Holly was used by the Romans and Greeks for their festivals.is the symbol of everlasting life in Christian art, and mistletoe was considered sacred by the Druids of ancient Gaul and held in high esteem in Norse mythology. The early Christians called holly ‘the righteous branch’ and it was used for decorations by the Teutons in the belief that it would keep away evil spirits. There are some parts of the country today where it is still considered unlucky to bring holly into the house before Christmas Eve and other parts where it must be burnt on Twelfth Night. Even when the Puritans abolished most Christmas festivities, these evergreens survived for adorning churches and homes. Is it any wonder that there is magic in our Christmas decorations, especially when we mainly use these evergreens which have been bearers of tradition throughout the centuries?
Christmas seems to me, also, an occasion when children can enter into the decorating as at no other time. If they are too small to do anything else, they can at least drape the tree with tinsel and silver strands. Apart from the dining table—and even that would come within the scope of older children—there is very little that they cannot make themselves, or with the help of an adult.
And so, thinking in terms of evergreens and children, here are some ideas for decorating the house. None of these is particularly original or new but just as recipes for making a cake vary from person to person, either because of ingredients or of different measurements, I may have included here something novel or different from what you have known before.
Let us begin with the front door. There is a street in London where, just before Christmas, one can look down and see a holly wreath hanging on almost every door. Most of the doors happen to be painted different colours, and the effect of the decorations, many of them tied with red ribbon, is very attractive. Some people may feel that this is rather too much of a pattern to follow, and in the country the need is not quite the same. There is so much green of one kind or another near the front door and quite possibly a holly tree heavy with scarlet berries amongst it. However, in the city the whole effect is quite different, and some kind of green is very welcome.
The wreath which many people like for their doors can be made completely of evergreens, or of silvered branches and coloured balls, or a mixture of all three. I have compromised with a mixture including holly, berberis, mistletoe, silver ruscus, silver tape, stiff gold crinkly ribbon and a bow of red satin ribbon. There is really no end to what you can put into the holly wreath for the door, altering its character from one year to another. The base may consist of a wire frame, padded with moss and tied down with string. (This would have to be bought from your florist, unless you happen to have a wholesale gardening shop near by.) The wire frame may also be interlaced with holly, laurel, etc., to form a background for whatever else you wish to add, dispensing with the mossing, which comes near to the professional touch. It is most satisfactory to have a packet of wires, (again obtainable from a gardening shop), by which the different additions to your wreath can be fixed in, alternatively they may be secured by fuse wire or by green string.
Coming inside the hall there are various possibilities. Some children like to cut out streamers, making patterns in the red and green coloured paper. KISSING RINGS can be made in many forms. The ring itself may be made from three wooden embroidery frames which are bound before being put together with red and green satin ribbon. They are then fixed in sphere like formation by pieces of wire or string where they touch each other; and after the basic work done, it is easy to think out variations in decoration. Sometimes the hoops have lengths of tinsel twisted in and out, and sprigs of mistletoe caught in the wires at intervals. The kissing ring may be suspended on a hoQk from the ceiling by a cluster of gold and red ribbon, and two gold and silver bells hung from the base.
Another variation on this ring is to paint the wooden hoops white and decorate them with red ribbon, substituting a bunch of red apples for the bells. The apples may be either wrapped in a single layer of cellophane or painted with natural-coloured nail varnish, to preserve their skins without wrinkles. Sprigs of holly look pretty with the white paint, especially if there are any red berries.
A candle wire stand is yet another decoration for the hall. This is so simple to make that, except for fixing the candle in, the whole thing can be made by a child of seven. The wire netting (large mesh) is cut into a strip about eighteen inches in width and a yard long. This should be laid out quite flat and painted white. (It is helpful to lay this on strong sheets of newspaper, so that it can be given a second coat of paint if necessary when the first one has dried.) Then it should be rolled into a kind of pillar, with some of the wire tucked in to form a base. The candle, which must be an outsize one, by its weight will help to keep the edifice in position on an old plate but the candle must also be fixed with wire to the sides of the pillar. After that there is little difficulty M decorating the wire with different coloured balls and a line of silver tinsel round the top. Sprays of Portugal laurel inserted into the wire mesh at the base will help to make it look more attractive, and conceal some of the necessary network.
