Bottling up Christmas

There is a popular saying that I come back to all the time. Favourite chef, Julia Child, once said: “Everything in moderation… including moderation.” Now apply this principle to the holiday season. Do you think there is such a thing as too much? Too much music, too much baking, too much decorating? And what about too much remembering?  I think I know what you are thinking. Now don’t you and Julia go ganging up on me. Each of these layers adds to the memories and love that we have for people near and far. Sadness is just as important an emotion as happiness even if we often don’t like to admit it.

This is what happens to me each Christmas. Maybe that’s why I have developed a soft spot for Halloween because it was not part of my childhood. I approach Halloween each year with innocence and delight. Like I used to as a child at Christmas time in Barbados. This year is no exception. I am still working on trying to be kinder to myself.

You know when you find a delicious new dish to make but you overdo it and then no one appreciates it? Same habit can be repeated with music. I have been blazing through all the Christmas classics. Old and new alike. On shuffle. But The Carpenters, Nat King Cole, Harry Connick Jr. and the lovely Michael Buble can only be appreciated so much. Too much leads to reflecting on the ghosts of Christmas past. So I discover a playlist on Spotify called “Christmas Peaceful Piano”. No words. Just haunting lovely Christmas tunes. For those of you who know his work, its like everything George Winston. So far so good. Less complaining by the kids. So I call it progress.

I love Christmas music so much that in a moment of Dollarama weakness,  I buy tiny people carolling. Rationale? Because my kids are so over the music, there is absolutely no way I am going to get them to break out in carol. Plus I think that a tiny house should have tiny people.

As a child in Barbados, we would all go to Nana and Papa’s dear friends,  Uncle Woody and Auntie Louella Gibbs, for a good night of carolling at their home in Dover. Lovely souls. Without fail, it would get everyone into the spirit.

Truth be told, Nana wasn’t one for much decorating. At Tremont, there was a rather tall Norfolk Island Pine in a rusty pot on the verandah for many years. She used to sometimes add lights to it. The leaves were so soft that the lights were less than ideal. The tree would end up looking morose, like a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. What I do remember most is that they would come to our home every Christmas morning. We were not allowed to  check the tree or see what Santa brought us until they arrived. The anticipation, trapped in our bedrooms used to drive us into nutcrackers: “When are Nana and Papa going to get here?” 

Now I know themed decor is lovely and all the rage but when you have old sentimental treasures, it is hard to let them not be adorned. I decide this year to blend and balance the old with the new, as frugally as possible.  Some easy rustic touches and some modern trends. So I place several knick knacks around the house from the dollar store. Retail therapy. Yes Rachel. It is OK. I go in to spend $1 on a “necessity” and leave with 23 items and a bill for $37.66.

The newest Dollarama treasures, besides the tiny carollers, being the bottle brush trees I put in a jar that I normally store granola and cookies in. We can’t have our snowman melting in the living room. Our resident Frosty was a gift to our eldest son from our late neighbour, Helen. She died on the day our fourth was born and I think of her often. Another lovely soul.


Dollar store snowflakes transform our dining room into a Winter Wonderland at night. 

On the flip side, my husband’s grandmother, Grandnanny, was the polar opposite of Nana. She did some remarkable festive things and was a lover of Christmas. She baked like a boss. My favourite treat being her almond crescent shaped shortbread cookies dusted with icing sugar. She was also super crafty. For all her grandkids, she hand-painted and made porcelain Angel tree toppers. Ours has adorned our tree every year for the last 20 years.

She also painstakingly made dozens and dozens of beaded plastic decorations. I once got a personalized beaded angel one year. How sweet is that? We have decorated with them each year. If they do not make it to the tree, we put them in a bowl on display as yet another lovely memory. Bless her heart, she even made the trees that light up out of plastic beads and safety pins. Awesome. Must have taken her forever.

Grandnanny died in the Spring of 1999. That’s before our future three kids were born. So it is no wonder that I decorate each year to remember her spirit.

This year I stumbled on a link to a DIY hack for a Crate and Barrel Christmas modern tree. It is no longer sold in wood. As soon as I saw it I thought of Grandnanny. How better to show off her decorations? So I set my husband happily to work (in my mind at least) like Will Ferrell as Buddy in Elf.  That movie cracks me up each time.

The first prototype we decided to make out of some western red cedar left over from our deck he built in our backyard you can make out in the back of the photo. Here it is my Dollarama mini disco balls because I believe in disco ball therapy to brighten the spirit and bring in something new. You should see the stars when the sun shines in every afternoon!

The end goal, which currently still in progress, is to make one out of some antique mahogany that Tony’s grandfather brought over to Canada from Africa well over 60 years ago. (See more on that incredible story here). He passed away in 1969 when Tony was a mere toddler. I could not be prouder of the legacy that his grandfather created. Without him I would not have my Superman.

It’s hard not to think about our loved ones who are no longer with us and our family who is far away. Nana and Papa died over a decade ago. Me and my siblings are spread from Barbados to Canada to California to Australia. There are moments each year when I sure feel like I am having a Blue ChristmasFor that very reason, Christmas is not an easy time of year for me.

Having said that, I do get giddy and excited like a little girl about getting the house ready for the holidays. And I also take the job of honourary Mrs. Claus seriously. My own four children depend on it, that’s for sure. But behind the simple and beautiful, is also the memory and emotion. It forces me to reflect. Sometimes I try to bury it with happy thoughts and humour. Sometimes with Homesense and Dollarama. But mostly, I simply try my best to soak the memories all in and create new ones with my own family. Note to self.  Moderation, Rachel.