy with the idea of real trees being sacrificed for such trivial reasons, even if they’d never have been grown otherwise, and I’m certainly not happy to pay £35-40 for one. Decorations will be much-loved old favourites, home-made or foraged from the garden & the riverbank; the hallway is always adorned with big star sequins dangling on cotton pinned to the ceiling, which sway & glitter in the breeze whenever anyone walks down there. They cost 50p for a large tub, many years ago; I’d meant to use them for card making, but never did. In amongst them is the odd bigger star, bought for pennies in sales after previous Christmasses, never before. I’m afraid I buy my cards that way too, from charity shops; it’d be nice to give them the full price, but I know they still make a small profit on them half-price & I get to feed my family too!

We’ll be making paper chains for the living room. It’s a small space and big brash tinselly things are far too dominating; chains made from wallpaper samples or free printables from the Web are just right. There’ll also be a garland of evergreens over the fireplace; branches & ivy from the garden & riverbank woven into a tube of old chickenwire & decorated with fir cones, cinnamon sticks and berries from the berberis and cotoneaster bushes. We’re lucky enough to have a female holly tree too so springs of holly will be poked behind all our pictures & mirrors. If I’m organised enough, we may even have home-made crackers; I can do a LOT better for cracker surprises with the cash that one box of bought crackers would cost, never mind two. Paper hats are easy, but sadly the home-made jokes will probably be even worse than usual. I might try decorating the tree with broken bits of junk jewellery this year; single dangly ear-rings & broken glittery & pearly necklaces I have a-plenty & I’ve always thought that might look rather nice. I’ll report back, maybe with a picture. Or not…

For many years we’ve had a strict upper limit on what we can spend on each other in the wider family, and we all stick to it. It’s just plain sensible; Christmas presents are meant to be a token, not to beggar us all. And some of us have agreed not to exchange anything at all now; it doesn’t mean we don’t love & respect each other, but that we all have enough stuff & don’t need or want any more. If money must be spent, let it go to a good cause like Oxfam Unwrapped or Sightsavers, not to buy more stuff to further clutter my home with. Unless, of course, it’s a timeless vintage treasure you simply know I’ll love…

festiveglasses

A little lament for The Ottoman Of Doom…

October 10, 2012

Last week younger daughter suddenly took it into her head to “tidy” her room. At 17, she still had virtually everything she’s ever owned stuffed into corners, under the bed, and heaped over her exercise bicycle, but something suddenly clicked inside her head & she, like me, realised that you can indeed have too much of good things, and that actually it’s rather nice not to have to scramble precariously around umpteen piles of junk in your own bedroom.

Which explains what I was doing down at the Tip on Tuesday; I took down a car full to the brim of childhood & teenage detritus, most of it completely un-re-usable in any way shape or form. Needless to say, the car didn’t come back empty… sitting in the re-use area was the most relentlessly cheery & twee piece of furniture I have ever seen;  a large ottoman covered in a white plastic quilted-effect fabric dotted with little red & yellow rosebuds, complete with shadow-rosebuds in some kind of silvery-shiny substance. The whole artfully trimmed with gold braid, with brass-effect handles & hinges to finish it off. I took one look at it & knew that this piece of heroic kitsch really, really needed a trip to Boscombe on Saturday… My middle son took one look at it in the boot of the car and panicked mightily, basically saying that if it, or indeed anything remotely resembling it, ever entered our household, he was leaving via the nearest exit! So it acquired the nickname The Ottoman Of Doom, and stayed safely in the boot of the car for the rest of the week.

There were other good things down there too; a nice little 50s-style vanity case, a grubby but promising quilt and an interesting modern original acrylic-on-board painting, which gently suggests sailboats in what looks very much like a bluey-purple Aegean sunset. The vanity case also went down to Boscombe with us and sold within minutes of the market opening, for the same price that I’d paid for all four items. The painting is now adorning younger daughter’s suddenly sophisticated & miraculously-coordinated  bedroom, and the quilt washed up a treat and has been “spoken for” by elder daughter. And the Ottoman Of Doom? It sold towards the end of the market; I didn’t price it very high, for the same reason that although a treadle sewing machine is the best of both worlds and the ultimate stitching experience, I can’t expect to get very much money for them; most people just don’t have the room for such large items, no matter how useful. A lot of people stopped  to coo with delight over the ottoman, but then worked out that they didn’t have any way of transporting it, never mind anywhere to put it; luckily it found its new owner at last.

Although ottomans are very useful on the stall, and indeed I have one in the shed that I’ve had for months, full of vintage curtains, that just needs to be unloaded from the car, wheeled down to our pitch & opened to display our wares perfectly effectively, I was glad I didn’t have to bring the big one home again as I haven’t a clue where I would have stashed it! But I do kind of regret not having taken a photo of it; I wonder if such a determinedly-cheerful & outrageously OTT piece of furniture will ever come my way again?

So you’ll have to make do with a pic of one of my latest efforts instead; last autumn a collection of random handmade needle-rolls (complete with vintage cottons) sold well on my stall, mostly snapped up for thoughtful Christmas presents for fellow-stitchers, so this year I’m making some myself from some iconic 1970s curtain fabric. I’m also planning to do some crochet-hook & knitting needle rolls from the same fabric (previously 5 pelmets) and other vintage leftovers. And there’ll be some new ear-rings from elder daughter, now trading herself under the name “Pippin Run Wild” and all the usual indispensable Vintage Craft Stuff – I’m looking forward to November’s Boscombe Vintage Market already! I wonder what other whacky & wonderful treasures will come my way before then?

