Tis The Season To Be MAR-ry

As you can see from this photo of Rosebrook Gardens during the holidays, I keep things a little more simple than some people do. But I still want the place to look ready for the winter holidays. I’ve never been one for the all-out crazy light show on my house – I save that for the folks who want fame on YouTube, and maybe the corporate giants who manage Rockefeller Center – you know, people who can take the hit in their electric bill! It’s a matter of taste for everyone on how you choose the decorate, of course, but I like keeping my decorations in line with all winter holidays (I call it “creating winter interest”), so they work throughout the season and don’t need to be yanked down right after Christmas.

But preparing to write about this got me thinking. Why do we use lights to create festive feelings in our homes?

It makes sense that lights and fires are meant to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of winter’s cold and darkness. From prehistoric times, people have wondered at the mysterious beauty of fire. The ancients believed that all fire came from the sun, and so they honored it with bonfires, torches, and later candles.

But why more around the holidays? Let me share what I discovered. For Christians, light has always been a symbol of goodness, purity, and divinity. As Christianity spread throughout the world, it was natural that the flickering flame of candlelight would become a part of the mysteries of the faith. There are several specific references in the bible where Jesus is compared to light itself. The Christmas story prominently features a special star as a beacon.

It is said that Martin Luther first adorned trees with light. While coming home one December evening, the beauty of the stars shining through the branches of a tall fir inspired him to recreate the effect by placing candles on the branches of a small fir tree inside his home. He also topped his tree with a star to commemorate that star which was in the Bethlehem sky in the Christmas story.

You know, it’s kind of funny that considering that the USA is the largest consumer of Christmas-related merchandise, in the beginning Christmas was slow to catch on in America. The early colonists considered it a pagan ritual. The celebration of Christmas was even banned by law in Massachusetts in colonial days. In North America, how we celebrate today is an amalgam of different traditions all contributed by different groups of early immigrants. For example, the Germans brought the Christmas tree (the first recorded one was not until 1820), Catholic immigrants brought Midnight Mass and everyone had their own Christmas carols.

So back to those lights on our homes…where did that come from? During the Middle Ages, a time when darkness filled the world, Christians told stories of Jesus’ parents wandering through the night, looking for a place to stay. On Christmas Eve, families began to put candles in their windows as a sign of welcome to the little wanderer. On that night, no stranger was ever turned away from the door. Now I’ll remind you of those immigrants to America I mentioned earlier; we can thank the Irish for contributing the tradition of placing lights in windows of homes. Today the candles of Christmas, as well as the lights we string around our homes, have evolved from a literal reminder of that story to become a symbol of welcome.

How welcoming is your home at the holidays? No, I don’t mean how it looks, but inside…and inside you?

As we prepare sit by the fire and conspire, and extend an invite to the family to enjoy the holiday with us I can’t help but wonder are we programmed to do this, or is it a true feeling of the heart? That said, this holiday season is about “comfort and joy;” the joy that things could be worse and the comfort that we can choose the people we want to spend the holiday with. Growing up my family would always invite their friends to share the holidays with. As kids we would go door to door singing holiday songs raising money so we could donate at the midnight mass. Wonderful memories, as we always had close friends that were a big part in our celebration. Today I keep this same tradition alive and try to find ways to offer it more and more to others. Yes, having family member is great, but oh how lucky I feel when I can also bring out the big guns and extend invitations to my true friends – those who can quickly fill the table with a much needed distraction and entertainment.

Each year, as I begin my annual winter interest projects and look back to enjoy it all, I’m motivated to celebrate the beauty by calling some friends to share the festive holiday display. We grab a cocktail, perhaps my hot chocolate recipe and begin a wander through the gardens and garden studio. No matter where you look the garden is at rest yet there is something very much alive – for example, something as simple as white lights around a doorway can offer just the right amount of light to complement my winter door wreath which cost me less than $30.00 to create. Now, as we reach the days before Christmas, I add a simple bow and it becomes a holiday wreath; I remove the bow, come January, and it returns to a winter interest delight.

So what does MAR-ry verses Merry really mean? It’s quite simple, as you can look to those closest to you for all the answers. Good times, good cheer and the simple joy of companionship through being together. I recently said to a friend while sharing a glass of wine, totally unplanned or rehearsed, that I loved her and I was blessed to have her in my life. I was reminded at that very moment just how much these simply, honest expressions mean. In a world of “things” representing how we often feel about each other this was nothing more than a statement from the heart.

I hope that our holidays will be one of love and being thankful for the people in our lives more than the things in it. That’s a sentiment that will fill the room with something more valuable than a tangible gift – this is the gift that will continue to give for years to come.

So my idea for this holiday season is to consider consolidating families – not just your own, in order to experience how sharing together the memories and traditions makes things even better. Maybe this year is the time to offer the idea of celebrating together, rather than simply asking “So, what are you doing for the holidays?” Now more than ever this is a time in our nation and the world for change and uniting, no matter how simple or elaborate the celebration may be, and friends and family will get you on your way to a more memorable and lasting experience, and offer the much needed help.

My home represents my casual luxury life and I’m delighted to share it with those closest to me: friends, family and neighbors. It’s about making the place available for others to enjoy and letting them know they’re welcome. For me, that “sharing” can be anything from letting Christine use my spare room on her way to a party, to letting my friend Geri use my washer/dryer because hers broke down. It’s about embracing those opportunities as ways to spend even more time with them. This year, with so many changes in people’s lives, the most important message to deliver to those you care about is that you never forget the value good friends and family members bring into your life. So I say that even if you don’t have a spare room, or if no one needs your washer, it’s during this time of year that we should embrace the “pop over for a drink” idea, or “come after work” invitation. Truly meaning these casual invitations is a powerful, rewarding way to embrace the good cheer of being together, being grateful, and showing what’s supposed to be in our hearts this time of year.

Think you can do it, too? If you’ve got your holiday lights on you’re already halfway there.

And there you have it.

For more great winter interest ideas checkout my book, Life On Mar’s, A Four Season Garden available in books stores nationally or through my web site.