for 28 November 2022
Thanksgiving is over. In my world that means it’s time to shift the mood in my house from early winter to midwinter. Wednesday is St Andrew’s Day and the traditional start of the winter holidays. So it’s now time to put away the rusty colors and start pulling out Yule reds, greens, silver and gold.
In the US, we are a bit confused. We want to start the winter holidays with Thanksgiving, or at least with Black Friday. But Thanksgiving is not a winter holiday, and pulling out the midwinter lights before gathering for the feast weakens the symbolic impact of this holiday. At its heart, Thanksgiving is a harvest home festival, with cornucopias and pumpkins and autumn leaves as its symbols. It is an autumnal celebration, yet it falls in early winter when most of the leaves have fallen and the harvest is well and truly over. So, yes, Thanksgiving is confusing.
I always refused to make the shift to Christmas in my bookstore until Albuquerque began its winter festivities. These usually kicked off the first weekend of December with the Twinkle Light Parade downtown and the Holiday Stroll and tree lighting in Old Town. Drawing that line between Thanksgiving weekend and the beginning of the winter holidays gave us time to savor both. Granted, this was easier in New Mexico where autumn weather (if not falling leaves) persists almost until midwinter down in the valleys. The mountains may be covered in snow, but most years it’s still possible to pull winter squash, fresh arugula and sage, and bouquets of roses out of the garden on Thanksgiving Day. So holding a late harvest festival made a bit more sense out there, and we could make a change to midwinter after it was over.
We don’t have that option in New England. The gardens are mostly asleep. Leaves have fallen and are well along to decaying by now. Here in central Vermont, the trees have been bare for weeks, and there is snow mantling everything. Also many community tree lighting festivals happen over Thanksgiving weekend, and many homes are already decked out with lights by the middle of November. So it’s harder to draw that line between the end of harvest and the beginning of hunkering down in the winter darkness. Still, I have my traditions… So I do not decorate for midwinter until Thanksgiving is over… and I tend to not do much in the way of Yuletide activities until after St Andrew’s Day.
We did go see the holiday lights at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, but aside from the music that was not so much Midwinter as just pretty lights. Maybe Diwali. Here are some of my favorite parts.
I don’t decorate with anything like this level of wattage. I hope nobody does, actually. But it’s interesting to see what artists can do with electric lights, given free rein and probably a fairly substantial budget. I couldn’t capture my favorite part on my phone camera. It was a pyramid or rough tree shape made of metal tubing and filled with suspended disco balls of various sizes all lit up with changing colored spotlights. It’s hard to capture it in words also. Just imagine…
My decorations include lights, though not many (100amp house electrical circuit, you know…). Mostly I decorate with things that I use: lots of pillow covers, a few window valances, blankets, kitchen and bath linens, and candles. I do have trinkets and figurines that are purely decorative, but most of my holiday decorating is simply housewares in holiday colors and patterns.
I also make it easy on myself and make the shift from one season to the next in gradual steps. So today I gathered up most of the orange and brown things and put out a little more green and crimson and white. At the end of December, I’ll replace the red with plum and the green with blue, and even more white will come out. It isn’t much — and it’s taken me a lifetime to acquire and make what I do have — but it helps keep my mood grounded in the season. Makes it so I’m not rushing into the next one. Reminds me that there is always unique beauty in each day.
And there’s bread!
©Elizabeth Anker 2022