The Wreath Lectures, 2017

Another year has rolled round and I’ve been sneaking up to front doors and admiring wreaths yet again. Last year was all about the mistletoe and silvery wreaths, this year what I’ve been noticing were cones. Big cones, little cones, it’s all about the cones.

First of all, cones with cinnamon sticks, a huge red ribbon and what looks like the contents of the fruit bowl.

Big cones, small cones and fake shiny fruit including cherries. I saw this wreath on quite a few doors locally and was slightly bemused by the apparent introduction of cherries to the festive fruit canon.

Cones with silvery leaves. Lovely.

And more cones with more silvery leaves and big silver baubles. This was perhaps the point at which I decided cones were the ‘thing’ this year.

What looks like a home-made wreath, I always like a low-hanging wreath (or perhaps I should call it a sub-letterbox? Or a below the fold?) I particularly liked this one because of the slightly wonky Easter-eggish shape.

This one appears to be coneless, but I liked the asymmetric gold leaves against the yellow door. (Poor photo, as it was a big house with steps up to the front door so I couldn’t get any closer, but I didn’t want to leave this one out).

Another yellow door and a really spectacular display – wreath PLUS ivy PLUS holly PLUS a big offcut of the Christmas tree. If you have a big grand yellow door, why the hell wouldn’t you? I would.

And in contrast, a plain green wreath not even hung up, just dropped straight on the doorknob, against an austere black door. Classy.

Another plain black door, this time with a twiggy wreath with a hint of sparkle underneath. Endorsed.

Finally, a poinsettia wreath not on a door but simply propped casually on a windowsill. Audacious, but it works beautifully.

Those are my best finds of the year, with no repeats – and finishes off a very happy Christmas. Hello to 2018 (in 20 minutes) and a big far off wave to Spring. I have a big pile of gardening jobs with my name on and I am looking forward to getting started!


Christmas Trees, and letting go…

This year feels like the first time I have properly relinquished control of the Christmas tree.

I was well aware it was bound to happen, and that as children grow older, letting them take charge of Christmas decorating is all part of the fun (for them). For me, I knew I would have to rein in my Monica Geller-style tendencies, and not fret too much if a favourite decoration of mine was not hung in an optimum place, or the two snowmen ornaments were hung side by side, rather than placed well away from each other, to create a properly balanced tree.

There are limits to what one tree-obsessed mum can take, of course – you have to apply some control over distribution of decorations, otherwise they will all end up on the lower half of the tree, and limit the number of times a particular item is fiddled with and taken off and put back on, or risk setting off a flood of needle-drop.

Apart from that, (and a little bit of rearranging after they’d gone to bed), the tree is entirely mostly their own work, and I am pretty pleased with the communal effort. It helps that the tree is a nice shaped one, and for once, not on a wonk.

I’ve also given them free rein with decorations in other areas – the Mr has helped them with paper chains (I don’t get involved, all that rustling paper drives me mad) and we’ve made some ‘stained glass’ tissue-paper window decorations which were great fun to do – and look nice against the glass no matter how scruffily they’ve been made. (See below – I rather like the freestyle approach to what colour a reindeer ought to be).

I even encouraged the use of cotton wool balls to try and make a snow picture; I can’t say the results were outstanding, but it kept the big girl happily occupied for a while.

One thing I noticed after the tree was finished was the lack of baubles, and I realised we now have so many ‘good’ decorations we don’t need to fall back on the non-breakable red or gold baubles which were formerly used to fill in gaps, and are so basic they live in a plastic bag in the garage, because there is no room for them in the Christmas decoration boxes. (Poor basic baubles, now I feel like they are Mary and Joseph in the stable and I should invite them in out of pity, but there is simply no space on the tree!)

The lack of space doesn’t mean there are no new decorations on the tree, though – I had resisted buying anything new, but still seem to have acquired things – the children each chose a decoration from a craft stall and the big girl embellished hers with a few extra sparklies (could I ever have imagined the day I’d allow bright acid yellow on to my tree? Reader, it happened).

