We bought our weekend house in the Hudson Valley on December 16, 1988, drove straight to it after the closing to see what furniture the previous owners had left behind, and then went out and got a Christmas tree. My first act in what was soon to become our permanent home was to decorate for Christmas. Even though the place needed a ton of work and was none too clean (it hadn’t been lived in for eight years), it had a big, twinkling tree in the bay window and wreaths on the porch posts. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Our neighbors liked it too, after living next to a house that had been dark and neglected all that time.
Ever since, December 16 has been the day we get our Christmas tree. In recent years we’ve cut our own at the tree farm — it’s all very Currier and Ives and quaint, even if we still haven’t got the knack of choosing one that will actually fit in the house (emergency trimming usually has to be performed on the front porch). I have hundreds of vintage ornaments from the ’40s and ’50s, and even though there’s a casualty or two every year among the delicate glass ones, the collection keeps growing. One of my favorite places to find affordable old ones is the Annex Antiques Center in the one-time movie theater in Red Hook — check it out, if you’re a fellow enthusiast living nearby. It’s a multi-dealer place with a lot of collectibles, and the Christmas ornaments are on display for the whole season (you know, Halloween through New Year’s). Most cost under $5, too. I’ve also added to my collection of Santas from that store, although last year’s addition — a slightly gruesome papier-mache Santa head — was a flea market find. (I set the head on a vase so it looks as if Santa’s peeking out rather than decapitated.)
My favorite Christmas ornaments may be a little herd of a dozen metal reindeer made in Germany or Poland in the late 1800s. They were part of a store display that I persuaded the owner to sell to me several years ago. I set them up on a table in front of a little forest of fake fir trees (Woolworth’s, circa 1990), and every year I have to force myself to put them back in their box.
I love to look at other people’s decorations, too. We always go out for a late lunch on Christmas Eve, and then drive home the long way so we can see what people have been up to. Illuminated, inflatable snowmen and Santas on the lawn may not be in the best of taste, but it all looks so festive and fun, and certainly brightens up the darkest days of the year.
Happy holidays, whatever and however you celebrate! Share your favorite home decorating stories in the box below.