The Holly Bears a Berry…

DSC_0022My home smells like gingerbread and fir once more, and a gloriously-spangled tree, ‘the prettiest ever,’ has joined the Advent wreath in the den. My few ‘permanent’ decorations—the crèche on the Empire chest, the mantle swag of vintage glass balls, the stockings above the kitchen fireplace, have taken up their yearly residence, and yesterday I put some festive touches on the barn. Philip watched me with a grin on his face as I swung the paper chain along the center beam and hung little red wire cones from the posts filled with silky silver-green branches of long-leaf pine. I knew what he was thinking—but I had decorated in much the same way last year and everything was just out of reach of my impish Nubian goats, Puck and Pansy. Surely they couldn’t have grown that much since last Christmas!

I wasn’t in the barn when Puck and Co. came running in from the pasture for their mid-afternoon siesta, but Philip was, and he nearly doubled over with laughter at the sight. Puck took in the paper chain and the delectable treat of pine boughs dangling overhead in one glance, and in a moment more the ‘decorations’ were gone. He did share a bit with his sister, Pansy, Philip tells me, and Sebastian the sheep managed a nibble or two. But in Puck’s mind, Christmas has really come again, with the goat version of sugarplums sprouting magically from the ceiling. 😉

DSC_7915Caspian has taken up his vigilant guard at the foot of the Christmas tree, just to make sure that none of those gingerbread men, you know, jump off. And the five house cats, Josie, Lucy, Oliver, Pip and Wemmick each have their own favorite ornament, and they show their love by batting it off the tree and scuttling it around the floor between their paws. Maudie and Balliol, the barn kitties, doubtless remember the birds’ tree in the yard from last year, for they were only too eager to lend their aid as Philip strung the colored lights over the cedar along the fence. I’m going to have to hang the birdseed pinecones really high this year!

Next week the ‘candy shop’ will open in my kitchen and Philip will doubtless come home at night to a very floured and sugar-dusted wife. But what loved recipes—every one a memory-laden favorite: Mince-pie cookies! Martha Washington candies! Russian tea cakes and ginger hearts! Butter toffee and caramels! I’ve gotten to the point after ten Christmases in my own home that I can’t even look at new recipes for I’m not willing to give up anything that I make every year in exchange. 😉 And there is absolutely nothing more satisfying to me than gifting my loved ones with the fruits of my kitchen—whether around my table, nibbling cookies by my fire, or by way of presents themselves.

DSC_9573The week after next is when I will begin ‘bringing in the greens’, decking the chandeliers and the pictures on the walls with crowns of holly and ivy. I am very old-fashioned about most things, and Christmas in particular, and waiting to decorate with live greenery, which our Southern climate supplies in such munificence, is all part of the glad anticipation of the Advent for me. There is something so very immediate in the prickle of a holly leaf, and I cannot help but think of the old legend that tells how it was used for the crown of thorns, and that it never bore its scarlet berries until the drops of blood flowed from the Savior’s brow. I love the keenness of cedar boughs, all the more vibrant after a good hard frost or two, and their fragrant promise of ever-living things. And the loyal glossy green of the boxwood, twined into wreaths or thin circlets atop my hurricane globes, speaking to me of love and friendship and of the dear friend from whose garden I clipped it.

Christmas is the brightest and best season of the year for me, the most joyous time of all at our dear little farm-in-the-city. No matter what the year has held, no matter what challenges and longings and frustrations may lay behind us in the months that have gone without recall, the blessed now of Christmas returns with its Glory and its Joy just as fresh and amazing as that first starry night in Bethlehem. The miracle of God with us overwhelms me more every single year. It is the life in all sweet the trappings and memories that I love about this season and the lodestar that lures me on into an inscrutable but irresistible future when this Christmas is but a memory itself. I always feel, in the midst of it all, that the scrim twixt the temporal and the eternal is thinner this time of year than at any other, and that the unspeakable realities on the other side are hovering so near, near enough to touch had I but the eyes to see them. Angels’ wings whispering close at hand; the ineffable fragrance of a Rose newly-sprung; the clear, piercing light of the Day Star and the sudden gilding of dawn over a frozen landscape.

coneBut as I love it best, I feel I am more subject to temptations unique to this season and unique to me. The pull to over-do, to live beyond the means of time and energy that God has given me. To forget—even momentarily, but no less tragically—what we’re celebrating in the drive to do it honor. To exchange happy bustle for ‘huffing about’. I am determined not to waste a blessed moment of it this year—but I know that I can’t do it alone. I need my friends to remind me. I need my husband to raise his eyebrows with a smile when I talk about adding one more thing to the irresistible list of projects and Christmasy things I want to do.

