|A simple twig wreath on the door to our barn|
As I wrote last year, we like our Christmas decorations to be understated, natural, and—in many cases—vintage. Not kitschy vintage, mind you, but rather from an earlier era when the quality was better, and where the decorations—I'm referring to glass ornaments mostly—have an attractive patina. You will not find our rooms at Darlington House at Christmas-time tangled with artificial garlands, bought at big-box retailers, and covered with tartan bows and twinkling lights; nor will you find every mantle and tabletop "merchandised" with collections of pseudo-vintage Santa Clauses, made-in-China nutcrackers, or pretty-in-pink cast resin ballerinas.
At our house we will unpack and set out a cherished collection of antique Black Forest carved bears, along with a diminutive Neapolitan creche from the 1950s, and a set of a dozen or so little Delft blue-and-white houses that KLM used to give out to its first class passengers years ago. But that's about as far as we go in the Christmas "collectibles" department.
|Fresh magnolia wreaths,|
waiting to be hung on the house
When it comes to a tree, we cut ours down at a local farm, and we decorate it with a combination of recently-made and vintage ornaments that we've been collecting for as long as we've been together. I think we probably have several thousand to choose from by now. You can be assured that you won't find any new Christopher Radko "theme" ornaments ("Look! It's a Wizard of Oz Christmas!") anywhere near our tree, although I suspect I could possibly be talked into making an exception for his rather good reproductions of vintage Shiny Bright ornaments. And just as we decorate with restraint inside the house, our exterior decorations are similarly subdued: you will never see strings of multi-colored dancing icicle lights hanging from the eaves of Darlington House, nor will there ever be hardware-store inflatable snow globes littering our lawns. And I mean never.
|Floral wire: the secret weapon for|
successful Christmas decorating
This year, we've decided to be even more understated in our Christmas decorations at Darlington House, both inside and out, paring them down to their very essence. Inside, we'll have a tree, of course, and we'll tuck evergreen branches along the tops of looking glasses and picture frames. We already found and brought home a gorgeous balsam fir this past weekend, and we'll likely put it up either this coming weekend or (more likely) the next. We probably won't finish decorating it until shortly before Christmas day. We've already filled a dozen clay pots with paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs that I expect will start blossoming soon. I also expect that Boy will fill several antique bowls with carefully selected vintage glass ball ornaments and place them about the house, as he usually does, and I will likely buy some Agraria Bitter Orange potpourri to fill a favorite Chinese export bowl in the drawing room. I love the way it smells in the winter, as I have since I first delightedly came across it more than twenty-five years ago.
Two of the magnolia wreaths, hung on the windows
at the side entry to the house
Outside, we've already replaced the warm-weather plantings in our urns with evergreens, as we do every winter. We're forgoing hanging garlands on our porches and portico this year, and we are only hanging wreaths instead. We aren't putting ribbons on the wreaths as we like them best unadorned. Boy had three wreaths made from fresh southern magnolia leaves in Manhattan's flower district this past Friday, and we hung them on Saturday. They look marvelous. We also strung exterior Christmas lights on a drift of lilac shrubs over the weekend—white and clear ones in a constellation of medium and small bulbs, just like on the trees on Park Avenue in Manhattan. It's all so restrained and tasteful.
|The wreath on the front door|
One of the reasons we're not doing more with our Christmas decorations this year is that we aren't throwing a big holiday party this season, as we have in each of the last four or five years. We've done quite a bit of entertaining already this year, and Reggie—to be honest—could use a break. He's more than happy to have others pick up the reins this time around. He has been enjoying attending some holiday parties in Manhattan during the week in December (yes, they've already started), and he is looking forward to attending several more over the coming weeks. Even though we're not throwing a big bash at Darlington House this year, we'll probably still invite some good friends over for a "hep yo seff" drinks party at some point over the holidays, since Reggie and Boy are, at the end of the day, social animals and like to entertain.
|It looks like I'll need to stock up on some more|
of this divine gin to get through the holidays . . .
Aside from attending parties, one of the pleasures of this time of year (and for those of us attempting to watch our figures, one of the pitfalls) is going out for end-of-the-year celebratory meals in restaurants with friends and family, and, in Reggie's and Boy's cases, entertaining clients and employees, too. I've booked tables in a number of swell restaurants in Manhattan for such get-togethers, including one at Grammercy Tavern and another at La Grenouille, among other places, which should be great fun. I am particularly looking forward to taking the people who work for me at the Investment Bank out to a very nice holiday luncheon. They've worked hard this year, and they deserve recognition for it.
So, why is it, as I wrote this post—which started out as a "Let's show our wreaths!" one and has since evolved into more of a Christmas commentary—that I felt I was somehow coming up short this year when it came to climbing on the Christmas-spirit bandwagon? And I remembered, yet again, that I am susceptible to the trumped-up-nostalgia and merchandising madness that rears its head this time of year, that insists that Christmas should be the happiest, jolliest, most present-filled, and most overdecorated time of the year in order to not fall short of expectation, or avoid bitter disappointment. Once I recognized this—which is a lesson that I have to relearn every year, it seems—I was able to give myself permission to opt out of the emotional and financial rabbit hole that such a vision of Christmas can drop many of us into. And when I did, I felt a lot better about the way we are celebrating Christmas this year at Darlington House—which is discretely and in a mostly understated way and where the focus is not so much on the stuff, or the decorations, or the parties, but rather on what, and whom, we have to be grateful for.
And that's just fine with me.
All photographs by Boy Fenwick