A Hazy Shade of December

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

For a long list of reasons — many of which I am still in therapy for — I’ve just never been a fan of THE HOLIDAYS. This is why there has always been a distinct lack of HOLIDAY-related nonsense on this site. Pretty much as soon as Dec 1 hits I dive into a hole. It’s not a depression, but more like the mental version of shutting my eyes and waiting for it to be over. Sure, I give the odd nod here and there because face it, if you’re living in North America there is no escaping it. They switch the intercom soundtracks and start lining the shelves with all the must-have stuff as soon as Halloween rolls out. The crazy Light Wars people down the street have had their front yard mise en scene on display for a solid month now.

Anykitsch, my point — and I do have one although it got buried in descriptions and I’m kind of lost now…. Give me a sec. See what happens when I just start to talk about it? Brain coma. Oh yes, my point is that it’s inescapable unless you have buckets of cash and can afford to fly away to some remote location every year. Believe me, I would. The fantasies have already begun. Oddly enough I don’t mind THE HOLIDAYS in other countries and languages. Probably because all the rituals and bull crap is foreign, slightly incomprehensible, and easy to enjoy for what it isn’t.

But the reality is that I don’t have buckets of cash and can’t always scrape together the bills to take me away from it all. Most years I have no choice but to stay where I am and ride it out. I have learned over time that trying to close my eyes and pretend it isn’t happening doesn’t work very well. What does seem to work is embracing the aspects of it that hold fond memories and throwing the rest in the gutter where it belongs. Maybe it’s the gardener in me but I only seem to like the plant-related aspects of THE HOLIDAYS. I like the tree. I like the food. I like the Amaryllis. I’d like the mistletoe if we had the real stuff. I like pine cones. I like the lights too. Even the crazy Light Wars houses. Bless them. I like the REALLY kitsch, REALLY over-the-top crazy, blinding dazzle camouflage decorations and seasonal decor. Thank you to anyone who does this. You keep the good crazy in Xmas.


Part of our 2006 Holiday Card. I based my character and outfit on a former art teacher’s wife.

And so, it comes as some surprise to me that this year, for the first time ever, I feel like I might be able to make it through the month of December with my eyes slightly open. Maybe just a little squinting and a touch of Vaseline smeared over my eyeglass lenses for a softening effect. In fact December hasn’t even come yet and I am already itching to get my tacky tree out. And even wackier still, I spent a few hours the other night constructing cute little soft trees to display on my desk. The pattern is from Stephanie of the now-defunct Little Birds blog. You can see a whole gallery of handcrafted soft trees trees on Flickr. I have made 4 so far constructed entirely of scrap materials. The outsides are sewn using bits and pieces from my scrap bin, the decorations are from a giant container of odd buttons collected over the years, and I stuffed them using old t-shirts and holey socks. I like to make mine as wonky as possible, like a blend of Dr. Seuss and the sad Peanuts Xmas twig tree.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll bust out the white wool roving and make a little snowy diorama with my wonk trees. A weird attempt to capture the bits of a season I could really do without.

What do you love/hate about THE HOLIDAYS? How do you keep your sanity and/or enjoy?

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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38 thoughts on “A Hazy Shade of December

  1. I love all the parties. I get to see the friends I haven’t seen in ages. I get to meet new people. It is a very social time of the year.

  2. Love: For me it is all about the tree. If it was up to me the tree would go up the day after Thanksgiving (Nov 27th for us) and stay up until mid January (or our annual “for the love of all that is holy let us get to some sun” trip). That and the cheese platters at every holiday event and melted vats of it for Christmas Eve. I rarely get to see my whole family for Christmas so it really all comes down to the tree and cheese. Come to think of it – add Eggnog n rum drinks to the mix.
    Hate: My neighbors with light displays I swear you can see from space. Morphs into utter loathing when the power goes out on our part of the block and their lights are still shinning bright (they have a generator). I think this year if it happens I will ferry my precious cheese and Eggnog over there for safe keeping when the power goes out.

  3. I adore: decorating real trees, listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas cd and watching the special, making and wrapping gifts, watching ‘A Christmas Story’ and ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’, baking, and snow.

    I detest: commercials that use Christmas music as jingles, ‘garden centers’ that now only sell holiday decorations and 2 kinds of houseplants, buying gifts, fruitcake, and blue Christmas lights.

  4. I hate: all the buying. The one I feel forced to do, the one other people do. I find it disgusting. Just grotesque.

    I love: that it’s too cold outside, and that is the best excuse for baking, getting drunk at home with friends and six netflix and books and cookies and sleepovers!

  5. Love the excuse to visit people and sing christmas songs (somber ones). And the food. And “a muppet christmas carol.”

    Hate working retail or visiting retail outlets between thanksgiving and christmas. And how stressed people get. And creepy, inflatable santa/snow globe lawn decorations, described by my girlfriend as “the reason humans do not deserve this planet.”

