Christmas for me will always be filtered through my imagination and memories as a small child. Delicious aromas from the kitchen, trees burdened with decorations, branches of fragrant evergreens tied with bows. What I dislike is the commercialism. My secret for maintaining the magic is to escape manufactured “holiday cheer” and keep madness at bay by concentrating on home.
Idealized imagery always inspires me, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker remains a major influence. As a former ballet dancer (who did more than his share of roles in that ballet) I can still revel in the glorious snow scene at the end of Act I. I also love Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 film, Fanny & Alexander. It has a Christmas party scene that goes on and on and is beyond wonderful (even taking into account the family drama). I guess it’s notable that both of these visually lavish works of art are steeped in 19th century European traditions. Visually and emotionally they really hit home (click on the above links to see if you agree).
My great inspiration, however is Italy, and my Christmas decor reflects this. On my mantle stands three magnificent kings from an 18th century Neapolitan crèche. Adding layers of decoration to my tree are bits of Venetian glass, miniature Sicilian puppets, tiny gondolier hats and even Venetian masks. Rather than a star on top, I have a life-sized, artificial swan that was made in Venice as part of an elaborate carnivale costume. Instead of keeping it hidden in the attic, I pull it out every December for its regal holiday appearance. The “Christmas Swan” has a bird’s-eye view from the top of my 16’ tree as he surveys the festivities below. Our view from ground level isn’t too bad either.