Holiday decorating at historic house museums takes many forms. There are great philosophical debates on the importance of historical accuracy versus proper collections management standards. This is the story of one small mansion in the hinterlands of Georgia and how we do things here.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on your troubles will be out of sight (wanna bet?!)
At risk of receiving many angry emails I admit that I have a love/hate, mostly hate, relationship with Christmas. It was not a joyful time at my house. Mom verged on going nuclear at any moment and there were one or two notable Yuletides where my troubles took the form of emergency room visits requiring copious amounts of antibiotics or a cast (unrelated to Mom, though adding to the nuclear).
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on your troubles will be miles away (au contraire)
So, instead of keeping those Christmas troubles miles away, I go to work at a big, fancy Southern mansion (yep, we’ve got the columns). Everyone who walks through the doors envisions not sugarplums but hoop-skirt clad Scarlet O’Hara running amok in the portieres (yep, we have those too), and where visitors expect big fancy Southern Christmas décor ala Southern Living on steroids. (save me!) I dodged the bullet the first two years I was here, claiming no time to decorate – my boss gave me a stuffed Grinch at the staff holiday festivities (message received).
Here we are as in olden days (in the really olden days people didn’t decorate)
Happy golden days of yore (before indoor plumbing, central heat)
Faithful friends who are dear to us
They gather near to us once more
The third year I decorated. By that time we had an educator who was all about the happy and golden days – one tree grew to two trees and soon to six trees (yes, you read that right). In keeping with the naturalist spirit of Senator Watson, these are not the plastic “toilet brush” trees of yore, no, these are live, and by live I do mean live – in pots — trees. Following the holiday use, the trees are planted out on the grounds. The boss loves it – no more Grinch dolls in my stocking.
Through the years we all will be together and
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough (riiiggghhhhtttt)
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now
If you’ve ever decorated an authentic “Southern” Christmas tree you will know that it is structurally impossible to put ANYTHING on the highest bough! Cedar and other weak- limbed, allergy-inducing cousins are “traditional” (and we ARE trying to be traditional), so it’s a losing battle with the ornaments. The motion alarms will go off in the middle of the night and my 3:00am conversations with the alarm company sound something like this:
“Don’t send the police it’s just the mercury glass star falling off the tree.”
“Ma’am, if there’s mercury I need to dispatch the fire department!”
“No, you nitwit – it’s the stupid Christmas ornaments falling off the stupid tree! Do not send the police or the fire department – DO send Martha Stewart to fix the #*%! tree!”
Faithful friends who are dear to us
They gather near to us once more (so, where are the visitor hordes – at the Biltmore, right!)
So, every year we put up the trees and every year the ornaments slide off and every year people tell us they were too busy to come visit because “Susie had a dance/choral/violin performance,” or “Grannie needed a ride to Atlanta to buy this spice for her famous fruitcake,” and every year we wonder WHY we ran ourselves ragged for the small group of folks who actually made the pilgrimage. And, next year, we’ll do it all again.
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow (fate cannot stand in the way of a plane ticket and a mai tai)
But ’til then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
Y’all have fun together; I’ll be at the beach muddlin’ through!
— Michelle Zupan, Curator & Director, Hickory Hill, Thomson, GA