06 January 2013

As the Lights Dim and Flicker

We are ending up the Christmas season where we started, watching "Merry Gentlemen" and "Silly, But It's Fun..."

Christmas at Historic Houses, Patricia Hart McMillan & Katharine Kaye McMillan
I saw this at the Colonial Williamsburg gift shop, but the price of this, a Schiffer book, with those beautiful sleek, thick pages and glorious color photographs, gave me pause. I waited until I could buy it with credit points.

If  you love historical places and love Christmas, and equally love both together, this is a tremendous, lovely book addressing historic homes and the way the curators go about decorating them at Christmastime. Twenty-seven specific homes are addressed, from the simple greens at Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg to the high-Victorian artistry Blithewold and Biltmore House. The decorations, especially in the Victorian homes, are so complicated that I could really wish for larger photos to see the details, but that would make the book heavy and cumbersome.

I was a little irritated by the text—not that it wasn't informative; far from it. But in a book of this scholarship, the typos were startling: apostrophes included when they weren't needed and not included when they were, plus misspellings.

Still, the stunning photos and the contents of the text will please most. Opening chapters address the styles of decorating based on the era, decorating colors and materials, the changing style of the decorations at Williamsburg, Christmas wreaths, and lighting methods. Every page a gem.

A Surrey Christmas, compiled by John Hudson
Britain's Budding Books did a collection of these volumes for what looks like almost every shire in England, not to mention for historical eras (A Victorian Christmas, An Elizabethan Christmas, A Regency Christmas, etc.). I picked up A Worcestershire Christmas several years back and picked up this one last year at the library book sale. The selections are a bit weaker in this one, as there are a couple of entries that only briefly relate to Christmas, but once again it's a mixed bag of excerpts from diaries, newspapers, and novels, with 1989 next to first World War memoirs and 1960 cozying up to the 1930s, children's memories of Father Christmas cheek by jowl with critiques of the workhouse, accounts of blizzards, reports from the trenches, liberally sprinkled here and there with the traditional Christmas ghost story. There's even a fillip of poetry and a recipe or two from Mrs. Beeton. Plus there's a lovely cover showing "the waits." These books are worth picking up when found for a reasonable price.

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I must comment about the other Christmas reading this year: the usual Christmas magazines! I left "Early American Life Christmas" for last, a jolly read, and also "Victorian Home," which wasn't as magical this year, although I can't tell why. One of my nicest finds I only picked up after Christmas: a British magazine called "LandScape," which is a nature/countryside magazine. I had picked up the November/December issue along with a nice December-y companion magazine, "LandLove," but didn't realize there was a Christmas issue until I wandered into Barnes & Noble last week. This was just oozing with holiday nature: robins (in England robins are Christmas symbols rather than the American robin which is a spring symbol), reindeer, mistletoe, holly, mince pies, Christmas markets and tree farms, even recipes for windowpane cookies, how to build a sled and make a brussels sprouts wreath, and stories about a woman who makes driftwood into Christmas trees and a man who knits nativity figures. Lots of lovely photographs. Glad I wandered in B&N that day.

Sigh. And now I think it's time for me to pull the lights. :-(

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