If you look closely between the boards of my wobbly gate, you'll see the very cute nose of Wood-the-Perfect-Dog. Formally known as Dogwood, the 'dog' part seemed intuitive - so years ago she simply became 'Wood'. WtPD is a Christmas Baby - as of this December 25th, she will have been perfect for 11 years. Right now Wood is happy that she is a spoiled indoor dog, sitting close to a fire - while the first freeze of the season threatens outside.
It's funny seeing a holiday wreath on my gate - I'm normally one of those very last minute holiday people - prefering to make something myself a few days before the 25th. As I've grown older, I've become more and more resentful of the insaneness surrounding the holidays - it seems to be exactly the opposite of what it is suppose to be. I can't stand Christmas carols playing before December (and if I had to admit it - I don't really enjoy them until we're firmly into the month of December). If I didn't travel to visit my family in Virginia for the holidays, I'd be one of those putting up a Christmas tree on the 24th - and making cinnamon ornaments with cookie cutters to go onto the tree. My mother has fought my simplistic approach towards Christmas tooth and nail: I have Christmas china (like an entire set - including the small nut dish and gravy boat...) and I have a collection of fragile glass ornaments that while beautiful - are a bit at risk in my home filled with a three-legged cat, a blind dog, and two big dogs with tails that constantly wag.
For the past ten years my Christmas trees have been trees that I desired in my garden - a lowquat, a Foster Holly, a East Palatka Holly, a Greenspire Cypress, spring-flowering magnolias - trees that stayed indoors for only two or three days with a cluster of lights on any branch that would support them. These were trees that got curious looks from anyone that came by - curious looks at least until the tree was planted and a few years later were much more than one could have imagined while being humiliated by a string of lights. This year is strange - when my brother came down from Vermont for Thanksgiving - at the last minute he cut down a 5' tall fresh blue spruce and picked up a fresh wreath (the one on the gate) and drove them down - trees in the north cost so much less than trees in the south, and he couldn't resist bringing them down. The tree is in my small living room, draped in small multi-colored lights. I still haven't decided whether I will get it a companion - a tree to plant in the garden - all though as the semester winds down I find myself thinking about how desperately I need a red bay. It is just so desperately needed, in that way that the plant-obsessed desperately need to plant just one more thing.
But my one holiday tradition - the one that is both insane and exhausting and makes me at some point in the middle of a long dark night shout out 'Bah Humbug!!' is that I make my Holiday Cards each year. Like make them - by hand - like this one from 2005. They've morphed more into New Years cards - because I never really decided what I want to do until the 17th or 18th of December - and when I do decide, and if I'm using oil-based paints - they sometimes take forever to dry, hanging or leaning on just about every space available in my home. So, here it is, the 4th of December - and I'm thinking 'crap, I've gotta make those damn cards soon' and I laugh at my own special brand of holiday cheer. But I love doing it - it's like giving all of my friends from far and wide a little gift, something personal - they've been delivered to their doors for over 20 years now - starting first as a few pen and ink sketches, personalized - then block prints - watercolors, oils - you name it - one year I used potatoes shaped like stars instead of linoleum. I think I'll post some of them over the next month - they're probably the best part of me and my best contribution to the season over the years. To me they're what the season is about - sharing just a bit of yourself, reaching out to friends - and perhaps sharing a bit of the joy that gets crowded out by the loud music and rotating lights and shiny packages.
Last night my close group of friends and I got together and shopped and wrapped gifts for a family of five - we've stopped giving gifts to each other, and instead take our silly childless selves to a store where we don't have even a clue what children's sizes are (is 18 a boy's medium or large??) - and where we impart our own brand of weirdness on the holidays of a family that we will never meet. My contribution last night: I felt strongly that we should get the 16-yr old boy that wanted a ball a basketball that said "NCAA" on it, instead of "NBA" - because "NBA" just shouted 'Drop out of school! Go for the money!' while "NCAA" suggested 'Stay in college.. Yes, I admit, I'm a freak.