Then the toddler came home from preschool with a salt dough tree decorated by her – she insisted on holding it all the way home, so more glitter ended up on her and the buggy than the decoration – but still it is pretty well glittered.

There is also a rather jaunty snowman made by the big girl at school, and another salt dough star which came from somewhere or other.

Finally, I succumbed to temptation (in a church, of all places!) and bought two olive wood fair trade guilt-free decorations made in Bethlehem. (Bought at the St Martins in the Fields gift shop).

I have not had much time for making decorations this year, as I’ve been making a mobile as a present for the toddler instead (pictures will follow). At my current pace, perhaps it should be set aside for her birthday in Feb to give me time to make a few more decorations, if I can squeeze them on the tree.

For yet another year, I’ve also contemplated my very tiny and drab wreath and wondered if I could or should do something better, but time has run away with me and I’ve put that on the mental to-do list for next year. No shortage of good wreaths out there to nick ideas from, though: I have a very long list already to whittle down for my annual wreath round-up!

‘Tis the season to be glittery…

It’s been a peculiar start to Christmas – windy, but not remotely cold, everywhere still green and fresh but not sunny or cheerful; we were in short sleeve t-shirts yesterday which felt very odd. Then, just as we were hanging the decorations, we were hit by the unwelcome arrival of the infant tummy bug. 

Nothing like a wave of baby vomit to dampen the festive spirit, and to throw into relief the contrast between the Instagram-filtered ideal Christmas and the slightly more rough-and-ready reality – although Christmas scented candles and home made pomanders do help cover the smell of Dettol and sick quite well. (The pomanders were courtesy of the Christmas festival at Morden Hall Park – a craft activity supposedly for children, but I enjoyed it so much I made a second one when I got home).
Luckily the sickness has receded and we can start to feel a little more cheery now. There has been no great effort at creativity from me this year (pomanders excepted) – hands are quite full enough, frankly, but a few decorations needed a bit of mending and tinkering with, so that has made me feel like I’m doing something constructive.

We have a smaller tree this year, after last year’s effort ended with an unfortunate fall, and I’ve even been so restrained as to hold back some of the larger decorations for reasons of space. I have allowed a few new favourites to creep in, though….

This jolly reindeer was a bargain from the local Cancer Research shop.


These lovely baubles were a gift from a friend who went to Mexico – if other people are going to start getting me decorations, well, next year we could be here all day….

Then these red-hatted and jumpered figures I bought because they reminded me fondly of the Danish tree decorations my grandparents gave us when I was little, although these ones I’m afraid came from IKEA. 

And it does feel slightly, now that the tree has Mexican baubles on it, plus Viennese rocking horses and Canadian puffins, as if it is becoming gradually more eclectic and less exclusively Scandi-themed. And that, I think, is OK. 

In any case, I think this year will be the last one where I get any sway over the tree – the big girl already moves things around to her preferred locations: ‘not THAT branch Mummy!’ – and of course everything she’s bought home from preschool has been liberally coated in glitter. 

We have glitter on the sofa, glitter on the floor, glitter on the baby and glitter on every inch of the table, despite endless rounds of wiping. 

It can only be a matter of time before glitter rises up to overwhelm us all – in the mean time, I will enjoy tinkering with my tree, whilst the small humans still let me.

Christmas blog part two – my round up of my favourite wreaths – is being fine tuned as I type. (There are some real good’uns on it this year). Until then, here is the slightly smaller, slightly chaotic, but still resplendent 2015 tree.

(I know it looks like there’s a big bare patch at the bottom. It bothers me too, more than I like to admit – but these branches are actually much flatter and smaller than they look in the picture and no good for hanging anything on. Would be ideal for tinsel, but I don’t do tinsel).


I really like Christmas…

It’s sentimental I know…but I just really like it (to quote Tim Minchin).

I really like lots of things about Christmas, but like many people at the start of building life as a new family, creating our own rituals is part of the fun, and something I particularly looked forward to. The Perry Como-heavy Christmas playlist which is put on as we decorate the tree. Making mince pies while listening to Carols from Kings. Visiting the Norwegian tree in Trafalgar Square, because my mum was taken there by her father in the late 1940s, when it was a new tradition.

