One of my favourite parts about Christmas is decorating the house in celebration of one of the loveliest times of the year. I change elements of it each year but the essentials stay the same; a tree, the nativity, candles and ornaments, an advent calendar, a wreath or greenery of some kind. I start late, add slowly and I really enjoy it.
Since we moved down here almost three years ago, we've always bought our tree from a local garden centre that I favour for the simple reason that I know they stock pink poinsettias, which I absolutely adore and are hard to find. We did not mean to buy such a big tree. It didn't look that big in the garden centre, honestly.
I bought a Christmas tree skirt this year and I really like the way it finishes and frames the tree. I worried that Ziggy might chew the wicker but no, he's ignored it for the fairy lights and decorations.
After a few breakages, all baubles have been moved to high branches out of reach, and all the really precious decorations (ie anything the children have made) remain out of harm's way in the loft, but still. It's been challenging. But, after lots of firm "no!"s he is slowly getting the message. Or more likely he's just grown bored of the tree.
I've strung fairy lights around the living room window and trailed some outdoor lights through all the shrubs in the front border. I never used to see the point of outdoor lights at Christmas - all that expense, all that climbing about on ladders, all that electricity - but I am slowly being converted. There is something very cheering about arriving home in the dark to all that sparkling light and the promise of warmth within.
Just give me another year, and it'll be full-on National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation style. Our sixties house is not blessed with the kind of festive features that look so pretty at this time of year; I have no wooden front door, painted in Farrow & Ball colours or otherwise, from which to hang an evergreen wreath; the four metre wide windows are hard to dress with fairy lights; there is no potted Christmas tree on my doorstep, only a couple of dead dahlias. But fairy lights make everything pretty.
I also added a few lights to the advent calendar, although this photo was taken last week and there are a sparse seven parcels left on it now. (Today's gift, Christmas socks, was a huge hit with both kids which was rather lovely.)
This year's advent calendar has been the most popular yet. Bella and Angus have developed an almost civilised rota of who's turn it is to cut down the parcel and open it, and I think they've genuinely loved it. The other rather sweet surprise has been how much they still enjoy playing with the little wooden nativity scene. I remember buying this when Bella was tiny and hoping it would be something that would get used and touched, not just sit on a shelf looking beautiful, and that it would stay with us as a family through the years.
Of course I had the most fun faffing around with the mantel. You knew I would, didn't you?
I love how the two indoor wreaths look up there. Hanging anything square or rectangular on that asymmetrical chimney breast is problematic, but circles seem to work.
I tried to stick to a fairly minimal colour palate. Lots of white with a little red and green.
The round shelf in the dining room was given a little wintry dressing too, with fairy lights that usually live in our bedroom and trimmings from the tree.
I very much like this shelf, I think it's one of my favourite things and changing the displays with the seasons is so much fun.
I spent a lovely night - I think it was last Sunday night - writing my Christmas cards in front of the fire. John was out, the kids were in bed, Ziggy was asleep, and it was just me and the TV (with full control of the remote, winner) and a cup of tea.
I know that writing Christmas cards is a chore, but I am so happy every time I receive one, that I don't mind sending them too. It's the one time of the year when you actually get nice post.
I also have a bit of a thing about Christmas stamps. They make me happy.
Despite all this twinkly prettiness and festive industriousness, I have found it hard to find my usual Christmas spirit this year. It's nothing major, just that I am very tired and have, for the last three weeks, been fighting off a lingering cold/virus that has sapped my energy and left me looking and feeling washed out. In Hampshire, we don't break up for Christmas until next Thursday which is much too close to Christmas for my liking. I have come to rely on that week between finishing work and Christmas Day to get jobs done - wrap gifts, last minute shopping etc - but more importantly to slow down and enjoy spending some time alone with the kids, doing things like making gingerbread or paper chains, something relaxing. But this year, it will feel rushed. On Friday I will clean the house and await the food shop (I'm so impressed with myself for actually remembering to book a delivery slot this year) and bake, and on Saturday family come to stay.
So, no slow pottering this year, or at least not until after Christmas, but I went to a carol service tonight and that was just wonderful. I do love a good sing. Today I baked and baked (teacher gifts, mince pies, birthday cake) and we have been watching all the Christmas films and TV and I've had Christmas music on repeat at home and in the car so I am trying really hard. I think I just need to slow down, but that's virtually impossible in December, especially when your daughter turns eleven tomorrow and you have balloons that need to be blown up and a cake to ice....
Stay sane lovely people. If you have found that elusive Christmas balance, then please share your secret.