Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Lights of Christmas

Don't we all just adore the way our towns and cities glisten with Christmas lights? It's almost as if the stars have descended on us this time of year. How is it that such a twinkling landscape elevates our spirits? And so it is all over the world where the season to be jolly is celebrated.

In New York, thousands marvel at the tree in Rockefeller Center every year. Once I was on a Fifth Avenue bus at dusk and the thoughtful driver proudly slowed down so we could all enjoy the site from the warmth of our seats. The lights had certainly charmed him. In Montreal one year, I marveled at the enormous illuminated wreath on one of the bank buildings. I think it might just take the prize for a decoration of its kind. You can see the wreath and the Noel Bleu display in this delightful video.

I have always felt special being invited to The Tavern on the Green in Central Park during the holidays for their festival of lights, inside and out--an attraction all year long. But at Christmas it seems even more spectacular. All the surrounding trees are outlined in clear lights. I don't know what the future of these displays will be, but The Tavern as we know it will close at the end of this holiday season. Lights will go out in many hearts who have celebrated special occasions beneath the cascade of chandeliers. Things do change, but this is one that many New Yorkers and tourists to the city will lament. But I thank The Tavern here for many happy times. It was like being in a fairy palace at twilight.

But when it come to Christmas lights, it's the ones on our own trees we come to love the most, don't you think? Hitting that switch for the first time is as meaningful to each of us as the tree lightings that go on into town squares all over the country. Think of our forebears putting candles on trees and lighting each one. It's as good a metaphor as any of how time really changes us. One year, when I was editor of Victoria, we were invited to share Christmas with Tasha Tudor. That lady who loved living with the grace of the past had lit candles on her tree--a challenge for our photographer Toshi to capture. (I believe there was a pail of water nearby.) I always remember a phone call from the staff at that session and am still amused that assembled at Tasha Tudor's were Tova, Toshi, and Tricia. When my husband heard me reciting this, he thought his ears were deceiving him. I can say that the results suited our readers to a "T."

One of my favorite Christmas poems is from Christina Rossetti. These lines light my heart:

Love came down at Christmas... Star and angels gave the sign.

We can hope that each light on our horizons is a sign of love. Lights you love? Tell us about them.


  1. OH, dear! I had no idea Tavern was closing its doors! I was just reading the piece on the Russian Tea Room (Victoria, Dec, 96) last night before bed and thinking, boy, I'd love to see that some year.
    As for light displays, I was admiring the free one my friendly local snowstorm created last evening as I drove home from work. There's a special lighting that happens when the setting sun strikes swirling snowflakes at just the right angle. Suddenly, the sky seems filled with bright twinkling sparkles of silver-gold; almost like miniature stars flying by in a galaxy of wonder. I've only seen it happen a few times, but it stops traffic when it does.
    Thanks for sharing these lovely light-filled thoughts, Nancy. As always, you've captured something of what we all miss from your days at the helm of Victoria. (PS--Don't we all miss Tasha Tudor, too?)
    Warmly, Karen Marline

  2. I love the lone penny candle that lights my window as I drive down my long driveway. It's the light that guides me home and the sight of it releases a long sigh of "I'm home, I'm home" well before I turn the lock of the door.

  3. Magical and enchanting, Nancy! And so timely. I've just come in from winding the lights round our charming little blue spruce and lighting it for the first time, raindrops giving it glisten and sparkle. We prefer to have a living tree right outside our living room windows for the holidays and this one has been with us for three years now.

    I've recently posted a series of images from one of our local light displays which enchants all ages each season, called Garden d'Lights. A nearby botanical garden is transformed with over 500,000 colored lights into a fantastic and fanciful land of flowers and critters. Here is the link if you'd like to see them:

    And may I say it is an honor and a thrill to read and comment on your journal! It is not every day that one finds one of their heroines of inspiration. The legacy of Victoria that you created continues to influence and enhance my work, my life and my home. Even this morning I was showing my husband the sumptuous photography of your tenth Christmas issue. And it was the unforgettable work of photographers like Toshi Otsuku, John Glover and Wendi Schneider that inspired me to pursue garden and flower photography as a profession. It is challenging to put into words what that means, but the spirit of Victoria resonates with me as strongly today as when I received my first issue, a gift subscription from my Mother.

    Very Happy Holidays to you! – Georgianna

  4. Here in Sydney, Australia, a lot of local suburbs decorate their houses and they are lovely. In the city the lights are not as great. We have been told our electricity bill will go up next year so I fear less people will do this. Though there is some discount for spreading the Christmas Cheer with lights etc. One of our local suburbs has a mini bus that goes around each year and looks at the lights. You have to book a place and it costs about $15.00 each. It is really nice. the lights are beautiful. We are heading out on this bus next Monday night. I hasve been to the US in November and to see both Disneyland and Las Vegas in their Christmas finery was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Just to see "It's A Small World" at Disneyland lit up and sparkling was beautiful. I will never forget seeing all the Poinsettias int conservatory of The Bellagio resort in Las Vegas. And the big colourful tree next to Caeser's Palace. These are images I will never forget. There is something about America at Christmas. It is a magical place. Thank you for giving me such wonderful moments to remember.
    Babe xxxxx ooooo

  5. Real nice, Nancy.

    Christmas time in Old Québec is so beautiful... The Petit Champlain Street is the best place to be during this marvelous time of the year. And the Château Frontenac, so «magnifique», too.

