Old glass Christmas ornaments

O, Christmas Tree: The Stories You Can Tell

My favourite part of holiday decorating is The Christmas Tree.

No matter what other decorating may or may not get done, the Christmas tree is a must.

So recently, when a bereaved friend mentioned that she still cannot bear to put up the tree at Christmas, it struck me as particularly sad.  Even in my darkest Christmases, (and many of us have had them) when it has been a struggle to do anything else, the tree – a real tree – is the one bright light for me.

And that got me thinking about the Christmas tree.

Every Ornament tells a story

Mercury glass balls for the Christmas tree

Faded, with colour chipping, the glass ornaments of my childhood fill me with joy

Decorating the tree is re-visiting the story of my life.  In recent years, I’ve combined my (rather extensive) ornament collection with my mom’s. Putting her decorations on the tree keeps her with us at Christmas. The pretty glass balls date from my childhood.  Mercury-type glass, some are chipping, but no matter.  I love the way they reflect and amplify the lights of the tree.  And the colourful “glass” garland that gracefully drapes the boughs was, and still is, a must.

Old and new for the Christmas tree

Old and New: My little pilgrim ornament alongside my mom’s mercury-glass balls.

Through the years I’ve made and collected lots of tree ornaments. It is what I always look for when I travel.  This year I’ve had the good fortune to add a few.  New are the hand-made Icelandic horse created by a local artisan in Reykjavik and the porcelain bauble from Mt. St. Michel in Normandy.  France had too many beautiful places and I was so taken with Monet’s home that I had to add a glass ornament from Giverny as well.

Commemorative Christmas ornaments

Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee and an Icelandic horse

Christmas Tree Ornaments from France

Mt. St. Michel, Normandy, France

Each decoration has some special significance:  the 2016 White House Ornament commemorates this year’s visit to the White House.  The little pilgrim is a special gift from a friend the year I first completed the Camino de Santiago.  I acquired The Queen’s Jubilee Ornament on my last trip to London.

White House 2016

White House 2016 Commemorative Ornament

Bought or Handmade?

I love handmade ornaments as well.  I dedicated an entire Pinterest board to them!  Each year I try to make one (or a few!) to add to the collection:  cross stitch, embroidery, Hardanger, or just something cute and crafty.

Embroidered Christmas Ornament

Embroidered Cube

Cross Stitch Christmas tree ornament

Cross Stitched teddies

Hardanger Christmas tree ornament

A Hardanger poinsettia

I’m not sure exactly when I began collecting ornaments, but I know that I have been doing it for a long time.  Opening the boxes and taking out the delicate, tissue-paper-wrapped treasures, time is erased and recollections of people and places flood the memory.  Seeing each is like re-acquainting with an old friend.  I carefully unfold the tissue, gently turn the item in my hand and reflect on the circumstances – the story – around the acquisition of that one. Where were we?  Who was there?  What was the story?

Handmade Christmas tree ornament

Holiday Pinwheel – 2016

Christmas tree angel

Christmas Angel – 2016

Few Christmas moments give as much pleasure as the late night eggnog, sitting in the darkened living room, contemplating the lighted Christmas tree.  Amid all the bustle and clamour of the Christmas season, the Tree provides me the greatest comfort and joy.

Merry Christmas to all and to quote one of my favourite authors, “God bless us, every one!”

What holiday tradition do you like the best?  Tell us about it in the comments.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas at the White House

Nobody gets in to see the wizard.  Nobody.  No how.

That’s how it feels trying to get into a post 9-11 White House.

White House East Door

There is considerable ‘hoop jumping’ involved.  However, if you can get past the procedural challenges, the reward is worth it.  Especially at Christmas time.

Yesterday, after literally months of planning, we were able to do just that.  Beyond clearing two security checkpoints, we were able to walk virtually unimpeded up to the East Wing entrance where we were greeted by a giant red bow-topped “package” leading up to the doors

Red Garland White House

Garlands everywhere!

Garlands of every colour and style graced the doorways throughout the House.  Balls, baubles, leaves, fruit, ribbons, bows and raffia!  Whatever you can imagine – in every color!  Simply gorgeous!

White House Pups

Down the hallway to the East Landing giant furry replicas of the First Dogs, Bo and Sunny greet visitors.  Volunteers are standing by to take guests’ photos in front of the dogs – normally I don’t like to be in the pictures, but who could resist these two cuties?

East Wing Colonnade

Draped from the ceiling along the colonnade, thousands of sparkling crystals danced among the ribbons.  It is such a simple decoration –  lengths of ribbon hanging in streamers – but it created a dazzling effect.

White House Christmas

The real White House Pups

It was at this point, while looking up and admiring all the ribbons, that I heard a commotion behind me.  I spun around just in time to see the two Portuguese Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny, come trotting by with a handler no doubt on the way to an event.  I managed to snap a quick photo – not the best, but certainly a keeper!   After having just stood next to the giant ones, the real Bo and Sunny were surprisingly small!

Christmas, and more!

Even though the point of our visit was to see the White House dressed up for Christmas, seeing the portraits of past Presidents and First Ladies was quite a thrill.

White House First Lady

 

White House Library

 

decorations detail

 

Christmas decor

 

East Room Window Wreath

Entering the East Room is breathtaking!  Decorated in traditional colors of red, gold, burgundy and silver, it also contained a nearly life-size crèche prominently placed between the fireplaces in the center of the room.  Here, again, volunteers were conveniently waiting to take photos for all who ask.

White House Christmas

White House Gingerbread

 

 

Nutcracker in East Room

The tour is self-guided and so during the course of our visit, our group had become intermingled with a group from Gettysburg, PA who were dressed in Civil War Period costumes.  Their presence added a certain mystique to the White House, as if transporting it back in time.  I admit that I tried to photograph them whenever I could!

Christmas White House

Gettysburg Ladies at White House

Red Room Christmas

Very limited photography

As you can imagine, security is very strict.  While photos are allowed, they can only be with a camera phone or a small camera without a detachable lens.  I took mine with my phone which was kind of disappointing.  However, it is only recently that photography is allowed inside at all, so no complaints!

Red Room Bow

 

Green Room Fireplace

 

White House Foyer

 

White House Foyer

For more information

All tour requests must go through the office of a Congressman and may be made 3 months to 21 days in advance of your visit.  The Secret Service is very strict about what is allowed inside so it is important to follow the instructions.  Everyone goes through a security check before being allowed to tour.  Complete instructions are available here.

Do you have a favourite place to visit during the Christmas Holidays?  Tell us about it in the comments!