Friday – we made it! Happy holidays to all – Happy Hanukkah to those who are lighting candles this week, Merry Christmas to those looking ahead to Sunday’s celebrations, and Yule blessings and happy long weekend to everyone! I’m checking off the last few items on my work to-do list before the weekend, and I’ve taken off Tuesday so it’ll be an extra-long one; I can’t wait for some quiet time to rest and recharge in the light of my Christmas tree. This Christmas has, like they all seem to do, snuck up on me. I’m nowhere near ready – not a single gift wrapped yet, although I’m at least mostly done shopping (and hopefully completely done after this afternoon). This year, I pared down Advent activities to the absolute essentials – our family favorites, and nothing more. There are some years when I really want to lean into the run-up to Christmas, but this year it felt good to take a step back, focus on things like fresh air and connection, and just let myself recharge as much as possible. But we do have some activities that are must-dos, like getting our Christmas tree and decorating it in a small family party. Other than that, I held the outside the house activities to those that bring us (or at least me) real joy.
Starting with a visit to Aladdin the camel at Mount Vernon. This is an absolute necessity. George Washington used to obtain a camel as a Christmas treat to entertain his stepchildren and grandchildren at Christmas, and the estate still brings Aladdin over (from a local reserve) every year. We’ve been visiting him since he was just a baby camel and only missed the years when we lived in western New York. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Aladdin.
Of course, I also love walking around the gardens at Mount Vernon any time of the year. But last year, after reading Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles, I was struck anew by the pared-down beauty of the gardens in winter.
The kitchen garden – my favorite.
We don’t go inside the house every year, but we did this year. Every time we take the mansion tour, I find something new to appreciate. This time, it was the beautiful wallpaper designs. Not the style I would choose for my own house, but beautiful to examine (and photograph).
As always, a lovely afternoon of wandering around Mount Vernon! No matter how many times I visit, it never gets old.
The following weekend, Steve and I revived an old favorite holiday tradition: we saw Handel’s Messiah performed by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. We used to go every year, but hadn’t been since Peanut was born. This year, we sprung for a babysitter and made a date night of it – we really went all out. Steve even scored reservations at the Terrace Restaurant in the Kennedy Center and we had a delicious dinner before the show. (Worth noting: this was before the performance got going, as you can tell by the people milling about in the aisles. Naturally I didn’t photograph during the show!)
All decked out in our holiday finery! I even dug my vintage partridge in a pear tree pin out of the jewelry box for the occasion.
We weren’t the only ones decked out, either. The Kennedy Center was festooned in rainbows! What a night – it was such a special treat to see Messiah again. It’s one of my favorite pieces. And I was surprised by how many of the arias and recitatives I remembered. The choral numbers are generally the most memorable, but the whole performance was familiar and it felt like such a revival of a joyful tradition.
Finally – the other essential! Every year starting in about 2010, I think, Steve and I had a tradition of walking around Old Town Alexandria and looking at the holiday decorations. Old Town is a very historic area – pre-Revolution, actually – and the residents stay true to the look and feel of the neighborhood by choosing very traditional holiday decor. Lots of greenery and fruit. The wreaths are especially beautiful.
We started our walk this year at the Basilica of St. Mary. This is the very first Roman Catholic parish in Virginia and the historic church building is just gorgeous. And every Christmas they put out a beautiful Nativity scene. (Steve asked where the baby was. I said: it’s not Christmas yet. He hasn’t been born, silly.)
After visiting the Nativity, we started our walk around Old Town. As usual – lots of beautiful wreaths, lots of greenery, and fruit accents. I considered drying out some orange slices or maybe doing orange and clove balls at home, then decided against it. Any added work sounds like too much this year. Walking around and looking at other people’s efforts was the sweet spot.
This one was my favorite this year. So exuberant!
I just can’t get enough of this holiday beauty!
The other part of our Old Town decorations walk tradition is a festive beverage, of course! Before kids, Steve and I used to stop for a glass of wine. Then it became dinner at our favorite pizza joint. With COVID, the tradition has changed again; now it’s takeaway cocoa from Misha’s Coffee. But that’s the thing about favorite traditions – they can evolve over time. Maybe in a few years we’ll come full circle and be back to toasting the holiday with Pinot Noir.
Merry everything, friends! I hope you have exactly the holiday weekend you’re dreaming of – whether that’s an all-out festive extravaganza, a quiet weekend of watching snow come down, or something in between.