  6. I like the holidays even less than you do. Last few years, I have left my single box of holiday stuff in the attic. I just can’t fake it anymore. My home is a holiday-free zone. What I appreciate about the holidays is that I can escape all of it by closing my door and leaving the TV off. I indulge in watching my friends’ kids open gifts and go buck wild from all the sugar. And then back to the zone, completely void of red and green. It’s just all too-too much.

    There is one consolation: eggnog. That’s it. The eggnog. I would put up with all of it for the eggnog.

  7. what to love … I like to figure out what I really want to buy myself for Xmas then I make sure I get it (I’m never disappointed) … this year I am really looking forward to getting the 10-year gardening journal from Lee Valley. Your little trees are very cute.

  8. I love that Christmas card picture! It’s fabulous. I ought to do something like that but w/ the kids, too. LOL ;)

    I really don’t get into Christmas anymore. It’s just my husband and me and our two little kids and his parents. I just think it’s all so over-rated. I’d rather go on a nice vacation and skip it all.

  9. Floridians don’t get into the holidays. Its too snowy. I’d rather hibernate. We send cards to our families with pictures of santa on the beach in drinking a margarita and give presents on the approproate days. Then we go back to normal. Most people dont even bother with decorations because fake snowmen on our slightly dormant green lawns are just… tacky.

  10. I am not a big fan of the Holiday season either. I like the family get togethers and the time off work … and the possibility of skating.

    I hate with a passion secret santa. What is the deal with secret santa? It is not fun. It does not get me ‘In The Spirit’. It does not make me ‘Love My Fellow Man’. I used to be able to avoid it but I now work in a place of few employees so I can’t opt out. And just thinking about it makes me quiver with rage. It is the bane of office workers the world over.

  11. I’m with you, Gayla. This year is even harder than usual because I think there’s a large amount of insanity in trying to “keep up appearances”, which in this country means going into hock to buy all the latest “must have” garbage when you know there’s a good chance you’re gonna get smacked with redundancy just about the time January’s credit card bills come in.
    I can’t get into it. The only thing that keeps me upright are my houseplants and Amaryllis. I count the days until I can get back outside and grab the rake to clear away all of Winter’s debris.
    Winter sucks, and holidays just pile on to it.

    BTW, LOVE the umbrella in the drink! it’s just SO non-Xmassy…

  12. Ditto what Myla said.

    We’re lucky; we live far from our families, so we can just do the holidays our own way and they have to accept it.

    I usually ignore the whole thing, but I like your fabric trees and might have to make some of my own.

  13. I can so relate to your feelings about the Holidays! To me also the best part is when they are finally over and people let go of all that cheer and let normalcy return.
    What I like has more to do with the season (the gardener in me trying to come out?) – I like to watch snowflakes dance in the air, the crispness of the air in winter, getting together with family and friends. About the only concession I make to the Holidays anymore is a long hike I take with a friend every year on Dec. 24th. Christmas couldn’t come if we didn’t do that ;)
    My attitude – let everyone enjoy whatever makes them happy, celebrate, hide till the whole thing is over, do whatever ;)
    But I do like the little decorations you showed. Sweet. Maybe I bring in a few pine cones and put them on the window sill. ;)

  14. While I’m with everyone who despises the endless holiday jingles and the consumer-fanaticism that the season engenders, I still love the holidays. Here’s how: I live in a city with a lively local business culture, and patronize the small shops for my family and friends, who still live in suburbia, where they are only finally rediscovering their mom&pop main streets (thus avoiding nearly all jingles and advertising). I throw myself into the cooking/baking/hostessing and enjoy people’s company (any reason for good food!). And I love the excuse to take a week off work to go visiting.
    To each her own :)

  15. what a great post. personally, i have found that the less i think about the past during the holiday season, and the more i spend in the present (no pun intended) with the funky decorations (enjoying mine and others), slightly tipsy holiday parties, excitement of giving gifts (on a small budget – i’m not about consumerism) then i feel much better. fun in the now = yes! thinking about old christmas’s = no!

  16. p.s. love the comments and how your cat is staring at your festive drink! i think your cat knows how we all feel. :0) your little family is adorable.

  17. I think ANYONE who’s worked RETAIL for the holidays has the “christmas spirit” within them killed for good. It’s a hideous time of year with rabid shoppers snarling when you run out of the ‘right’ sized gift boxes…Hate…Christmas…

    I love your Kitch X-Mas card, and agree that the holidays in other countries are festive, rich, and beautiful. The opposite of North American Chritmas.

  18. Love: The happy, goofy grin my husband gets while sitting in the dark next to the Christmas tree drinking his spiked eggnog.