This design may be repeated once or twice in a big hall if more light is required. The candles burn slowly and will often last for more than one Christmas.
A good idea for a small Christmas tree is to put it in a front window on a table, decorate it chiefly with tinsel and white and sparkly things, and have a good sized candle in a solid holder at each side. If the candles are kept away from the edges of the branches there will be no danger of fire (if there is no draught from the window) and the tree will show up most attractively to passers by.
The crib (from a child’s point of view) is perhaps the favourite of all our decorations. It could be arranged on a small window sill in the hall or some other suitable position, and then lit by a tall white candle in a solid candlestick kept well away from the straw. A flat baking tin is filled with sand and the figures are arranged in this. (The figures can now be bought separately and much more cheaply than was possible at one time, but with a little imagination they could be drawn, pasted on to cardboard, and then cut in silhouette.) The background is provided by sprays of evergreens, and there should be a lighted candle at each end of the shelf. To be still more ambitious, a backcloth, on which is painted a deep night sky and a shining evening star, can be pinned against the wall behind.
Suggestions for dried or freshand foliage include: 1 For a large vase, dried and evergreens together can produce a feeling of Christmas. Dark teasels, bulrushes, silver honesty, white larkspur, skeleton magnolia all look well with red berried holly and camellia foliage.
For a small table arrangement—either Christmas roses or a few red carnations in a white porcelain dish, or a bunch of sweet-smelling narcissi with a bunch of violets. Sprays of red or white geraniums are valuable at this time of the year, and are not too difficult to produce if one has well cared for plants. A useful table decoration can be made in a punnet filled with damp moss. Sprays of fir, two or three sprigs of holly and mistletoe, a small tight bow of cellophane paper, two or three coloured candles, and one or two baubles will all make quite a pretty arrangement. The small candles can be omitted, and all the material grouped round one large red candle, held in position with a bow of red satin ribbon. The moss must be kept damp if the holly and mistletoe are to last any time, and in that case the punnet should stand on a dish.
A large arrangement of evergreens and foliage will last well — camellia green, pittosporum, rosemary, eucalyptus, holly, silk bark oak (Grevillea) and mistletoe.
An idea for a splash of colour to break away from the traditional red is to have branches of eucalyptus with the tufted salmon pink flowers, two or three sprays of stove spurge ( Euphorbia fulgens) some orange lanterns ( Physalis alkekengii) and a bunch of marigolds.
Other ideas for table decorations—not exactly flower, but including branches, sprays of evergreen, and candles are:
1 Green magnolia leaves pasted flat on a cardboard circle, decorated with clusters of red holly berries, and, at intervals round the circle, thick and short white and red candles glued in position. This makes a pretty centrepiece.
2 A tall column of wire netting, painted gold or silver, hung with coloured glass balls and decorated round the base with small branches of pine. Into the centre of the column is fixed a tall, wide, red candle. (The bottom of the wire should be folded in to make a base for the candle to stand on.)
3 Spreading bare branches picked from the country may be painted white, sprinkled with silver glitter, hung with red and white Christmas balls, and fixed firmly into painted flowerpots—gold, silver, or white.
4 A nest of tall candles arranged on a concealed wire mesh base, which is covered by sprays of evergreen decorated with artificial snow. Colour may be introduced either in the candles, or by a flat bow of satin ribbon at one side of the base.
5 Ivy is one of the most decorative and co-operative of Christmas evergreens. Arranged round the base of gleaming silver or glass candlesticks, or winding its way across a damask white tablecloth to show off the beauty of its pointed leaves, it can produce a natural and unfussy decoration.
6 Coloured Christmas balls and marbles piled high in a rare piece of old glass, as a centre-piece, surrounded by different coloured candles standing on flat silver stars.
7 Colour schemes with tablecloth, table napkins, candles, glasses, porcelain, etc. in red, white, pink, or green, etc. built round the centre piece of a contrasting colour.
