Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Beauty

What makes a Christmas Beauty? That’s what my 1942 Woman’s Home Companion asks me each year.

A favorite Christmas Beauty has always been Anne Hilton, played by the lovely Claudette Colbert, in the 1943 classic wartime film, Since You Went Away.

Anne is faced with managing her household during WWII after her husband reenlists for service. Somehow, she always manages to look chic and composed despite her heartache over her missing in action husband. Christmas falls during this bewildering time and yet she fills her Christmas Eve with a charming mix of characters from her year alone on the Homefront and creates a new Christmas for herself and her two daughters.

The girls wear their pretty Christmas finery of velvet and chiffon with Anne in her green wool fitted dress. Brig, played by an older and adorable Shirley Temple, wears what I imagine is her first pair of grown up pumps, suede with flower pompoms. Both she and older sister Jane, played by Jennifer Jones, wear gold heart lockets, most likely given to them by Tim Hilton, their father (at least in my heart it is so).

Anne quietly reflects on her Christmas Eve while sitting at the foot of her Christmas tree after her girls retire to their beds. It is here that she opens the romantic powder box her husband sent to her before he became lost. It tinkles out their song and comes with Tim’s handwritten wish to Anne.

Loretta Young as Julia Brougham in The Bishop’s Wife, teaches us much about Christmas beauty. The scene where she falls in love with and must have an enchanting little hat is worth the price of admission. I also love the scene where she runs a brush through her glossy hair while sitting at her dressing table in her robe. Reverend Brougham (David Niven) takes this moment to tell his wife how beautiful she is.

I love the elegant “girls” who toil away in the research department in “Desk Set”. Christmas finds them decked out in full dresses with underlying crinolines. Katherine Hepburn who plays department head Bunny Watson knows how to work a red wool cloak at the office Christmas party. Her holiday organization is very apparent in the scene where she fetches a man’s robe in her already wrapped and stacked Christmas presents for Spencer Tracy’s Richard Sumner. The only problem is the robe was wrapped for another man. Things come to a head while Bunny is in her own elegant white robe and Asian inspired pajamas and entertaining both men at her table!

Let’s take a page from these beauties and embrace a little planning and organization.

If you've been given some lovely new bath and body products, take some time to try them out before getting dressed.

Wear something really festive and dress up a little. Create a tradition with a special pair of "Christmas" shoes or a sparkly brooch. Outfit yourself in luxurious fabrics such as charmeuse or velvet. Wear grown up pumps - you can change into slippers after dinner. Pull out some stops and don a crimson silk flower or strands of pearls. Red and green are merry colors but so are pinks and golds. If you have an heirloom piece of jewelry in your collection, now is the time to wear it. Tie on a clean apron for protection in the kitchen. By the way, nothing says serious cook like an apron.

Plan to sip water or mineral water from a crystal goblet during the day. This will keep you hydrated and help you avoid headaches. A houseful of guests along with alcoholic spirits is very drying.

Collect a few touch-up items such as lipstick and powder in a pretty basket close to a mirror. Add a comb and a small atomizer of fragrance and your quick grooming moment will be a snap.

Before your guests arrive and while dinner is underway, take a power nap if possible. Curl up under a warm throw and close your eyes. Don't allow yourself to enter a deep sleep cycle - a cat nap will do the trick nicely.
Don't bother too much with clean up. Organize the tasks if you must but leave the bulk of it for the morning when you will be more energized. I promise it will all be there unless there are any elves still about.

Put on your pretty new pajamas and robe and marvel at your favorite parts of the day.

When you do clean up the next morning, play some classical music or carols on the stereo. Refresh the flowers, replace the used candles. Neaten up the tree and carpet sweep the stray needles caused by exuberant gift opening.

Enjoy every minute!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Waiting for Christmas

For many years I have said that my mother was Christmas to me. The wonderful things she did for us during the holiday season, the way she decorated our house with abandon, the thoughtful and plentiful presents she wrapped just for a child's heart. She created holiday glamour in a small ranch house that rivaled any Gilded Age mansion. My mother made sure the anticipation was deliciously excrutiating as our excitement built with the daily opening of the Advent calendar that was tacked up on the kitchen wall.

I don't have those feelings of eagerness any longer. My run up to Christmas is rather quiet. I never promised to provide extravagant Christmases for my daughter even though I learned from the best Christmas arbiter there ever was. Yet, it remains the happiest of seasons for me and always will. Christmas is the keeping place of memories and my mother gave me more than thrills and gifts - she gave me Chistmas joy that visits my heart each and every year..

It's what I have done with these memories that create my holiday today and I find that it is the simpliest of things that give the greatest glow of happiness: a dusting of snow to make everything just white enough, my grandmother's handmade Christmas ornament, the sound of church bells in the village where I live.

It's true that when my mother waved her magic wand on our Christmas, everything became gold and glittered. My wand performs another trick and makes everything soft. And as I stand at my window and keep vigil for the arrival of Christmas this year, I will recite to myself that great Agnes Pahro quote that satisfies all types of Christmas sensibilities: "What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, and hope for the future..."
And just what is Christmas if it is not that?