A Certain State of Mind
Christmas, children, is not a date.
It is a state of mind.
(Mary Ellen Chase 1887 – 1973)
Known for my great love of Christmas and all that it represents – from faith and family to decking the halls – how could I not have a wonderful, permanent Christmas department in this, Australia’s first online country magazine? The following is thus the first of the ‘real-life’ Christmas decorating stories which will be regularly featured here. The idea originated with the ‘Scrapbook For The Season’ story I wrote for the 5th edition of the printed version of Rick Rutherford’s Country. Now that the magazine has been translated to the web, I’m delighted to be able to take the concept and expand it, with a selection of readers’ stories of your festive decorating fancies to be featured here every couple of weeks … throughout the year.
Way Back When …
Dianne Gilham confesses that she’s stuck in a bygone era. As she tells, she is trying to be modern and ‘bend’ to take in a few new things, but she’s not ‘bending’ too much! Dianne and husband Dennis live in Nerrina (Vic) and it is here that their country world becomes all the more olde worlde come the festive season. In fact, the set up annually starts way before December. As Dianne states, October is the month when the spring cleaning is done and Dennis is enlisted to get out all those boxes … all 45 of them!
“It takes some weeks to get it all together. Like many others I know, I do start out wondering if it is all worth the trouble and ponder if anyone else really understands why I go to all this trouble to make sure everything is just right … I like to add at least one major new piece to my collection each year, but more often than not there are a few more, the whole accumulation of decorations and accessories having been amassed over 19 years. The main tree in the lounge room can take me two days alone to decorate as I take great pains to place all the trimmings in such a way that they create an overall balance. Last year a friend commented on how she had subsequently been inspired to think afresh about how she put up her own Christmas decorations after being here. This, I would say, is one of the main reasons for me doing what I do … in the hope that others will take the time themselves to think about Christmas and what it really means as they’re setting up their own displays” states Dianne.
Dianne’s pride and joy is her Caddington Village display by Lemax. It is here that her passion for a time long ago is best observed as a traditional Victorian Christmas is brought back to life in miniature. There are carriages pulled by horses, a steam train, street sellers and vintage stores decked to the nines. There are shoppers rushing home with their treasures and a carousel, carollers and twinkling lights … all part of the merry hustle and bustle of the snow-laden streetscape.
All parts of the Gilham’s home are decked out, including the laundry where there’s a ‘frosty’ display complete with lighted icicles; the bathroom which continues the Victorian theme with twinkling garland and golden bows; the dining area where a timber dresser becomes the showcase for Dianne’s collection of Santas (she tells that she has stopped collecting for the moment … until she gets a bigger dresser!); and just about everywhere else you care to look.
The house gleams and glistens, made all the more ‘glittering’ by way of over 1000 fairy lights. So proud is Dennis of the overall effect that last year he decided to extend the couple’s annual gathering of friends to include some 40 guests. Despite the fact that she was a little overwhelmed by it all, Dianne tells that she was delighted to think that he was so enthusiastic about the festive displays that he wanted to share them with others.
“The most wonderful thing happened on the night. All who were present truly felt the spirit of Christmas. We sang carols, the children ran about the place wide-eyed and so many of the guests passed the comment that they couldn’t remember when they had last experienced such a profound Christmas feeling. This year we’re planning to do it all again, but even better. I’m not sure how many are going to attend though because, as people were leaving last year, they were inviting themselves back and stating that they intended bringing their friends. We might just have to move a wall or two to fit them all in” Dianne jokes.
As she adds, it is such a fantastic thing to be caught up in the spirit of Christmas – that happy, holy season where goodwill comes home to take root and grow in each man’s heart. I concur with her comment completely … “what a wonderful epidemic it would be if the whole world were to return to the true meaning and spirit of Christmas.” May it be so, and may we each do our little bit to make it happen!
Season Of Angel Song
The earth has grown old with its burden of care
But at Christmas it always is young,
The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair
And its soul full of music breaks the air,
When the song of angels is sung.
