Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Royal Advent Color

My favorite tablescape this holiday season takes its cue from advent candles. In churches and homes all over the world, Christians mark the weeks leading to Christmas by placing  four candles in an advent wreath. The word advent is used to mark the coming of something important, like the advent of the mobile phone. However, in the Christian calendar advent marks something infinitely more important--the coming of God into the world! 

"Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us"
(Matthew 1:23).
Advent season begins with a "greening" of the home or church a month before Christmas, allowing four Sundays to light each of the four advent candles. Three of the candles are purple. Why purple?

First, the color symbolizes penitence. When I think that God had to become man to save me from my selfish and ugly nature, I feel sorry. This repentance is a proper preparation for welcoming the coming Savior and King. Which leads us to a second reason three of the advent candles are purple. Purple was worn by royalty. How appropriate that purple marks the coming of the King of Kings!

Let us each take time this advent to thank the Almighty God for being willing to leave the beauty and peace of heaven and be born into a stable in dusty Palestine where the tyrannical monarch, Herod, would murder children in his quest to retain power. Having a thankful heart is proper preparation for celebrating Christ's birth and is represented by the pink candle which stands for joy. 

On my Christmas table this year, I will place a gift on each plate.
Inside each guest will find a miniature creche to remind them of the greatest gift ever given to us--a Savior.
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord…You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:8-12).

Christmas is a Holy Day for Christians, a day we celebrate our royal God's humble coming. 

"Thanks be unto God for His indescribable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15). 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Blue & White "Festi-fied" with Boxwood

Blue and white isn't a color scheme you normally think of as Christmasy. However, the green of preserved boxwood in the center of the table gives a festive twist to blue and white china.
The bowl and matching candlesticks are from Hobby Lobby.
 Afloral.com beat all competitors for best price on preserved boxwood.
Even the cobalt blue glasses look festive next to green chargers and tiny Christmas tree name tag holders. 
The miniature Christmas trees are from The Dollar Tree.
 They were meant as accessories for their version of the Charles Dickens' village,
 but are repurposed on my Christmas table. 
The crowning touch, in my opinion, is the tiny blue and white ceramic bells from 10,000 Villages.
They remind me of so many carols based on the bell theme. One of my favorites was written by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow during the Civil War:  

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day, 
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said'
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Candy Cane Christmas Tablescape

I don't know about you, but I get in a rut decorating for Christmas. Many years I use the same containers on my table, the same linens, and the same glassware and chargers. However, on Saturday I spoke at a ladies Christmas Tea on decorating for the holidays. Pressure to have something original forced me to come up with some fresh ideas. 

My first original tablescape I called A Candy Cane Christmas.  


At the top of the picture, you can see a white feather wreath tied to the chandelier. I simply got a straw wreath form from Michaels, wound it with white feather boas, then tied it with white ribbon to my chandelier. 
photos from: thefrugalhomemaker.com

On the center of the table I used three red glass cylindrical vases purchased at Marshalls for under $10 each. They aren't Lalique, but I think they are quite handsome. 
The red spiral glassware came from Pier 1. 
White porcelain Christmas balls from Michael's serve as placeholders. 

And the red angels on each napkin came from The Dollar Tree--five for $1.00. To each I tied the message the angel brought to the shepherds: "I bring you good news of great joy; unto you is born this day in the city of David  a Savior who is Christ the Lord."

The silver trees I purchased at Wannamaker's in Philadelphia. (Unhappily, the wonderful department store closed years ago.)

In the photo above of the table, the vases are empty, but at the Christmas tea, I showed the ladies how paperwhites fit perfectly in the cylinders and are held upright by red cranberries. 

Currently, the red vases are grouped together on a round table in my sunroom.
Looking at my Christmas decorations and tableware with fresh eyes has been inspirational. Let me encourage you to rethink your table this year and add something new.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Saint Petersburg Lingers in the Memory

I dubbed St. Petersburg, the-city-I-couldn't-wait-to-leave, but the city hasn't left  me. I can still see in my mind's eye the clashing opulence of the bourgeoisie palaces juxtaposed to the drab gray, utilitarian proletariat apartments. These extremes made St. Petersburg a depressingly uncomfortable, yet provocative place to visit.

From the time we got on the ship taking us from Helsinki, Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia we noted an Attitude with a capital A. Obviously, the Russian help desk employees on board ship had never had to please customers. I guess if the state equally distributes regardless the value of your contribution, it doesn't matter how you treat the public. The ship's dining room hostesses and ticket window clerks shared the same Attitude.

