So the lovely and talented Marlene Donovan was lamenting that the Recession has made it next to impossible to decorate her home for Christmas.
“Between the gifts and the utilities and a mortgage that won’t go away, there just isn’t anything left to spend on decorations,” she said.
Fortunately, Marlene was talking to me. As a writer who was once, literally, paid in birdseed, I know how to stretch a dollar. And by being extremely clever I’ve always been able to transform my humble home into a Holiday Showcase, usually for under $12.
The easiest way to get your house looking a lot like Christmas is the judicious application of greenery. The cheerful emerald hues give your home a warm, cozy feeling and the branches impart a lovely scent that lingers throughout the day.
Now if you go to a florist, you’re going to be paying upwards of $50-60 for silver-green branches of juniper with their gorgeous blue berries. Expect the same for holly adorned with red berries.
Don’t despair. Just remember this name — Mrs. Ida Aickman of 267 Laurel Thicket Drive in Highlands. Mrs. Aickman has generous holly bushes on the front of her house and low juniper shrubs adorning the sides. You can help yourself to as much as you wish, she doesn’t seem to mind. I usually leave with armloads.
Be sure to harvest at night, and remember she has a very mean dog. Keep your car running.
These branches will deliver a festive feeling throughout your house and their clean scent is sure to get you into the holiday spirit.
If you wish for an undeniably Dickensian look, consider hanging swags of garland along your walls. I especially enjoy graceful loops swooping down from the mantle. Again, if you visit a florist you’re certain to shell out a lot of bucks for what’s essentially some pine branches that have been lashed together.
I save a small fortune by employing a faithful servant who’s served me through the spring and summer. There’s no reason a green garden hose has to spend the holiday season coiled in the basement. It’s terribly easy to drape a length of hose across my mantle and, if the lights are low and my guests have been deep in the nog, it can look like a festive strand of garland.
If some Nosey Nelly says, “Hey, why did you hang a hose on your mantle?,” you can tap dance your way around a potentially embarrassing situation by explaining that it’s a subtle display in support of local organic farmers and a timely reminder of the tragedy of our nation’s disappearing topsoil. Usually this is all that’s needed.
Growing up, a beautiful Nativity Scene was the centerpiece of my family’s Christmas decorating, and it was the same for my adult holiday household. But when the Former Mrs. Osteen decided the celebration was over and removed herself from my life, she took our hand-carved Creche Set with her.
Did this dampen subsequent Christmas Seasons?
Of course not! A quick trip to the local thrift store netted six GI Joes, a Barbie, Barbie’s Vacation Dream House and a set of Jurassic Park Raptor Rodeo dinosaurs, all for $11.
The six GI Joes are practically made for duty as Joseph, the Three Wise Men and a couple of shepherds. Barbie, naturally, makes a dandy Mary, although her dimensions are admittedly more suitable for (modern) Madonna than Classical Madonna.
With the judicious application of tape, you can transform ordinary Viva paper towels into stylish robes for the entire entourage.
Biblical scholars are nearly unanimous in their assertion that the First Manger was almost certainly not made of pink plastic, but otherwise Barbie’s Vacation Dream House is a perfect recreation.
If any of your holiday guests question its validity, laugh it off and explain that it’s clearly a post-modernist interpretation. Shake your head as though you can’t believe that anyone wouldn’t get it.
The Jurassic Park Raptor Rodeo dinosaurs can double as the Manger animals, but they should probably be kept in the background. If you squint, the Triceratops kind of looks like an ox. The Apatosaurus (formerly Brontosaurus) makes for a very sad camel. There’s really no explanation for Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I suppose if you wanted to go in the opposite direction and boldly highlight a pack of dinosaurs surrounding the manger, you could say that this is just your symbolic rejection of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, showcasing a time when dinos cheerfully mingled with humanity. It could work.
Perhaps holiday entertaining is the focus of your Christmas decorating. And of course, the dining room table is the center of this particular design scheme.
This is actually the easiest part of all.
A heavily sedated pet makes an unforgettable centerpiece and a surefire conversation starter. Your guests will be unable to resist poking the cat or dog with their fork to see if they are indeed real. (In a particularly touching display of the true spirit of Christmas, you can arrange the cat and dog snuggled up together.)
Line your display with pine boughs laced with anesthetized hamsters. The cuteness factor is off the charts.
You may be thinking, “But Luke, couldn’t that be dangerous to my pet?”
I worried about that once, too, but a trip to the shelves of the Fontana Regional Library System assuaged my fears.
Dr. Monica Hazelip’s “Big Book of Pet Care” contained this authoritative statement: “The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for pets.”
See? Dr. Hazelip is practically ordering you to tranquilize your pet. The centerpiece idea is the logical progression.
I wish I had space to tell you about thrifty holiday entertaining (Hint: When Frugal Mart’s fish sticks are getting within a day or two of expiration, they practically give them away).
No matter the ultimate state of your decorations, please know that I’m wishing you a warm and loving Holiday Season.
And no matter the state of your wallet, remind yourself that at least you’re not having to start your day trying to eat a bowl of birdseed.