Needle rolls from 70s pelmets

A serendiptious Christmas…

December 24, 2011

Here’s a little seasonal tale to warm the cockles of any moneysaver’s heart….

Our little town used to have two shops where you could buy inexpensive real Christmas trees. Sadly, during the last year, they have both closed their doors and we’ve been thrown on the mercy of the surrounding posh garden centres. So I was resigned to using my reclaimed plastic Christmas tree, or possibly sending one of the boys out to the front garden with a handsaw; there are a couple of Lawson’s Cypresses out there which need a good pruning & shaping up, and an offcut from one of those would make a perfectly good festive tree. But the kids weren’t very happy with either idea, and one in particular was holding out for a “real” Christmas tree, despite my pointing out that the ritual sacrifice of a tree doesn’t occur anywhere in the original Christmas story.

Anyway, in a rash moment I promised to pop into a garden centre or two and look at trees, once the “reduced” signs had gone up. This I duly did, on my way home from a fairly fraught last-minute shopping trip yesterday. Oh my word – whatever were they reduced FROM? A sad 4′ Norway Spruce with virtually no needles left was “reduced” to £25, and a 5′ Nordmann Fir that still had needles was “reduced”to £40. Since when were people happy to pay more than that for something that’s going to be burnt or chipped in a couple of weeks? So home I trotted, to point out to my impecunious students that there are far better uses for any excess money than that.

Mid-evening, I sat down to Freecycle some books that had emerged from the Great pre-Christmas Cleanup. And behold! someone had offered a real Christmas tree at lunchtime! I didn’t think I stood a chance 7 hours later, but fired off a quick email anyway, explaining that I’m a bit of a Scrooge really as my teens would love a real tree but I couldn’t justify spending that much on one to myself. And by some massive stroke of luck,  it was still available, so said student & I picked it up at 8.45 this morning. The offerer is a volunteer in one of the local heath-clearing organisations and had cut herself two; the other one fitted her space better so she Freecycled this one – what a lovely thing to do! It’s quite made my Christmas.

Despite the grim, tired, stressed faces all around the shopping centres,  the Christmas Spirit’s still alive & kicking around here! So here’s wishing you all joy, peace and every festive blessing…

A festive Freecycled Christmas tree!

The Reclaimed Christmas Project…

October 16, 2011

Buttons, buckles, beads...

Following on from my musings in the previous post, I’ve decided that this year I’m going to reclaim Christmas, in more ways than one. I’m probably not the only person who’s had enough of the commercial version; of the endless grimly-glittering tawdry tinfoil decorations which start to appear in mid-September along with incessant adverts for wildly expensive bits of plastic or noxious potions, of giant flock snowflakes obscuring the aisle lables in supermarkets and “this year’s colour” plastic tree. I’ve nothing against fake trees, as I love the real thing, especially where they belong (outdoors)  & don’t like to feel I’ve been directly responsible for the needless death of an entire tree. But I really cannot get my head around people feeling they have to buy a new plastic one every year just so they have the “right” colour… Our current tree was rescued from the Recycling centre a couple of years ago and does a grand job; however this year it may get left in its box as there’s a Lawson’s Cypress in the front garden that needs a good haircut and one of the upright branches of that would make a fine Christmas tree too – it even smells right. Handling spruce always brings me out in a rash, anyway.

I’ve also had enough of spending too much money at Christmas. The retailers have parents over a barrel;  every year there’s a blizzard of adverts for electronic must-haves that every other child in their class will surely be given – and some of them undoubtedly will be – how can you possibly be so mean/inhuman/unloving as to say no? You love your child and you really, really don’t want them to feel deprived/disadvantaged/unloved, especially not on Christmas Day… but it does start to wear a bit thin when said children have technically reached adulthood and could, probably even should, go out & earn said must-have trinket for themselves.

I have a clear idea in my head of what I want Christmas to be; a time of goodwill to all living beings, and that includes the trees. A time to reflect on why we’re here, and a time to celebrate the life that we have. A real feast with family & friends, but not at the expense of going short for the next couple of months. A time to remember those who are really going without, and a time to try in some way, however small, to help. An oasis of goodwill & good cheer, peace & tranquillity in a mad, mad world…

Not much chance of that, really! But there are ways I can undermine the dominant view of Christmas as an opportunity to spend, spend, spend, and indulge, indulge, indulge. Quite apart from what we as a family get up to on The Day itself, I’m going to run the Reclaimed Christmas Project at my shop on Wednesday afternoons from here to – well, mid-December. We’ll be making beautiful & unusual festive decorations, cards & gifts from reclaimed or natural materials. And buttons, LOTS of buttons, thanks to a wonderful find at the Recycling Centre this week. There’ll be plaids & checks & stripes, there’ll be ricrac and lace and possibly even sequins, but there will NOT be overblown tinsel so thick it looks like it could do with a good prune. There’ll be felted wool,  embroidery silks and a little bit of angelina; there will NOT be irritating flashing lights that make you grind your teeth whilst attempting to hypnotise you. Homer Simpson will NOT be featuring; in fact there will not be any blow-up or cartoon characters at all, not even a cartoon reindeer that looks like it’s the morning after a very heavy night before. The only festive icon perching on the roof will be the robin that lives in the bushes opposite. However, there may be gingerbread & icing, not to mention tissue & crepe paper. There may even (shock, horror!) be a little religious imagery, though I shall try not to upset the Thought Police too much. And if there are any icicles, they’ll probably be made of ice. “Keep it simple, keep it joyful, keep it real,” will be my motto!

I’m hoping that even if you’re not able to come & join me, you”ll be there in spirit & doing your own Reclaimed Christmas in your own special way.

And more buttons...