(Phillips Brooks 1835 – 1893)
As the days tick on, it gets closer and closer to that great season of the year when avid country decorators everywhere really ‘lose our heads’ and go to town with finery and fripperies to mark the festive season. And why not! It’s that special time of the year for family and friends to gather … a season of reconciliation and love, of goodwill and boundless sharing.
As the world becomes a faster and more reckless place, Christmas is fast becoming a time of defiance too. In the face of all that modern times and ‘un-Christmas’ thinking dishes out, we avid believers hold fast to the truth, the meaning, the traditions, the rituals and the essence of what it means to celebrate the birth, the love of family and friends … to extend goodwill, peace and understanding. Granted, in so many quarters the execution of such things becomes a little more difficult and challenging with the passing of each year, but just as love is not a feeling but an act of one’s will, so, too, is the celebration of Christmas, as one determines to embrace a steely resolve and celebrate with compassion and love – no matter what!
Avid country aficionados who have done just this are always encouraged, affirmed and embraced in this special section of the online magazine which is devoted to acknowledging how we each observe the holy season within our collective homes. It has an almost ‘scrapbook’ quality as we regularly share the images – and the decorating stories – of fellow countryites who make every effort – and no apologies – to deck the halls and adorn each and every room of their home with seasonal finery. It’s a chapter devoted to inspiration as we draw encouragement from each other to fly in the face of the modern ideals of paring down and doing away with, to embrace a passion for everything to do with Christmas as traditions are rekindled, and new ones are made.
Making The Most Of The Magic
For Julie Staib and family of Lorn (NSW) there is nothing more magical than Christmastime when children’s faces are bright with excitement and joy; when the decorating, cooking and wrapping of presents are all an essential part of the season’s delight. Twenty years ago, Julie – who was a member of the Australian Army at the time – met, fell in love with, and married an American Marine. A week after their wedding the couple moved to the States where, over the ensuing years, Julie was to become immersed in celebrating the seasons the American way – from Halloween to Thanksgiving and ‘the big one’ … Christmas. This started Julie in the tradition of crafting things by hand with which to decorate the home and to scout the antique stores and secondhand outlets for vintage festive treasures.
Ultimately returning to Australia where Julie and Mike have now settled and are raising two young children, the Staibs brought with them many personal Christmas traditions – inspired by those of North America – and now combine them with typical Australian ways of celebrating the seasons. As Julie explains, one such family tradition is the annual putting-up of the tree. “We always start in the last two weeks of November. Mike makes the popcorn and Tizanna (13), Kendall (10) and I start to thread it to use as garlands to go around our eight foot Christmas tree. I think sometimes we eat more than we thread! The lights go on first, then the popcorn, then the gold beads and now – the really fun part – all the decorations … from the kids’ handmade ornaments to special Mum and Dad ornaments and others that hold special places in our hearts.
The children have their very own Christmas trees in their rooms which are each decorated according to a special theme. Then in the kitchen there’s Julie’s favourite tree which she decorates with gingerbread men ornaments plus things from around the cookroom – from cookie cutters to tea strainers. A collection of Christmas picture frames is displayed atop a vintage sewing machine and expands each year as new additions are acquired. Many other parts of the house are decorated and adorned, the Staibs being committed to keeping up the many American traditions they love. “Although the weather is not cold and snowy outside and with new friends and neighbours, everything else is the same, just the way we like it … magical!”
An Eye To The Past
Valerie Hill of Rosebud (Vic) is equally passionate about the Christmas season and everything to do with it, her home being transformed with an impressive cache of wonderful decorations which she has collected over many years. There are lots of retro and vintage elements which are incorporated into a range of special vignettes throughout the interior. Special collectable, highly coveted, Christmas items include pieces of Lefton china, original 1940s celluloid ornaments, vintage Santa mugs, 1950s and 60s diorama tree decorations, lovely old Christmas tinware and a vast array of Victorian-style items that hark back to the ways Christmas was celebrated years ago. All the wares are artfully grouped into interesting arrangements atop tables, counters, cabinets and the mantelpiece in the lounge room. Even the Hill’s main tree continues the eclectic vintage theme with a vast array of one-off keepsake ornaments – some old and others new – which each have a story and special memory attached.