But most of all, for me, it’s about the tree itself. We don’t drape the entire house in holly and paper chains – too much dusting – and I’m aware in future years the house will be swamped with Christmas tat based on the demands of small humans, so for now, I’m keeping it simple. We have the wreath, of course, and a big bunch of mistletoe, but the focus has always been the tree.

As I wrote last year, my decorations used to be all silver and purple, very cool in a geometric and snazzy disco way, but not very ‘me’ now. And most of those decorations all came from one place – Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road, round the corner from my old office – so they had no ‘tale’ linked to them, no real sentimental value apart from the fact they’re pretty, and I suppose they do remind me of the years I spent living and working in that area, but they are made of glass, and not very practical now.

So when I bought my old house, and had my white walled living room with red rug and red sofa, I decided to match my Christmas decorations to the room, (I even had a ‘red party’ for my first New Years Eve, where everyone had to wear red), and in the following years I added to the collection on my travels.

Now, at last, I have some decorations that actually remind me of places and happy times, and this year I’ve even had time to make a few things myself. Here are some of my favourites.

Icelandic felt bauble

Icelandic felt bauble

This is a felt bauble I bought in Reykjavik in November 2009, my birthday weekend. Christmas decorations in an Icelandic tourist shop cost an arm and a leg but I couldn’t resist buying some from there, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle!

Ampelman from Berlin

Ampelmann from Berlin

Earlier that year I went to Berlin, and was charmed by the Ampelmann, the quirky little silhouette used by the East Germans in their traffic lights (and is a useful way to remind yourself which part of the once-divided city you’re in, if you are a wandering tourist). I found these decorations in a tourist tat shop just near Checkpoint Charlie (this is the Green Man, but I obviously have the Red one too, to make sure they aren’t lonely).

Gisela Graham star

Gisela Graham star

This gingerbread Gisela Graham star was part of a set given to me by an old friend as a housewarming present and went on my first tree that year.

Canadian snowman

Canadian snowman

This cheeky snowman came from our holiday in Newfoundland in 2011. I think it was bought in the delightfully-named Rocky Harbour, where I ate cod tongues – don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em – and partridgeberry pancakes.

Viennese rocking-horse

Viennese rocking-horse

Later that year, we went to Vienna for a weekend (last trip abroad pre-baby) and I bought this rocking-horse from the gift shop of the Spanish riding school (the one with the prancing white horses).

Wooden decoration from the National Gallery

Wooden decoration from the National Gallery

This wooden decoration came from the National Gallery shop in 2011 – we had gone to look at the Trafalgar Square tree, and with a bit of time to spare before, I’d gone into the gallery. I discovered to my surprise that nice decorations were already being reduced, before Christmas had even happened, so I snapped up some bargains. We went back again this year and found exactly the same thing – so that’s my London-insider shopping tip for Christmas, go to the National Gallery.

Home-made snowman

Home-made snowman

This is one of my new decorations in 2013 – made by me, using a kit from my Crafty Creatives Christmas box. I used items from the same kit to make the stocking below…

Home-made stocking

Home-made stocking

I also used the contents of my button box to decorate this felt tree.

Home-made tree

Home-made tree

Finally, I have to share with you what goes on the top of the tree: this is the one item which survives from my original silver and purple collection. Back then, I added a fluffy, sparkly felt fairy as an ironic touch to a sophisticated silver tree, but she fits in now with the new tree, with absolutely no irony at all. And the final tree tradition I have is that she gets added last of all.

Fairy on top of the tree

Fairy on top of the tree

I could go on writing about my tree decorations for hours more – I haven’t mentioned the squirrel and hedgehog, or the gingerbread house, or the baubles and bells (there are plenty of both), or all the things with heart motifs. Nor have I mentioned how some of my childhood tree decorations ended up on a BBC Wales News picture gallery last year, which was very exciting…because I do have to stop *somewhere*.

But I’ll finish with a picture of the tree itself, with small human in foreground, and a pledge to try and blog a bit more next year (promises, promises), and wish you a Merry Christmas & a very happy 2014.

Lovely tree

Lovely tree