hanging of the greens

So, in the midst of still wrestling with how to buy Christmas presents in a consumerist culture that tends to go a little crazy this time of year, we have more things making me think and ask questions.

NOTE: These posts are not meant as a criticism of how anyone else "does" Christmas, or a boast of how we're doing it all right. They are just a way for me to process what's going on in me as we practice these disciplines.

On Saturday we engaged our version of in the "hanging of the greens." Growing up removed from any experience of the Church universal, I didn't know that this was a thing. But, it is traditional to decorate at the beginning of Advent. There are whole prayers written to bless the Advent wreath and lintel and such. You were to hang your decorations at the beginning of Advent and take them down on Twelfth Night (Jan 5th or 6th, depending on whether you think of a day beginning in the morning or on the preceding evening.)

And there's various takes on the what and where and how this happened, but the decorations had meanings. The boughs of holly actually meant something to the folks decking their halls. And those purple - and one pink - candles that I thought were kind of ugly and odd amidst the cheery red and green, are the liturgical colors of the season. Purple is the color of repentance (repentance? at Christmas?). The season leading up to Christmas tide, used to be a season of fasting and reflection. (Which, by the way, would come in handy before stuffing yourself silly over 12 days of Christmas.) And the random pink one is meant as an encouragement that the time of repentance is almost over. It is lit on Gaudette Sunday, the candle of Joy.

The various books we've read in order to re-think our holiday seasons suggest incorporating some of these old traditions into our modern observations. Maybe incorporate some liturgical purple (or the more modern blue) into your decorations. Or, simplify your decorations, choosing only certain ones. Or, put decorations out in phases, rather than all of them at once, to create a sense of waiting and anticipation. Make an advent wreath or a Jesse tree, so that your decorations double as a devotional tool.

OK. Well this is fine. Good information. And we are down for trying some of these things.

I've kept an advent wreath (with red candles) for years, and MM and I kept one on our first Christmas together. (We did it when we were dating too, but we were a brand-new couple, so I don't know if he noticed, LOL) He really enjoyed having a little moment to read a bit of scripture and light a new candle each week - a little circle of quiet in a crazy, hectic season. He remarked that last Christmas felt exciting and meaningful, in part, because of building the anticipation with the wreath and taking specific time to reflect on what the season is about. This year, we're doing it again, and trying out blue candles. I'm even doing the one weird candle for Joy.

Some other intentional things we are doing are to:

- Decorate outside

- Put the (old) nativity scene on the mantle above the stockings and not buy a new one this year

- Add strings of blue lights to the multi-colored ones on our tree to bump up the blue factor

- Hang decorations in phases instead of all at once, and only hang ones that make us happy

Now, I am an artist and a homemaker and I freakin' love Christmas. I love decorating the tree. I love multi-colored twinkle lights. I love hanging stockings. I love setting out a creche. I love making ornaments. I love beauty and sparkle and pretty (and did I mention sparkle?). Love it. Love. It.

And as I continue to learn about myself, I see that I have a definite "sacramental" bent. I love tangible, sensory experiences to connect with inner ones. I love attaching emotional/spiritual meaning to physical things. I love lighting candles. I love Christmas music. I love Christmas cookies. I love seasons and rhythms and traditions. (I should tell you about The Pie Crust of Doom or those ancient plastic holly branches.) I love that this time of year has so much sensory stuff and purposeful beauty.

And with all this thinking and talking about decorations, my head and heart are swirling. If we're trying to incorporate more blue, do I use my bright red tree skirt? Is it lame to spend money on more blue lights and a new tree skirt? Now that we're having a proper tree and real stockings, what do we do with the tiny tree and tiny stockings we used in our first Christmases? Because the thought of not putting them up makes me sad. Is it too upper-middle-class white couple to have two trees up? What about simplicity?

And larger questions swirl too: Do we decorate the outsides of our home to bless our neighbors and spread a little good cheer, or to impress them with our awesome light and sound display and animatronic cartoon characters? How much is too much? Do the rows and rows of sparkly ornaments in the Christmas aisles have any meaning, or is it all just pretty? And is pretty the same as beauty? And the photos on blogs and pinterest of other people's beautifully decorated mantles and stairways and trees, do these make me inspired or envious? And what am I trying to do with my decorations? Am I truly just enjoying beauty, or am I trying to create perfection?

So, Christmas Decorating 2011 - more questions.


  1. So first things first. Are you on Pinterest? Can I follow you? :)

    I thought of you yesterday when I walked into Trinity Church. The altar and backdrop had changed to a deep royal blue. The only other changes were the advent wreath and two wreaths on the front doors. I wonder when Episcopalians put up the tree.

    I bought purple fabric today for our seasonal table at home, covering both the table and a foot or so of the wall behind it. In the past, I have bought those cheap chocolate Advent calendars for the kids at Trader Joe's for many years thinking I couldn't afford those fancy calendars with drawers and gifts, etc.

    So this year I put out a small bowl with 29 punched out silver stars, 24 small ones, 4 medium, and 1 large. Starting yesterday, Mary and Joseph will be standing on a new star each morning on their "road to Bethlehem", to our creche. For Christmas Eve, we'll take our silver stars, add them to the blue backdrop, MnJ will be at the stable, and the sky will be lit up with silver stars.

    OK, gotta run. 15yo trying to talk to me through all this.

    Blessed Hope.

  2. Stars! :) I love it already. Send pictures?

    MM and I agree that our mantle looks kind of forlorn with just the nativity up there, so we're adding a backdrop and maybe some ikea tealights.

    Maybe they put it up on Christmas Eve?

    I'm not on Pinterest, but lots of bloggers I follow are and post finds occasionally. I've held off of Pinterest and Google+ so far.

  3. I'll probably blog pics before the month is over. xo


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