    Hate: The look family members get when you give something homemade, homecooked, home anything…the kinda LOOK,”This isn’t fulfilling my consumerism dream of having absolutely everything I want!”

  19. You should convert to Judaism. When all the crazy holiday stuff is someone else’s holiday, it’s much easier to just enjoy the pretty lights and move on. You can even get an obnoxious thrill by responding with “Happy Hanukkah” everytime a store clerk greets you with “Merry Christmas!” :-P

  20. I live on the other side of a major Canadian shopping mall. However, I’m able to ignore the packed parking lots and rabid consumerism by closing my drapes to the snow infestation in the backyard. I listen to my Charlie Brown’s Christmas soundtrack, I bake, and I get out the decorations that have had meaning for our family, a combination of home-made things and old family heirlooms. We don’t have cable so I don’t have to endure the tedious Zellers commercials. I have a 9 year old so we watch things like The Grinch, Rudolph, and Home Alone. I give home-made gifts and feel happy about that. If the recipient doesn’t appreciate it, well, that’s up to them. I still feel happy about it. I volunteer my time at our church and give baskets to the poor. I avoid Yorkdale at all costs.

    Gayla, this year we’re going to California for Christmas. What time would you like me to pick you and Davin up?

  21. One thing i love about the south is the decorated winterized gardens. We dont get much color change, but the leaves evacuate the trees so people can string lights up in them, and farmers and gardeners will decorate their browned-over fields, and then everyone opens them to the public. There’s usually other demoninational decorations up, as well, because in this area there’s a great mix of people from other places.

  22. I love standing on my front yard Christmas Eve right at midnight and it’s so quiet. You might hear a car off in the distance or someone laughing as they leave a party, but for the most part it’s a soft quiet.I like to check out the stars and wish all my family A Merry Christmas including my loved ones that have departed this earth, but most of all I always wish for Peace on Earth.

  23. Some Floridians get into the holidays – this one does.

    I love Christmas – LOVE IT. But I think it’s because holidays have always been a big deal in my family. When you don’t get everything and anything you want immediately, the gift-giving and -receiving means so much more. In a brief, flush moment of my life, the ability to give my parents fabulous gifts that they would never buy for themselves was thrilling.

    I love the “special-ness” of the season – the otherness. I just have to work very hard to keep it at bay until Thanksgiving. I do loathe pre-Thanksgiving “holiday cheer” foisted on me by television and retail.

  24. You know I’m all the way down here in Texas, and yes, we do celebrate Christmas even without snow. Make no bones about it, it can get down right frigid down this far in the South.

    However I can relate to not being in the Christmas spirit. I can’t stand the whole drawing names for gifts. I have to buy gifts for people that I don’t even know because it’s my cousin’s “flavor of the month” boyfriend, and I get gifts from people who obviously didn’t look at the list they requested or have even a remote ideal as to what thrills me (just one item I really enjoy would be greatly appreciated more than a house full of presents that I’m just not sure what it is, how often I’ll use it or how often I have to clean it).

    I am flabbergasted by the fakeness of some of our family members that live less than a 10 minute drive and can’t even pick up the phone the other 364 days to tell us how they are doing (or even return calls). But come that week before Christmas all the love yous, can’t wait to see yous, have to go to the get togethers and no is not an option (yes it is, my husband, my son, and my mother come first).

    I watch with complete dismay as people I know that would normally be cordial the rest of the year become complete buttheads on shopping trips (which I avoid in favor of online shopping. I don’t do crowds well).

    I get livid knowing I am going to have to host at least one seasonal party and my house even though it’s cleaner it’s ever been is never going to be good enough because I don’t believe in the buying all the latest gadgets just because a company spends millions on advertising (and gosh darnit, I’m in advertising!).

    I prepare myself for all the messes I will clean up because friends couldn’t respect my wishes to no ribbons or bows because the cat will eat them and get sick. (Our local recycle program won’t take them either).

    I’m irritated that the Christ of Christmas is well overlooked in the shuffle of presents, snowmen, santas and commercialization.

    However there are things I love about Christmas (and other holidays too) and it’s usually because it’s tied to some that means a great deal to me or has had major influence in my life.

    My mother and father used to make sure Christmas Eve was free at all costs, so that we had that day top spend together, no interruptions. My dad made a big deal about spending the evening going around looking at Christmas lights (although Halloween was his favorite holiday….every kid gets something, they just have to ask). Now that my father has been absent from my life for a little over 10 years, I looking at Christmas lights. It’s part of how I keep dad close. My son and I go looking and make it a goal to find the gaudiest looking house and take a picture.

