When I started focusing on building my own family's holiday traditions, I stripped away the things that made me unhappy about the holidays as I'd previously celebrated them and instead mined the past for my favorite things. If I had to choose just one seasonal decoration for my house, paperwhite bulbs would win hands down. I had no idea about indoor bulb forcing until I met my former mother-in-law, an extraordinary gardener. While we no longer have a relationship, I am very grateful to her for teaching me ways to enjoy plants year round.
On my search for bulbs a few years ago, I discovered the beautiful compostible swags that the folks at Mother Earth Gardens in Minneapolis create. It's now a post-Thanksgiving tradition for me to stop there for each years' selection of winter plant joy. I leave my greens up on my door all winter, then toss them into the compost bin just as I'm getting ready to start my tomato and pepper plants in early spring. It makes the time when my garden is dormant much more enjoyable.
Hands down, my grandmother was my number one influence for how to do the holidays. At this time of year, I choose to remember the gift she had for making things beautiful and delicious. She was heavily influenced by her own mother-in-law and incorporated a lot of Swedish elements into the way she orchestrated the holidays. When my sister and I were little girls we'd sit on the floor by her coffee table an spin her Swedish Angel Chimes for hours on end. The chimes I have were a gift from her, and I love to light them with my own children and watch how something so simple can be so magical.
Also thanks to my sister, I have a wonderful stash of the tree ornaments my grandmother had when we were little. I love that my children can enjoy the whimsy of these mid-century treasures as much as I did.
Many years, we have only a small tree, depending on how easy it is to move things around in our small house. Instead, I tend to create a small and manageable Christmas display on top of the piano, where it can be enjoyed by little eyes, but is less likely to be disturbed by little hands. Josh refers to this as the "Christmas Shrine." It's something that is uniquely my idea, partially created out of necessity, as I've always lived in small spaces, and partially out of the way I am drawn to creating beautiful sacred spaces on a small scale. It changes a little bit every year, but is always the place for the hand-knit stockings I made the year we celebrated Charlie's first Christmas plus all the presents.