CHASING AWAY THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

Holiday in. Holiday out. Ho, ho, ho hum.

Excuse our malaise, but hasn’t Christmas become one big Monday morning- slightly dreaded and routine? New wrapping, same old necktie? More manic than merry? More junk than joy to the world?

How could so much good intention go awry? Christmas, at its best, transcends the boundaries of practiced faith and gives us all a chance to believe in each other. It’s also the best excuse we’ve got for playing feast and fashion and rolling out the lights and color. But our tinsel ties us in knots. Our Santas are too many, our shopping lists too long. Our carols strain to invoke The Spirit at all costs. We’ve become as wilted as the fir trees on the lot the day after New Year’s. Worse: We wilt in November at the mere thought of it all.

Enough whining. Join us in our pursuit of something new. We’ve got trees of a different color, food that Grandmother never served, a list of things we wish would go away. And more, including some thoughts on why a worthy institution needs a shake-up now and then.



FIVE TREES

No two are alike.

The Waltons’ Christmas tree was plain and simple, cut fresh the day before and dragged by John Boy through a mile of Blue Ridge snow. The one in the barber shop was tacky and endearing, its little red balls dangling precariously amid matted tinsel. Charlie Brown’s tree was just a sorry twig until Linus and his blanket gave it love.

Christmas trees are as unique as they are plentiful, and there are plenty of them out there. But we wanted something different. Really different. So we asked local creators each to create their own fantasy tree. We didn’t say it had to be an actual tree, and we didn’t say it had to reflect a certain attitude about the holiday. All we said was “different.” Here’s what we got.

STRUNG UP: Left to his own ways, Jon Pike, a local crystal-and-porcelain importer and artist, wouldn’t bother with a tree. They’re a hassle,” he says, “although I like the smell.” But “different” rang a bell, so Jon got down to business. Using fluorescent hair spray that he bought at the supermarket, Jon painted an outline of a tree on the wall of his sparse studio, then tacked up a string of lights. A hot-pink star on top finished it off. “The good thing is that it doesn’t take up much space, and I won’t have to do another one next year.” We asked if he was really planning on leaving it up after Christmas. “I’m kind of lazy. It will probably stay here until I move. Then again, I might take the whole wall with me.”

FED UP: Mike and Cyndi Jacobson, who design and cater parties as Cynthia Michaels Fine Foods, did what they do best: make the inedible edible. Working on Mike’s theory that “it’s still a holiday, no matter whose holiday it is,” they baked and built a four-foot chocolate fondant yule log that celebrates the universal variations of the season. Under the shadow of a puff pastry tree glazed with caramel, angels mingle with wooden soldiers, and a reindeer-drawn sleigh slides along powdered-sugar snow. It’s a fantasy village, complete with houses, fences and a church, all hand-crafted out of solid chocolate. Plum-colored hearts and stars lend sparkle to the tree. Nine of the puff pastries are filled with raspberries as a symbol of the nine flames of the Jewish menorah.

SEWN UP: In keeping with the simplicity of their very successful line of Mexican-inspired all-cotton fashions, sisters Jan and Cristina Barboglio draped a tree in white lights, then covered it with lilies and orchids. The only ornaments on the tree are Mexican dolls dressed as brides. Both sisters are wearing their first dress design, made of the same white cotton worn by the novias on the tree. Behind them all, on the wooden fence along Jan’s patio, hang clay animal heads from Mexico, including a reindeer on the left. “Animals are very much a part of a Mexican Christmas,” says Jan.

FRAME UP: Renowned theatrical set designer Peter Wolf thought up his “family Christmas tree” because of his wife Susie’s hobby: tracing lineage. Using wooden rods and polyurethane frames, Peter built a tree of people-or rather, photographs of people-in his life. “Anyone could do one of these,” says Peter.

“You probably wouldn’t want to make it an actual lineage tree, just a tree filled with the people you love.” Christmas at the Wolfs is indeed a family affair, with four children, five grandchildren and countless other relatives who gather for food and gifts. “We invite anybody who’s available.”

HUNG UP: When we asked bar owner and designer Theresa Alexander to make us something up her alley, she thought of champagne bottles. Then she thought of the Ronco glass cutter. Unfortunately, she had sold hers at a garage sale a few years ago. But her friend, sculptor Stuart Kraft, had purchased one at a garage sale and still had it. Stuart built a wrought-iron spiral for Theresa, and she got busy whacking away at empty bottles of Piper Sonoma. The end result: a holiday chandelier “tree” hung in the ceiling of Theresa’s dramatic Inwood Lounge in the Inwood Theater. The turned-up bottles hold green cottage candles; the hanging bottles ring with sleigh bells. The whole thing sways, as Theresa is all-too-quick to demonstrate. “I highly recommend Ronco,” she says. “But those Piper bottles are too thick for cutting. I broke two-thirds of them. The night before we hung this, we ran out of bottles and I had to announce a special on champagne.”

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