8 Honesty, silvered ruscus, gold painted twigs, and a cluster of gold painted honesty arranged together with a wide double red satin bow securing firmly two or three gold and silver baubles at the centre, and right through the middle of the group a very large double bow of cellophane paper. If possible this arrangement should be placed in a position with a light behind it, and the effect of the light shining through the gold and silver will be almost fairy-like. If this material can also stand against a mirror, the result will be better still.
9 A small basket, standing on a cake stand and filled with silvered twigs, branches of holly, mistletoe, red candles, and silver bells. Round the base of the stand place five of the small trees—(like tiny fir trees, dark green and frosted)—one can buy at Christmas time, standing in bright red tubs.
Other ideas for Christmas include small glasses or pieces of porcelain with two or three red or white flowers in them — scarlet geraniums in a white swan, or roses, or whiteagainst dark, glossy leaves.
Sometimes one is lucky enough to have Christmas roses () out, if the preceding weeks have been reasonably mild or if, in colder climates, one has made sure of them by giving them the protection of a cloche. These look enchanting arranged either with their own leaves or/and with the dark, slightly more slender, leaves of the H. foetidus. I have arranged them sometimes in a white and kept the whole colour scheme to green and white, with white candles, green table mats and white table napkins, with tinsel round silver candle sticks to give extra sparkle.
White geraniums also look attractive with a few leaves, either their own or cut from a zonal pelargonium with variegated periwinkle, especially when arranged in a small piece of white porcelain such as a basket or a figure with afor water attached.
Another idea for the traditional red of Christmas is to have two bunches of, taking out the purple and mauve ones, and making one small arrangement from the bright red—again, if possible, in a white container. (The purple can be arranged in something suitable for a side table where the red and white colour scheme may not penetrate.)
If a large group is needed which would prove extravagant to fill with fresh materials, it is possible to use dried white larkspur and delphiniums, with pressed foliage of garden ragwort (with the white side of theuppermost), silver honesty, pearly everlasting (anaphalis) all arranged with skeleton branches painted white—if possible of beech or hazel—and towards the centre a cluster of holly with red berries. This would show up to advantage if it was well lit from behind, especially if a few skeleton magnolia leaves were also included.
The addition of holly to almost any group immediately seems to give a feeling of Christmas, whatever other material is used, even if the colours of the other flowers are not in the traditional red or white. Branches of holly, for instance, kept as far as possible in their original shape and arranged with a gay mixture ofin yellov.. white and bronze, certainly give this feeling, and will prove to be economical as well as attractive. A few leaves might also be used towards the centre of such a group if they are available, or else a cluster of mistletoe. These would all be held in place by large mesh wire netting as holly is rather too heavy to be successful on a pin holder. If the water supply is watched carefully both the holly and the chrysanthemums will last for some time, especially if the of the chrysanthemums have been well smashed first.
This last suggestion might be too clumsy for a dining table and would, perhaps, be more suitable for a side table or for a table in the hall or on a landing. The flowers are sturdy and would stand up well to draughts which they might possibly encounter from the front door.
If gold or silver paint are brought into use, as is sometimes not only necessary but attractive if done with restraint, one would make the plea that it is not depended on to the exclusion of natural evergreens. It might also be well to remember that ‘a little goes a long way’. However, there are occasions when an all-gold decoration, for instance, may not only be suitable but also economical and a few dried materials sprayed with gold paint can give quite a pleasing effect.
Fixed in Plasticine and on a pin-holder towards one end of a flat piece of bark the following small sprays and branches made an effective decoration: a sprig of dock, a small spray of honesty, a few poppy-heads, two or three sprigs of ruscus, a large head of achillea cut short and arranged towards the centre, and two curving stems of eucalyptus foliage which gave the outline shape to the whole group. (Eucalyptus is especially successful when sprayed owing to the interesting arrangement of the leaves and to their flat shape which catches and reflects the light.) Such decoration is useful for a hall or anywhere which might be draughty and difficult for fresh flowers, or it could be made as an all-round group for a table centre. But its main point is the economy of material — many other small stems of dried materials could be used — as long as they are selected with regard to their possibilities of contrast either in shape or texture.