Christmas Decorations – Not How Much But How Well

Etched very clearly on my mind is the time I laid eyes on the Christmas rose, some years ago. It was a below-zero day in late December, and bitter winds blew in from Lake Erie, as I walked on the hard frozen ground around an estate in Cleveland, taking notes for a descriptive story.

I was feeling intensely sorry for myself, away from home at the height of preparations for the festive season, and oh! so very cold. I turned away from the shore to walk beneath a pleached alley of beech trees, and stopped short at the almost miraculous sight of white flowers at my feet – so startling in their brave beauty as to make me catch my breath.

The Christmas rose is one of the very few flowers with courage to face the elements in mid-Winter in our gardens. Native of many parts of continental Europe and Asia Minor, Ilellebarus niger – to give the botanical name – adapts itself to our severe Winters and trying Summer conditions. Its common name has no doubt been acquired because of its resemblance to a chaste single or wild rose. The flower is white, sometimes an off-white, with a greenish cast, or flushed with pale rose. The golden stamens add appreciably to its lovely appearance. The palmately divided, dark green leaves are also attractive.

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Records indicate that the Christmas rose was introduced into English gardens in 1.596. Later, it was brought to America, and every now and then we come across large clumps in old gardens. But for all its hardiness and willingness to bloom when flowers are a rarity in gardens, it is not frequently seen hereabouts.

The Christmas rose will grow in ordinary soil, but will give best results in sandy loam enriched with rotted cow manure and leaf mold, and should be top-dressed annually. It likes a moist but well-drained location that is shaded at least half of the day. It does remarkably well in the shrub border and under tall deciduous trees. H. niger has even been grown among evergreens, but such shade is inclined to be somewhat too heavy. Once planted, it does not like to be disturbed, though after several years, stock may be increased by division of the clumps in the Spring.

Still another attribute endears the Christmas rose to us, for it is ideal for flower arrangements. One evening last January, I was delightfully surprised to find in the town’s library a pale green bowl filled with the lovely Christmas rose which had been grown locally.

It makes a very stunning arrangement for a Christmas dinner in a low silver bowl, with silver candlesticks holding pale green candles. With this may be used pale green china or white china edged with fine lines of pale green, silver and gold; crystal stemware; or white damask cloth and napkins. Or the Christmas rose may be placed in a light green glass bowl ? so flat it is almost a plate ? with a piece of green glass or slag. Accompanied by pale green candlesticks holding candles of a darker tone of green (the green of the foliage), white Wedgwood china and deep green goblets, it is a dinner setting in a subtle, harmonious color scheme.

Perhaps a suggestion for one less formal, livelier and in a gayer mood for a family gathering would be welcome. Pine or balsam fir or spruce or yew may be inserted in a block of plastic “”snow”” or in holes bored into a piece of wood (a narrow bread board serves the purpose nicely). A spray or two of holly may be added for a touch of color.

In the center of the arrangement of greens, a tall hand-made red candle and at each place setting, a shoulder corsage or boutonniere of greens and berries may be placed. This simple arrangement is effective with a white cloth or red one. Creamy white Lennox or white Wedgwood china completes the picture. Plummer’s famous Christmas tree china could be used ? in doing so, however, be conservative with the evergreens for the centerpiece, as the china is so highly decorative in itself.

A red cloth may serve as a foil for a whitened branch in a simple line arrangement, or for a whitened evergreen bough, hung with tiny Christmas balls or small gifts for the family. White poinsettias make a striking arrangement against a red cloth. But I should point out that they are not available in every florist shop and accordingly may be expected to be more expensive than the red poinsettias.

And now for the hostess whose dining room is in the modern manner and whose table is long and narrow. On three mirrors, spaced at intervals along the length okthe table, little Christmas balls may be grouped as bunches of grapes. The new plastic balls are especially attractive, and there are delightful tear-shaped ones, too. Silver and blue balls are effective on a pale gray cloth; silver and green and gold on a green or gold-colored cloth. The balls may be used alone or in combination with gilded or silvered magnolia, bay or rhododendron leaves.

Anthuriums, with their rich, red, formal-looking blooms, are adaptable for a modern Christmas table. Actually, the “”blooms”” are bracts or colored leaves, as in the case of poinsettias. The flower is the odd spike or spadix. Anthuriums are in the luxury class, but offset their rather high price per flower by their long lasting quality. They can be purchased as pot-plants and, as an aside, I might point out that colorful pot-plants in the hall, living room, sun porch, etc., are bright accents to the decorative plan in the festive season.