Here, There & Everywhere
In Toowoomba (Qld) each year, the home of Angela Docherty and family comes alive each Christmas with a towering eight foot tree adorned with an array of one-off decorations and ornaments which have been amassed over many years. Each room of the Docherty’s home is dressed with Christmas cheer – from the dining room where an array of soft toy Santas and other Christmas dolls is used to give a festive note to the space which is dominated by a dresser filled with gorgeous Royal Albert collectable china, to the bedroom where a delightful handcrafted sack used for Christmas morning presents at the end of the bed is the place for a gorgeous Santa cap-wearing teddy to take his slumber.
Just Like The Old Country
Originally hailing from Europe, Darinka Kovac cannot help but incorporate a range of traditional European-inspired collectables and contemporary-crafted decorations into her Christmas displays. A lady who has been enchanted by Christmas since she was a child back in the chilly climes of the northern hemisphere, Darinka loves nothing more than embarking on the process of decorating her Hampton Park (Vic) home for the festive season, the process taking her the best part of several weeks.
As she tells, putting up her wonderful Lemax Christmas village display – complete with its snow-clad buildings, dozens and dozens of little trees and train set can take days alone. “But the joy that it gives to all who visit is well worth the effort” states Darinka. The same effort is put into each of the other creative displays she creates throughout the house – from the impressive array of wooden nutcrackers atop a wooden bookcase to the main tree in the lounge which is arrayed with a collection of beautiful old glass ornaments and glittering tinsel in the style used many decades ago. Next to the tree, a display cabinet is used to showcase a beautiful selection of angel ornaments and Santas (mostly having an old world European look, of course) plus several gorgeous Christmas art dolls – one in the style of a golden-haired angel and the other a choir boy. Another Dickensian Christmas village scene with snow-covered buildings and characters tobogganing and sleigh riding is arranged on a wooden dresser … all the clever displays combining to fire memories of cold Christmases in ‘the old country’ of Darinka’s birth.
Where Creativity Abounds
She just never stops. All throughout the year Dana Hart of Prospect (Tas) makes herself busy with the making of beautiful items to adorn her home for the festive season.Handcrafted ornaments for the tree, stitcheries and Christmas quilts, gorgeous cushions and appliquéd wall hangings … there are few things that Dana and her equally-talented mother can’t make, the pair always having a number of projects on the go. Dana’s speciality is the most gorgeous miniatures which she meticulously crafts from scratch, with love and attention paid to the finest details. Each beautifully-executed roomset she makes is painstakingly crafted to scale and so realistic in every aspect … right down to the tiniest condiments on the shelves and the festive decorations.
Throughout the Hart’s Tasmanian country-inspired home there’s a number of trees to mark the season, each one reflecting a particular theme. There’s one with Santas and snowmen and another that’s trimmed with Victorian-style cross-stitched decorations and pretty pink and pearlised ornaments; there’s a red and gold one on the kitchen countertop and another nearby adorned with cross-stitched gingerbread men. There’s a tree in the bedroom decked with tiny teddies and another in the main living area devoted to cats! Beautifully-finished Christmas cross-stitches, swags festooned with ribbons and pine cones, rag garlands and folkart pieces, Santas and snowmen fabric dolls … the Hart’s home always abounds with creativity but no more so than at this, the most creative and enchanted time of the year!
Not Time Nor Season
Christmas is not a time nor a season,
but a state of mind.
To cherish peace and goodwill,
to be plenteous in mercy,
is to have the real spirit of Christmas.
(Calvin Coolidge 1872 – 1933)
No matter whether it’s the run up to December, or slap dab in the middle of the year, whether it’s March or September, country lovers always have a passion for Christmas. In fact, given the number of year-round Christmas stores which have sprung up in recent times, it seems that a fascination with the charm of the festive season – no matter what time of the year – is fast becoming a global phenomenon!
