Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Most years my holiday spirit kicks in on Nov. 1. I dive in headfirst and don’t look back till we’ve rung in the new year. That is, until last year. Last year I didn’t even put up a tree, but rather just a few rogue decorations halfheartedly placed around the house. And I own a vintage aluminum tree from the ’50s complete with color wheel and a spinning stand that plays a rickety but lovely old version of “Silent Night.” I alternate year to year between real and vintage, but last year the corner of my living room was noticeably empty.
Aimsel Ponti searches for her Christmas cheer by giving a gift to a baker at the Corner Room in Portland.
Jeffrey Blackwell photo
Aimsel Ponti went looking for – and found – Christmas cheer at Portland's Victoria Mansion.
Shannon Bryan photo
It was the first Christmas since my sweet Italian grandmother, Nana Emily, had died. Her passing marked the end of an era, as she was the last of the “elderly relatives” who helped anchor my holiday memories in the green- and red-colored past that full-bodied nostalgia provides. So there was that.
But that wasn’t the only reason I was off last year. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School just 11 days before Christmas was both unbelievable and yet painfully real, and how could anyone with even a faint heartbeat not be affected by it? (The one-year anniversary is Saturday, and my thoughts are very much with the families and that entire community.)
And I’m sure there were a number of other reasons I was just plain off last year. As each year passes, the gap grows between the childhood memories I cling to of Christmases past. There’s the reality of having some of those people gone, and the fact that I am not a child anymore and haven’t been one in what feels like a million years. But here’s the thing: I refuse to lose that childhood spirit, that pure joy that arrives usually around the time of the first snow, when I get caught up in the hustle and bustle, the holiday parties, the mad shopping dashes and the scent of cinnamon, peppermint, orange and pine.
In other words; I want my holiday spirit back. I need it back. And so I’m in the midst of making it happen for myself. I’m sharing this journey-of-sorts with fellow bah-humbuggers out there with the invitation to find your cheer, too.
My own journey began at Victoria Mansion, where I took in this year’s holiday exhibition. Each room of the glorious 1858 house was decorated by a local designer with the international theme of “Joy to the World.” Among the countries represented are France, Spain, Japan, England, Scotland, Italy, Germany and Ireland. The good old USA is represented by a New England display complete with plenty of red cardinals. Each room is gorgeous and alive with simple and intricate, playful and elegant decor. From fruit-trimmed trees to an elaborate nativity scene, Christmas is captured in all its multicultural glory.
I loved every minute of it, but what really jingled my bells was when I caught sight of the upstairs “Dressing Room.” This display represented Russia and was created by Sara Gorstein of S. Scollay Custom Floral Design in Portland. I took one look at it and started smiling brighter than all of the sparkling lights I had seen since arriving. Amongst an understated display of trees and hanging red bulbs, Gorstein had constructed a folk art display that I made her promise she would always hang on to. She and her team sculpted and hand-painted Matryoshka (aka Russian Nesting) dolls out of of a papier mache-type material. It is a striking display, and the tallest doll stands about 4 feet high. Gorstein saw how excited I was and let me go behind the rope for a photo. I carefully crouched among the five beautiful dolls and the trees, and I’m still grinning about it.
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Aimsel Ponti at Videoport, where she found some of her favorite Christmas classics.
Shannon Bryan photo