Carrying the Christmas spirit from the dining room to the living room, consider the fireplace, or rather the mantel, as that is the part to be treated. The fireplace proper should be left free ? it is really dangerous to decorate it.

For a mantel of colonial lines, painted white, evergreen branches, holly, red candles and “”the stockings all hung by the chimney with care”” carry out the traditional theme. Another idea is to hang a large wreath or horseshoe of evergreens above the center of the mantel, with candelabrum at each side; or to make a simple arrangement of evergreens and figurine candles – angels, choir boys and English carol singers.

Last Christmas, my husband surprised me by mounting little wax angels on stars made from aluminum foil, then suspended them on very fine piano wire above the mantel. An old-fashioned lamp, resting on a base made of balsam fir, bathed the angels in flickering light.

Similar decorations are in keeping with a pine-paneled fireplace. In this case, they may be extended somewhat by hanging graceful sprays in the panels, if they are large, or by suspending small dusters of Christmas balls, if the panels are small. Another suggestion is to place the prettiest of Christmas cards from relatives and friends above the mantel and down the sides. Scotch tape will fasten them.

If there is a mirror above the mantel, whatever the Christmas decorations may be, they will be enhanced by reflection. The colonial mirror may be softly draped by a garland; the Victorian mirror more fancifully trimmed, the garland being caught here and there with balls and other ornaments. The modern mirror is best left unadorned. But if it must be decorated, let it be done simply – perhaps a cluster of plastic balls hanging from the top. Without garland and without any decorative note, such a mirror will show off to best effect a modern decor of gold and silver leaves and tear-shaped balls, wired to a “”whip”” (a branch from which all leaves have been stripped).

Now let us move to the front door on which I have ? and I’m sure my readers have ? seen some weird and dismal, as well as very beautiful, creations in the spirit. of Christmas. For a doorway can be overdone to the point of the ridiculous. There is enough variety in material for wreaths, sprays and garlands, so that decorations can be contrived which are original, without striving to outshine the neighbors.

First of all, look at the door. Is it colonial, Georgian, Victorian, modern French, English, Spanish? Is it white or painted yellow, blue or green? Is it oak or mahogany? Does it open upon the street, or is the house set back upon a spacious lawn? All these are points worthy of consideration.

For a house of New England or Southern colonial architecture, wreaths, sprays or baskets of evergreens are most fitting. Spruce, balsam, fir, pine, hemlock or yew, with or without the inclusion of holly, mistletoe. cones, needles and ribbon, may be employed. The ribbon should, of course, be weatherproof. Blue spruce, by the way, with tiny cones, makes a soft-toned wreath that is especially lovely against the door of a pale-gray Cape Cod house.

Baskets may be suspended from the door knocker or hung beneath the letter box. If the entrance is broad, the fireside wood basket may be filled with greens and placed at one side. Old-fashioned sleigh bells hung on a spray of pine or spruce are charming. Bronze jingle bells are now obtainable. Lacking sleigh bells, others do well.

Bells, snowballs and stars may be made from plastic “”snow,”” which is obtainable at florist supply houses and at some florist shops. This past Christmas, I cut and strung several small stars on bright red, waterproof ribbon against a spray of yew. Flood-lighted, it was particularly effective at night when the “”snow”” stars glistened.

Formal doors of French and Georgian houses lend themselves to more elaborate treatment. They can be garlanded, as well as wreathed, pointing up the delicate pattern of fanlight and sidelights. The heavy door of the English style mansion needs brightening with gilded or silvered leaves, or with a whitened evergreen bough tied with a big ribbon. Huge cones fastened to shellacked magnolia leaves, with or without ribbon, are distinctive.

For an Italian or Spanish villa, what could be more appropriate than a Della Robbia wreath ? a striking and unusual decorative feature of foliage and fruits and also of fir or pine cones. The wreath is constructed as are all Christmas wreaths, with evergreen branches wired to a fairly strong double hoop or frame. Fruits, cones and nuts are introduced as imagination dictates, observing good principles of design and grouping, rather than spotting them. The ornaments are first dipped in a thin solution of shellac to preserve them and also give them a touch of brilliance.

After all, it is not how much, but how well you decorate that will leave a favorable impression upon the guests to your home during the Christmas holidays.

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