Holiday Traditions Near and Far
Before welcoming guests into your holiday home, create a relaxed atmosphere that everyone will love.
Even before Halloween, stores were filled with holiday goodies to remind us of the fast approaching holiday season, in case your Blackberry or Sidekick didn’t have Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s blinking reminders.
It was horrid — I like Thanksgiving. There are no scary costumes, no expectations of gifts that disappoint, and no fools with party hats and whistles. Just great food, a beautiful table, and people all-too-pleased to bring something for the meal.
Every spoon, dish, cup, and pickle fork has been rubbed to a silver polish enhanced shine. With luck and a few touch ups, it will stay that way straight through 12th Night, the traditional day to take down the tree.
By the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the pears, lady apples and such that filled Grandmother’s cutglass bowl gets turned into a fruit relish (especially good on ham). The bowl is refilled with silver ornaments from places as diverse as Wal-Mart and Saks Fifth Avenue. By the time the poinsettias, ordered to benefit the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra appear, my holiday shopping is done. The tree will go up, the poinsettias will disappear one by one given as holiday gifts.
Tradition runs deep among my family and friends. For years, we have exchanged the same gifts — the exact same gifts: A certain Christmas ornament, wreath, poinsettias, etc. All stress-free and joyfully anticipated … and, everyone gets what they want. I have ordered them all pre-Thanksgiving to turn down the dial on my stress level.
Long ago, my sister’s family gave me a silver bell ornament — it was delightful. I declared, “That’s what I want from now on.” And that’s what I get. This year, 32 will adorn my tree. Likewise, I give annual editions of ornaments from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where I lived for many years, to all my family. In time one has grown old enough to have their own tree and now the 20 or so ornaments make a statement of continued love from Auntie Di on my beloved tree.
So many people have traditions, so here from some of the most talented, time-deprived people are a few very personal, time-honored customs. Some local, some from very far away:
Betty Hunley of all those invitations and things, decorates her house as soon as the last Thanksgiving dinner plate has been washed! “My favorite Christmas decoration is my porcelain nativity scene. I set it up on the sideboard with tiny votive candles and “snow.” Then I hang Christmas stockings that my mother needlepointed for her six children, plus their spouses and grandchildren. The rest of the decorations are very simple and traditional … lots of candles, wreaths, red bows and berries everywhere.”
“I’m so busy that if I don’t decorate Thanksgiving night, I wouldn’t have the time. I guess that’s a good thing because I could really go crazy,” she says.
Designer, jeweler, artist Mario Villa often goes home to Nicaragua for the holidays. “You’d be surprised how similar Christmas there is to here,” he says. “Right down to the turkey.”
“Christmas Eve, before Mass we go around to friend’s houses, deliver presents and party. Then we take the children home and send them to bed. After Midnight Mass we eat a huge Christmas dinner — turkey, potatoes, everything! We exchange gifts and make sure Santa Claus has arrived for the children. It’s called Noche Buena.”
“After all that we sleep late on Christmas Day … or try until the children find their presents. On the Sunday before New Year’s, we eat nacatamales — a recipe handed down from the Indians. It’s a square tamale wrapped in banana leaves, and must have an olive, currents and capers in it, as well as pork, chicken, or vegetables. It’s for good luck and wealth.”
Glenn Vesh of Perfect Presentations is so swamped during the social season it’s not surprising that he rarely has time to think of himself. “I do try to add a new element to my home decorating each year. I really do. It might be something as timeless as adding beaded fruit to a basket, or an arrangement on the table, if I ever get to sit down long enough. There is the tree which I keep traditional, not something monumental … and, well to tell the truth, I am like the shoemakers child who has no shoes! My staff very sweetly has made a tradition of doing a garland wreath for my door. It’s always beautiful and a bit of a surprise and it’s so nice someone does it for me.”
Suzette Cain of The Plant Gallery loves plants, of course, but her unbreakable, unshakable Christmas tradition is to make popcorn garlands. “I love making them. I’ve done it for years. Yes, especially last year. No I don’t do cranberries or beads or anything in between the popcorn, as it makes it too heavy. I love stinging the popcorn — there is something soothing about it. Of course, you have to get the popcorn at the perfect consistency or you wind up with bits and pieces everywhere. What’s nice about this is that I can be anywhere at Christmas and take my simple tradition with me.”
Caterer Kellie Levy, a person you might think of as having a foodies’ tradition, is quite the surprise.
“It’s simple. We get everything down and the tree up. When we start decorating we put on The Jackson Five and dance and sing our way through the decorating. I wish I could tell you how it started, but, it’s now a tradition. We’re grooving to The Jackson Five every year.” The rest of the time she’s cooking like crazy at Toulouse Catering so that her clients don’t have to!