    My favorite aunt past away earlier this year, after a battle with heart disease. She loved pecan pie on Christmas day. I can’t stand the stuff, but I plan to make a pecan pie and eat a slice. I need to keep part of her alive as she’s influenced me almost since the day I was born.

    My late grandmother, had cook enough to feed an army to make sure everyone had enough to eat. I’m a big cooker. She also hated the holidays because the simplicity of it has long since been lost. Every year she’d gripe and complain about it while letting me play dress up in her clothes and fine jewelry. But come time for family gatherings she’d be all smiles and greet everyone warmly simply and full of thanks because it meant everything in the world her that her kids and grandkids have a place they can always they go to no matter how far they’d strayed.

    I do much of the same.

  25. I dread Christmas every goddamn year. I love getting together with my family, eating yummy bad food and sitting around doing nothing but having fun for a few days. But I hate the spend SPEND SPEND aspect of it, I hate being pressured to buy things for EVERYONE and how many people feel pressured to buy me something, no matter how many times I tell them it’s okay, I don’t want anything! And when I was a kid my crazy mother got overly pressured over the holidays, and pretty much every year she would have a mild nervous breakdown. It’s pretty much involuntary for me to dread them coming now, I would need a lot of therapy to honestly enjoy them again..haha

  26. I know where you’re coming from, but seriously, Christmas – and its insanely long build-up – is the only thing that gets me through our Canadian winter.

    I’m not a fan of the tackiness, the glaring lights, and the hyper-consumption. But it’s the one holiday my secular family actually celebrates, so we all look forward to the annual fam-jam.

    Yes, I do like the egg nog. I love trimming the tree. I like sending cards, and while I don’t exactly enjoy spending money, I do actually get a kick out of preparing/making/finding the perfect gifts for people I care about. Oh, and let’s not forget Christmas dinner. Thanksgiving is like the dress rehearsal, and Christmas dinner is the main event.

    I’ve been completely thrown off by the late US-synced time change. What happened to autumn??? I feel like it’s too early for this holiday stuff…but it isn’t…is it…..????

  27. i love your xmas card, too! your cat is thinking “gotta get me sum-brella…”

    i am also not a fan of the xmas aesthetic, particularly growing up in the southern hemisphere. spraying fake snow around window frames in 30degC heat made the whole season seem really fake and well, just twee. also, santa always had a faint sweaty smell.

    now i live in the cold north, i understand the reasoning behind large meals, big beards and extra lighting. still not a fan, though.

    but, yes, i will accept those days off, thank you! :)

  28. I love, my sig. O. hates. Which I hate, really, because getting excited about visiting family in snowy new york while coming up with thoughtful present ideas with a constant reminder of how consumeristic and fake everything is sucks.

  29. I make presents instead of buying them. Last year I made really awesome hand scrub with aloe vera gel and sea salt scented with a drop of essential oil and some lavender buds or verbena leaves from the yard. I was a pretty popular Santa’s helper, I must say.
    I love the wonky trees, especially since you called them wonky, nearly my favorite word, right up there with snarkey.

  30. Spray-on fake snow never comes off of windows. You have to either get a special solvent or leave it up for years or scrape it off. It’s horrible and tacky.

  31. I was raised in a Catholic household, so this was the time of year to PAY ATTENTION so my siblings and I would not BURN IN HELL for ALL OF ETERNITY.

    I drink now.

    I find the lights a waste of electricity and being from Oregon, the chopping of trees hurts my soul.

    Find what makes you happy and say a silent prayer to whatever deity is appropriate that you’ll make it through.

  32. hehe… “closing eyes and hoping it will pass” that’s exactly the phrase I’ve been looking for to describe the holidays! now funny xmas cards… that I can get on board with!

  33. I absolutely loathe getting presents that I don’t want, need or like, and that show the giver has not the slightest idea about what I’m into. Especially after I’ve made a lot of effort to find something appropriate for each person.

    So I give up, this year they’re all getting chutney. And maybe jam if I’m feeling generous.
    Anyway, Santa already brought me what I asked for, a lovely new worm farm……full of carol singing worms :)

  34. i usually become a grinch, too, but this year is different. i have a new home to decorate and that has brought out the christmas spirit in me. and i can’t wait to give all of my friends and family cuttings from my new favorite plant as gifts, a red leaf hibiscus. beautiful! i hope they love it as much as i do!

  35. I love the trees! I do feel like hiding my head this Christmas. Just not interested. Perhaps because of the bad economy, family upheaval, etc. I do have a nifty little collection of “winter trees” (I call them that to my husband so I can keep them up longer) and am always looking for new ideas. I think I’ll give yours a shot. Thanks for sharing!

    (PS I hate snowmen, unless they are actually outside in the yard, made of snow, and the rest of my family has a Santa addiction. Being a horticulturist, the only cool thing I could deal with re: holidays is my tree collection.)

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