“Gloria” in Excelsis:
A Christmas Confessional
Christmas 1968 was especially memorable for John and me. It was a holiday of “firsts”…our first Christmas together as newly-weds, living in our first apartment, and putting up our first holiday tree. Working with a non-existent budget but lots of enthusiasm we scraped together enough money for the bare essentials, and went in search of the perfect small tree; and found all the other necessities at Woolworth’s. The resultant tree was, to say the least, minimal, and I guess that would have been OK with me, if it hadn’t been for Gloria Vanderbilt. Yes, that Gloria!
As I was looking through the holiday issue of House & Garden magazine, I became captivated by an elaborate photo spread of Gloria’s holiday décor in her Manhattan townhouse (see below). Her home was replete with fascinating and rare art objects, quilts and throws were everywhere, pillows were piled high, and every table was awash in lacquered boxes and meaningful bibelots. In one of the smaller photos, barely noticeable, was a tiny boxwood tabletop tree. It was totally encrusted with small rarefied bits and bobs; a glittering miniature tree, worthy of a Victorian drawing room. Although it was a minor grace note in an entire townhouse full of dazzling wonderments. It was the inspirational flashpoint that I wanted and needed.
click photos to enlarge
[all photos from H&G by Ernst Beadle]
In our tiny entry foyer, I set up a small side table and covered it with an old paisley crazy quilt. I stuffed an armload of boxwood branches into a brass cachepot (I knew some of those wedding gifts would eventually come in handy!) and I covered the tree in treasures. Not Gloria’s version of treasures, to be sure. Things like my old Girl Scout pin, John’s Navy insignia, embossed Victorian paper cherubs, cockades made of gold wrapping paper and notary seals, family snapshots, thrift-shop scatter pins, and an origami dove for a topper. Each day something else was auditioned and added to the tableau – a colorful area rug, a favorite poster thumb-tacked to the wall, brass candlesticks, pine cones. Dare I say, I think Gloria would have liked the vibe.
photos of this year’s holiday décor
[click photos below to enlarge]
No one will ever describe us as Minimalists. Starting with that first year of marriage, we’ve always enjoyed surrounding ourselves with collections, books, and art. By now, we have enough meaningful and significant ornaments to cover every inch of our tall holiday tree, and we place the overflow throughout the house. Every ornament is a reminder, a memory, a story. One of my favorite parts of holiday decorating is setting up the little nativity scene. In fact, I just did that last night. Our crèche is the one from my childhood, when I used my allowance money to buy additional figures each year. And just to add to the nostalgia, I noticed that there is still a price sticker on the bottom of one of the shepherds. Seventy-five cents. Priceless.
Setting up holiday décor isn’t “real” decorating — it’s better than that. It’s the ritual of pulling things out of storage that we only see once a year, and riding the waves of emotion and reflection. Every ornament on our tree reminds us of a beloved friend, or my dear Mom who loved to “make things”, or a travel destination, or a gifted artist–and it is an accumulation of our lifelong stories and enthusiasms. And just to bring everything full-circle, this year I hunted down a back issue of House & Garden with the photos of Gloria’s townhouse. Still inspirational. As the Persian poet, Rumi, said: “May the beauty we love, be what we do.”