When we think of Christmas, the images that usually come to mind are Victorian; fireplaces trimmed with garland, candle-lit Christmas trees, carolers, and sleigh rides in the snow. No one celebrated Christmas quite like the Victorians.
Decorating began about a week before Christmas. A wreath was placed on the front door. Any posts or railings were wrapped with a garland of evergreen plants like mistletoe, holly and ivy. This tradition had its roots in old mid-winter festivals and the custom of bedecking houses and churches in evergreens which not only protected from evil spirits, but encouraged the arrival of spring.
Inside the house these garlands draped doorways, picture frames, and were further decorated with ribbon, dried flowers, pods, and ornaments. There might be pinecones, French horns, and other ornaments tied on with ribbon. Poinsettias might be placed in various corners or on the stairs. Vases were filled with holly and placed on small tables.
Mistletoe was suspended from the ceiling and anyone who met under it could claim a kiss, but only if there were berries. Each time a kiss was given, a berry was removed. Once the berries were gone, there were no more kisses.
In writing my holiday novella, Another Waltz, I tried to incorporate some of those nostalgic images when Madeline’s family decorated for their Beacon Hill mansion for their annual holiday ball.
Red and gold ribbons, strings of popcorn and cranberries, all twined around the tree. Paper angels and cornucopias hung from the many branches. Silver and gold Dresdens in shapes of animals and trains filled the empty spaces, and hand-blown, glass ornaments from Germany had been clipped to the tree, each holding a candle, their tiny flames flickering like stars among the branches.
She focused her gaze on the blurry rainbow of beautiful gowns swirling across the floor. The
gentlemen, austere in their dark tail coats with splotches of white waistcoats and shirts, partnered the perfect complement to the ladies’ finery.
Garland of evergreens, ivy, dried flowers, and red bows festooned the large windows, doorways, and picture frames. Stringed music floated from the raised platform at the north end of the ballroom to mingle with the laughter and conversation of more than seventy guests.
Up ahead the two boys jumped over the snow bank lining the path and began beating one of the trees. Snow spilled from the branches, covering the woman in a cloud of white as the boys raced away.
James chuckled. “I’ll come only if ye promise to waltz with me.”
Madeline bit her lip and said softly, “But I don’t dance.”
Unable to help herself, she looked up. A somber expression stilled his features. She tensed, expecting him to decline.
“Dance with me, sweet Maddy,” he said instead.
Then with no music but his laughter, he pulled her close and led her in a waltz, right in the middle of the park while snowflakes drifted around them. His beautiful sapphire eyes sparkled as he gazed down at her, and Madeline glided over the snowy path as though she were skating. For the first time since the accident, she forgot her limp. The moments became magic as the snow squeaked beneath their feet, and her shy laugh joined with the deeper timbre of his. But her foot came down on his instep, and she stumbled to a halt in his arms.
“I can’t dance.” Her gaze fell to the beads of melted snow on the toes of her boots. “I’m clumsy.”
His index finger touched her chin, lifting her face so her gaze locked with his. Confused, she watched his sapphire eyes darken like indigo as his lids lowered, and he leaned close.