When she walked into our family room she oohed and awed over our Christmas tree. She spent a long time looking at each and every ornament. She especially appreciated the homemade ones--Timothy's thumbprint reindeer and the boys' Popsicle stick nativities. And watching that beautiful, spiritual nun marvel at stuff which (when you think about it) only comes out once a year put things in perspective for me on how I would henceforth celebrate and decorate for the holidays.
As someone who is always extolling the virtues of simplicity, as someone who is always simplifying meal planning, schedules, closets, and wardrobes, it wasn't until Sr. Gaudiosa's visit that I thought to simplify Christmas.
Now, don't get me wrong. I really LOVE to decorate for the holidays, I like to see other homes decked out in mistletoe and holly, and I thrive on all the confusion and chaos and parties, but for me I had to find a balance between a Biltmore Christmas (with its jeweled ornaments and elaborate gingerbread houses) and a Bethlehem Christmas (with its stable and lowly manger).
And here are two things that helped me ...
1- Bringing it Home
Sr. Gauidosa inspired me to be honest with myself. Was I decorating for others, or was I trying to create a welcoming environment for my family and friends during the holidays? Were my decorations used to impress, or were they meant to reflect the season? Was I approaching the holidays with the idea that more is better, or that less is best?
So that's when I began to simplify our Christmas. I donated most of my vintage Santas (I kept four), consolidated all our Christmas books into one basket, and gave away all our elaborate tree skirts (opting instead to use canvas drop cloth from Lowe's). I decided not to put up Christmas trees in rooms we don't use (dining room, front office), but to concentrate the decorations in the kitchen and family room--the heart of our home. In fact, the Christmas tree which straddles both rooms is the main light source during the holidays, and it makes the area intimate and cozy.
In time I began to see the difference in preparing a house for the holidays, versus preparing a home for the holidays.
2- Decorating with purpose
Here's another thing I had to learn: I do NOT need to put up ALL my decorations every year.
Shocking, I know, but very true.
This really is where the idea of less is best really is best, and it did wonders in relieving a lot of the stress and chaos in preparing for the holidays. So instead of setting up several nativities, I set up ONE in a meaningful way. Instead of a row of Santas on our bookshelves, I center one next to a poinsettia. I decorate the top of our piano with either some Christmas houses OR poinsettias and a Christmas cross, but not with both.
I try to use only what truly memorable or important to the family. When I asked our boys what was their favorite way we prepare our home for the holidays, they mentioned two things: their little trees on their nightstands (best nightlights ever) and the front window wreaths and lights (the boys love coming home after dark to see the windows lit up). They also like their stockings, but couldn't remember how the mantel was decorated from year to year.
That's it--bringing the preparations home, and doing so with purpose. I realize this might not work for everyone, but it's what works for me and my peace of mind during the holidays.
Finally, near the end of Sr. Gaudiosa's visit with us, it snowed. Earlier that day Joe and the boys had traveled to Florida for a bowl game, so it was just the two of us. With the snow gently falling outside we sat in front of a roaring fire to watch The Sound of Music (Sister's all-time favorite movie), after which she told me the story of the only time she rebelled as a nun. And sitting next to her on the couch, both of us bundled up in blankets, I experienced the most complete sense of peace and well-being. That moment, with its quiet simplicity and friendship and love, was Christmas nestled in that stable in Bethlehem.