Sunday, 23 December 2012

Let it snow! (Christmas 2012)

I love Christmas; I always have. When I was younger, I used to love it because I got lots of presents (ah, the joys of being an only child!). Now I love it because I like to give presents, and also because it's a good time of year to reminisce and keep up traditions. You can do those things at other times of year, as well, but for some reason Christmas feels special--and by "special," what I really mean is "magical." 

I often wonder where this feeling comes from. Is it left over from the stories we're told as children? Is it related to the mesmerizing glow and sparkle of holiday decorations? Does it stem from some older, more primal human response to the long dark hours that leave you alone with your thoughts (and the shadows) during the harshest, coldest time of year?

I can't say, but what I can say is that I have been ready for the arrival Christmas since I purchased, and hid away, the first gift of 2012 back in June; it goes without saying that I have also been ready since I listened to my first Christmas carols in late November. 

To help celebrate the holiday this year, I have taken a series of photographs documenting the arrival of Christmas 2012--first in Cornwall and then in Ohio:

(Holiday decorations in Penryn, Cornwall. These made the walk home from school a bit brighter each evening.)

(Christmas display in the window of my friend Lucy Turner's Penryn furniture shop. This was entered in the town's Christmas decoration contest, but evidently the judges found it to be a bit too unusual. Grinches.)

(Innocent smoothies sporting hats as part of The Big Knit 2012. Proceeds from each bottle are donated to a charity that helps ensure that older people are warm and comfortable during the winter months. Adorable and kind!)

(I'm familiar with chocolate Easter bunnies, of course, but this was the first time I'd seen a chocolate Santa.)

(The first Christmas feast of 2012. Among other things, it involved five types of meat--ham, bacon, chicken, pheasant, and roast beef--two types of potato, and countless desserts. Delicious.)

(Decorations in Events Square--joining together the maritime and holiday themes into a single colorful display.)

(Our Christmas tree, as seen from the Square. You can also see the festive red lights that have been placed in all the street lamps for the duration of the holiday season.)

(The "Biodiversitree," as I like to call it--a tree decorated almost exclusively with wildlife ornaments. As my former PhD supervisor noted, arthropods and bacteria are woefully underrepresented--as are plants--so if anyone spots any unusual ornaments anywhere, send them my way!)

(Another view of the biodiversitree. I couldn't find a suitable tree skirt anywhere--online or in town--so I am hoping to purchase one in the US and take it back to the UK with me. Somehow I was entirely unsurprised to find that British stores did not have quite the amount of variety that can be found in American stores this time of year. One thing they do have lots of is artificial trees; unfortunately, they were insanely expensive. I was lucky to find this one at a reasonable price. I admit that it has some unfortunate gaps between the branches, but that just gives me plenty of room to hang my massive collection of ornaments.)

(I have many, many bird ornaments, but this one is perhaps the most relevant for Christmas 2012: This is the year in which I completed my book on flamingos!)

(This owl is Sasha's favorite ornament because of the way its eyes follow you around the room. I haven't done a proper survey, but I think that owls may be the most abundant animal family on my tree, though doves, finches, and thrushes are all close behind.)

(View of the biodiversitree in daylight. I'm allowed to get overly excited about this tree because it's the first one I've put up since moving to the UK. Many of the ornaments still had their tags on, and had sat in storage for two or three years. Having the tree in the house really helps get into a Christmas frame of mind despite the mild, un-Christmassy Cornish weather.)

(The Halzephron Farm Shop sells locally made advent candles--something I've never heard of before, but which I had to rush out to buy.)

(The Christmas tree gave me the perfect opportunity to practice photographing "bokeh"--or the blurry, out-of-focus bits in an image. I also got to do some more photo-trickery once I arrived at my parents' house in Ohio...)

(Weather is quite fickle in southern Ohio, and you never know whether you will end up with a white Christmas or not. It looks like we are in luck this year, though!)

(Despite the snowfall, Sasha and I headed up to Easton Town Center for our last little bit of Christmas shopping. I know this is going to sound really shallow and capitalistic, but it just doesn't feel like Christmas until I've gone to a giant shopping center and mingled with the hordes of people trying to find Christmas bargains. It's a quintessential part of the holiday experience in America! Also, Easton has really beautiful decorations, as you can see here.)

(The Santa mantel in the dining room. The original Santa is the one in the middle with the blue hat. All the others have been added over the years and come from diverse locations around the country.)

(The angel mantel in the living room, proving that we are quite happy to mix secular and religious themes in our holiday decorations. Note the bokeh in the background!)

(A "high dynamic range" (HDR) version of the angel mantel, shot from a greater distance--and in daylight. I have only recently discovered the HDR technique, and I have to say that the timing was fantastic; this method is perfect for capturing the glowy essence of Christmas lights while also showing detail on the associated ornaments.)

(The nativity scene. This is perched on an end table next to the living room couch--within easy reach of the cats, who for some reason have decided to leave it alone. It looks like the perfect thing for the felines to munch on, but perhaps they are too busy enjoying their Humane Society Christmas catnip toys to bother with little wooden figurines.)

(Felted mistletoe handmade by Nepalese artisans: fair trade, ecologically friendly, and aesthetically pleasing. The perfect trifecta.)

(The advent calendar, which was first purchased when I was a little girl. After I went away to college, I was no longer around to help count down the days until Christmas. We moved the best two ornaments--the little bluebird and cardinal--to the 22nd and the 23rd, so that I would have the pleasure of hanging the ornithologically themed decorations once I came to visit. The Christmas Eve decoration is a little wooden star that tops the tree.)

(One of the many Christmas wreaths after it received a picturesque dusting of snow.)

(The dining room table, decked out in festive red, and the Christmas tree just beyond it. When I was very young, my parents used to put up trees in both the dining and living rooms, but that practice was abandoned because it required a bit too much time and effort. For a while, the single remaining tree was erected in the living room; now, though, my parents now place it in the dining room. That is where the tree was located on the best Christmas in my memory--the one on which I received my first American Girl doll, Samantha. My parents hid Samantha and all her accoutrements around the far side of the tree, so when I came downstairs in the morning and peeked into the dining room, I thought Santa had passed me by. It wasn't until I turned the corner that I realized what a bounty awaited me!)

(Kight Christmas tree 2012, plus the mountain of presents awaiting distribution on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.)

(HDR portrait of the Christmas tree--same magical glow, better definition of the ornaments!)

As you can see, Christmas is really in the air--both in Cornwall and in Ohio. Unfortunately, the trip between those two locations really makes it difficult to celebrate the holiday with any amount of energy. I have been working very hard to get over my jet lag, but I have been awake every morning by at least 6 AM, and am ready to go to bed by around 8 PM. That makes it pretty difficult to do the sorts of things that we normally do during my visits--play Scrabble, make (and eat) holiday food, go out to see movies, talk. Mostly I have just been sitting around in a rocking chair, struggling to prop my eyelids up. 

The first of our family gatherings is tomorrow, and maybe the crush of relatives and hyper children children will be enough to wake me up a bit. If not, I'm sure a Christmas cookie sugar rush would do the trick. After all, it's the most wonderful time of the year, and it just wouldn't do to doze my way through it.

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