But Ma asked if they were sure the stockings were empty. Then they put their hands down inside them, to make sure. And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny! They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny. There never had been such a Christmas. —Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)
Laura's words remind me of a conversation I had with my mother years ago. I was five or six at the time. We were sitting at the kitchen table in the old farmhouse, sorting through a box of Christmas cards. Mom held up a card with a beautiful poinsettia on the front. "What do you think of this one for Aunt Ella?"
I looked at the card and smiled. "She'll like that one. She loves flowers." I pulled out a card and studied the face of a radiant angel. "I think the Webers would like this one."
Mom nodded. "Me, too."
Visions of Santa loading up the sleigh with my Christmas presents danced through my head, as we gathered cards for the rest of the people on mom's list. "When you were a little girl, Mommy, what did you get for Christmas?"
She looked up from her work and stared at me for a moment. "Oh. . .we got an orange. And a piece of hard candy."
My jaw fell to my chest. She couldn't be serious. "That's all?"
"Were you bad or somethin'?"
She laughed. "No. That's just the way it was in those days."
I thought Santa had been pretty stingy in those days. But later I learned that my mother's experience was the norm for previous generations. Especially in large families like hers. They lived within their means -- even at Christmas -- and their means weren't much.
For a long time I felt sorry for my mom and her siblings. Sorry that they didn't have a real Christmas. But not any longer. Now I think they were the blessed ones; the ones who had the real Christmas. A simple Christmas. I envy them.
Maybe that's one reason why "A Christmas Carol" is my favorite Christmas movie. The contented way in which the Cratchits celebrate their meager Christmas appeals to me.
Keeping Christmas simple in a culture that believes more is more, instead of less is more, isn't easy. But downsizing to a 624 sq. ft. cabin has definitely twisted my arm into submission to a simpler Christmas decorating style. There just isn't room to display a lot of stuff, much less store it, so that simplifies decking the halls.
This year we're focusing on simple live decorations, like this poinsettia.
And these red carnations for the dining table.
We may just have the tiniest live Christmas tree in Estes Park. My plan is to repot it as it grows and reuse it in the coming years until it's too big for indoors and just right for planting outdoors.
Dennis's painting "Taos Peace Rally" has a Christmas theme. The lamp post is decorated with greenery and a red bow. The cross is a reminder of the real reason for celebrating Christmas.
"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this."
I'm happy we're keeping our homestead Christmas simple. Now all we need is a few oranges and some hard candy.