Maybe their anger was caused by the gray and foreboding weather in St. Petersburg. 

Thankfully, our Russian tour guide for the day was a kind, pleasant, and caring lady. The first sights she showed us were two red light houses featuring mythical figures. They were as foreboding as the sky and set a somber tone for the day.
On our city tour, as we crossed many of the city's 365 bridges, our guide told us that Peter the Great built his capital on a swamp because he knew Russia needed a southern harbor to maintain year around commerce. Many of the bridges are intricate iron masterpieces left over from another era.

We stopped and snapped pictures of the ornate Church of Spilled Blood. However, the confection was shrouded when we heard that it was the grizzly scene of a czar's assassination. 

Next we detoured to a tourist shop for coffee and a break. When my husband and I came out of our respective restrooms, we were both chuckling. He found this sign above his sink. 

Meanwhile, in the ladies' room above the toilet paper dispenser a similar sign read, "Do not place toilet paper in toilet." St. Petersburg was living up to my stereotype of a decaying Soviet city.

Back on the road, our van continued winding past a military museum surrounded by rusting tanks and many gray decrepit apartment buildings. Then we came to a park where we disembarked and walked about a block to the Hermitage Museum. Its bright turquoise, white, and gilded exterior seemed completely out of place. 


I was anxious to see inside, because the Hermitage is home to the world's largest collection of paintings, and one particular masterpiece. 

Entering the museum, we waited in the ticket line to give the clerk our vouchers. When we reached the front of the line, she growled in broken English, "Wrong line." 

We patiently waited in another line. Finally, this clerk informed us that we didn't need a ticket, because one day each month was a "free entry" day. Hm, why hadn't the first clerk given us that piece of information?  

Just happy to be inside, we began a self-guided tour using the headphones available at another desk. Of course, many of the rooms did not have numbers and often when there were numbers, they did not correspond with the printed guidebook. However, we somehow managed to see much of the magnificent palace.

Catherine the Great had this palace built to showcase her collections. Among the nearly three million items is this solid gold throne,

many well-preserved artifacts,

and priceless works of art such as the gold peacock clock.


All of these extravagantly-valuable objects are displayed in equally opulent surroundings. Ceilings are intricate and beautiful. 


Floors are elaborately inlaid.

Furthermore, Catherine did not forget lighting

or wall coverings.

Of course, supporting columns are highly ornamental.

Walking among the over-the-top inventory and decor, I spied a garden out the window. The simple orderly display of nature was a quiet and lovely foil to the opulence. Purportedly, Catherine found it a respite as well.
To me, this garden complimented the masterpiece I came to see.  Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son isn't garish; it is warm and welcoming.  
When I taught college writing courses, I used this painting to illustrate how a controlling idea unifies a work of art. In Rembrandt's masterpiece the father's loving forgiveness is the controlling idea. I was mesmerized by his use of color, figure placement, and lighting to focus not on the prodigal son nor the elder brother, but on the lavish, profligate, and prodigal love of the father. 

The masterpiece's sentiment followed me as we left the Hermitage. I savored the mood as we walked in front of the ornate palace gates 

and past a horse drawn carriage that looked like a the movie prop for Anna Karenina. 
The mood was dispelled, however, as the mist turned to drizzle and two Russian guards reminded me of where I was.

Across the enormous cobblestone courtyard, I kept scanning the crowd for our tour guide. Finally, she found us through the drizzle. 

Whew, I let out a relieved sigh as we climbed into the van. It was identical to dozens upon dozens of other vans on the traffic-clogged city street. How would we have found our way back to the harbor without this kind Russian lady? I didn't want to think about it. I was just happy to sink back into the hard seat and let it take us back to the ship.

I didn't shed any tears that evening as we sailed out of the bleak, cold Russian waters. 

Yet, the city of opulence and oppression has lingered in my mind. Undoubtedly the profligacy of the czars produced the revolution, but the Soviet system hasn't produced a happy and efficient society either. 

Interestingly, Rembrandt painted both extremes. The impoverished, rag-tag younger brother was opposed by the arrogant, well-heeled elder brother. Who could bring the two conflicting sides together? The forgiving father. He ran to meet the returning prodigal, and he came out to urge the pouting elder brother to join the party. Both sons merely had to humble themselves and accept the warm embrace of their generous and lavish father.