I need Jesus. To keep me grounded, centered. Starry-eyed, if you will, as I sit in contemplation of a glittering Christmas tree or at my piano lingering over the carols I love best with a lump in my throat. To keep my heart so tender to the staggering verities of His Word and of what this is all about that I still weep over the same verses in my Bible that have stabbed me every year with joy and pain. To keep the wonder of a Love I still cannot fathom though I’ve been steeped in it my whole life.

To keep me. So that I might keep Christmas.

God bless you all as you welcome Him this season, in your homes and in your hearts.

And here’s another little gift, in the same vein as before. Two songs that I love dearly. I hope that you enjoy them.

Now the Holly Bears a Berry

Sans Day Carol, Cornish Traditional

Noel Sing We

15th Century English Carol


7 Responses to “The Holly Bears a Berry…”

  1. I am enjoying the songs and the pictures. I am once again reading Phyllis Tickle’s little book of stories about living Advent in the country. Your barn story reminds me of such a tale… 🙂

    Sigh… I have long become carried away at Christmas. That is why I call it the time of (Narnia) magic.

    To me, the Season is God’s gift to us in the midst of the darkest time of the year. It is just a little taste of the sparkle of our Heavenly home. I have learned that my excitement in the Season is only a reflection of the most amazing REAL STORY about angels and stars and redemption.


  2. Jodi says:

    Thank you so much for posting the songs. I wish they were on a cd so we could listen to them often. If you have time, could you please tell me, what is Martha Washington candy? Happy Adventide.


  3. Jenny says:

    Isn’t that just so true about our Christmas favorites. I enjoy looking at different delicacies in cookbooks, but I’m so loyal to my favorites after twelve Christmases in my own home that I would never dream of changing the least thing. That being said, I will be baking an apple pie for my husband this Christmas — just because I know how much he’d enjoy one.

  4. Josie Ray says:

    My first thought when reading this post was, “Oh, how sweet! She decorated the barn!” Then I discovered how short-lived were those decorations…

    Well, maybe Puck and Pansy will have to have just one more delectable wreath for Christmas Eve, when all the animals kneel in the stable at midnight.

    What lovely, nostalgic photos and words. And thank you for two more songs. I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the first two.

    p.s. I’m glad to know that you have a “Josie” running around your house. I hope she behaves herself…though “behave” is relative when it comes to cats…to most creatures, in fact…

  5. mary kathryn says:

    Lovely pictures, Lanier! As always, thanks for the beauty of your blog.

  6. Lanier Ivester says:

    Martha Washingtons are really nothing more than peanut butter candies dipped in chocolate, though they certainly never came by that name in her lifetime! 😉 I don’t know why they’re called that–my grandmother always called them Martha Washingtons and I never thought to question it until a friend jokingly chided that peanut butter hadn’t even been invented when Martha was alive…

    But I’ll have to post the recipe–it’s a good, old-fashioned one. Just not *that* old fashioned! 😉

    And Josie, I am grieved to report that Josephine March Ivester is the most confirmed stinker of a cat you are ever likely to encounter. She rules this house and we are her abject slaves. 😉

  7. Josie Ray says:

    Dear, dear Lanier….will you pretty please….

    Does that sound like what we used to call “buttering up” when we were little kids? 🙂

    Seriously, do you share your recipes? We are having a cool, rainy stretch, and there’s one jar of mincemeat from Christmas lingering on our shelves. Today, I’m baking a chicken with super-sagey stuffing; with this weather, it’s giving me a holiday flashback. And the magical sound of mince-pie cookies has stayed with me since I read this post back in December. Every time I see that jar of mincemeat, I think, “Well, I’m sure I can find some recipe for mincemeat cookies,” but I’m *thinking* “No, I want them to be Lanier’s *mince-pie* cookies! They sound so Marmadukish! (Little White Horse)”

    Sooo….would you please consider posting the recipe? Or if you don’t wish to post it on your blog (it would make a strange April post!), I suppose you could email it to me. (I assume you can see my email, though it doesn’t show online.)

    Sincere thanks if you choose to share it; if not, I do understand. Oh, and if it is from your mother, or great-great grandmother, please do share that, too, so I can note it on my copy. 🙂

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