And so, this special department is devoted to showcasing such things, as readers from all parts of the nation are invited to submit images of your very best country Christmas decorating, and to share your passion – and the tale of your family traditions – with us all (just as our latest submission on the festive style of Queensland’s Wendy Melling demonstrates).
If you would like to have your best Christmas decorating efforts featured as part of this very special chapter, all you need to do is drop me a line, and send in a collection of images, together with a short explanation of how you love to deck out your home for the holy, holiday season, and I’ll showcase them here. Mail your digital images in on disk (not by email please) or post your prints. Include a covering letter telling of your love of Christmas and dressing up the house to celebrate each year, and send it to: Rick Rutherford’s Country, PO Box 27, Lawson NSW 2783 (international entries also most welcome).
Traditions Continue, Memories Kindled
As time has moved on and life has changed, memories have become richer and more vivid, traditions have become all the more important. At no time are such things more significant than at Christmas, especially to one lovely lady from Queensland who, this past festive season, harnessed much strength and determination to carry on the long-held family customs of decorating her home and artfully displaying the Christmas collections which she has gathered together over nearly 40 years.
Wendy Melling hails from southeast Queensland, her home of the past four years being a comfortable residence which she and her late husband Ray moved to – from the south side of Brisbane – in order to be closer to their daughter and husband and, since the move, their much-loved grandchildren who range in age from four to 18 months. As Wendy tells, it was her cherished grandchildren who really spurred her on this past Christmas, giving her a reason to get out the boxes and deck the halls as she has done for so many Christmases before. Wendy’s daughter Kirie and son Jason also played an important part in encouraging their mum to carry on as she has always done, in the process honouring the treasured memory of Wendy’s late husband Ray.
“It was my first Christmas without him and so it really took a lot to get into the spirit of the season. But with the encouragement of the children, and the expectation of the grandkids who were so eager to see Nana’s decorating, I hauled out the boxes and set to work” tells Wendy.
And so, according to her family traditions of old, Wendy dressed the lounge and dining room, as well as the kitchen. She topped the doors of the bedrooms with festive trim and even added a few Christmas accents to the bathroom. However, the main focus has always been the main living areas of the home where she delights in showcasing her many collected Christmas wares – from angels and Santas to snowmen, reindeers and lots of bears. She has a good number of porcelain Christmas dolls as well, plus over 50 Christmas stockings which have come from places as far away as America and Poland (many courtesy of son Jason who now lives and works in the USA).
“I love to decorate the doorways in the main living areas with garlands and fairy lights. I also have a bit of a passion for Christmas wreaths and delight in grouping a number on the one wall as an impacting display. Miniature Christmas trees complement the one main large tree which stands pride of place in the lounge room, with ‘presentation presents’ in red and gold arrayed underneath.
“I also create a special window display in nine sections which can be seen from outside. It’s a favourite with the grandchildren as well as all the other young ones who come to visit over the season. Often friends drop in with their children to look at all the decorations, so I love to make a special effort to have an array of exhibits for them to enjoy” states Wendy.
Another such display is the dining room table which Wendy dresses to the nines, with Santa-themed chair covers and a table laden with all sorts of Santa-themed decorations such as Santa napkin rings and plates, candy dishes filled with lollies that are regularly topped up over the season, decorated bottles and more. When the adults gather to take Christmas dinner, Wendy changes it all over to a red and gold theme, with damask tablecloth and cream chair covers trimmed with poinsettias, red serviettes and golden napkin rings, red roses in the middle of the table, and the best china.
In keeping with family traditions – so much at the centre of Wendy Melling’s Christmas celebrations – the big day starts by waking at 4am to open presents with the children. When Wendy’s mother was alive, she would gather together with Wendy and clan. Now that the years have moved on, the tradition is maintained by way of Wendy venturing to her daughter’s house where excited grandchildren await to partake in the annual present-opening ritual. And this past year, a very important and poignant part of the day’s proceedings saw all gathered for the Christmas luncheon as each send a helium balloon skyward in fitting tribute to Ray and all he meant to his family … as they continue to gather together and share the Christmas rituals that have become so much a part of their family tradition.