  6. Ah, lights at Christmas! They are all over the place now, and truly incredible and even intricate these days. But when I was 7 years old, they were fairly rare in our community. There were a few public Christmas trees and surely some in the department store windows, but very few lights on houses. One exception was the electric candles in windows, which were often yellow or white as I recall. But there was one house in our neighborhood, about a block away that had multi-colored lights that went up around Dec. 5. At night my little brother and I would stand by a certain window and crane our necks to see this dazzling display, as though watching it would bring the much-anticipated holiday closer. At dusk I would wait by the window until the lights came on, and every so often during the remainder of the evening I would peak out to make sure they were still blazing. They were magical, and those Christmases were always magical in a way that I truly miss.

    As for Tavern on the Green, seems to me I read something about its troubles recently. My mother will be dismayed, as she celebrated her 75th birthday there not so long ago.


  7. What a lovely post on lights at Christmas and such lovely comments as well.

    My eyes went right to Tasha Tudor and your story of your Christmas with her. You and Victoria brought her to so many more people in your magazine. I was already acquainted with her work and somewhat with her lifestyle, but, Victoria fanned the fire that was simmering. Ironically, I had just finished a few lines about Tasha Tudor to post when I checked out your blog - she is, to many of us, the embodiment of Christmas.

    My favorite Christmas lights are two electric candles that light windows seen from the road and coming in along our long, long drive and were just a few dollars each at a dime store almost 30 years ago. What makes them different from the candles in most windows is medal arc that encircles them a creates a heavenly glow like no other candles around. When I see them approaching our drive, I always know I'm home for Christmas.

  8. I love the lights driving down any city or village road. The lights just add a warm glow to my heart each time I see them.

    I did wish to eat at Tavern on the Green. Though I never made it there, I was so sad to hear it was closing.

    Tasha Tudor would have been so dear to meet and share the lighting of the Christmas tree. I met here right before she turned 90 years old, but was not allowed to take any pictures. It still was a thrill to meet her and her corgi, Megan.

  9. I agree, Marilyn. In fact, tonight I was driving home along the river, and I looked up on my left to see every house decked out with lights, while a Christmas carol played on the radio. Once of the houses - a white colonial - was having a Christmas party, and was a glow with lights from within, too. Lovely!

    I remember first reading about Tasha Tudor in an early Christmas issue of Victoria and just being so charmed by her - on paper, anyway.


  10. Thanks for the inside story about that session with Tasha. I always loved when your team would go and visit her, and then share the experience with us.

    And, I LOVE that quote from Christina Rosetti. In fact, it one of my favourite lines to include in Christmas cards. I think I heard that line for the very first time when you used it in one of your Christmas issues of Victoria.

    About lights? I love starry lit skies on a dark and cold wintry nights. It's worth bundling up for a quick gaze into the heavens.

    I love Christmas lights.... anywhere. And the tiny twinkly white lights anytime of year.

  11. Nancy, I cannot believe I found you here! I have searched for any word of you since November 2000. Somehow I haven't found anything until today. My friends and I (and we are many) are eternally grateful to you for Victoria. I have every single issue you ever published. One day my kids will find this pile of OLD magazines, and I hope that one of my granddaughters will be curious enough to investigate why her grandmother would collect them. Thank God I found you! Now to go back and read all the previous posts. I just want to thank you for the precious gift to us for so many years! They are priceless ... and I'd better stop gushing now. (:

  12. Dear Nancy, I am a "follower" of Vicki's Blog and was thrilled to see she had found you! I too, have kept all my issues of your wonderful Victoria Magazine. They are one of my most dear possessions. Many years have passed but I still find the same thrill and beauty on each page, just like the first time. Thank you for having left unforgettable memories. Merry Christmas!

  13. Merry Christmas, Nancy. Thank you very much for doing the blog. I love it.


  14. Oh I remember those amazing photos of Tasha and her tree, so heartfelt and beautiful. I still have that copy (actually I have every Victoria ever published and cherish them) I have never been to NY but I can only imagine. I love twinkle lights, I actually keep a strand over my kitchen sink year around to help remind me of the magic in this season. Wishing you a magical Christmas. Clarice

  15. It is so sad that Tavern on the Green is closing. I heard they will be auctioning their tableware, etc. I was hoping they would have found a way to keep it open. The world needs all the magical places it can get. I understand The Plaza has opened an Eloise room. I may just need to pop in there for tea. Who could resist? Have a Merry Christmas, Nancy! Warmly, Cathy

  16. Dear Nancy,

    We have always loved the December 1989 issue of Victoria with St. Nicholas on the cover with children gathered round and the quote "God bless Us, Every One!" by Charles Dickens! There are photographs by Toshi of Tasha Tudor on her garden steps with her darling corgi in the winter snow, the back side of her house and barn, and Tasha standing in an open door with the corgyn gazing up at her. Accompanying the wonderful photographs is an article by Mary Durant. There is a photograph of Tasha lighting a Christmas tree, and closeups of ornaments and a gingerbread sheep. How warm and cozy the photograph looks of Tasha lighting the Advent wreath with the Advent calendars on the back wall. Tasha has always inspired us with her dolls and dollhouse, so we find so charming the photograph with the corgyn on her lap and gathered round, looking into her doll Emma Birdwhistle's kitchen. The photographs of tea in front of the fire and Tasha at her artist's table are just a delight!

    We also love the photograph of Tasha with the little girl looking at a gingerbread sheep ornament hung on the tree by Richard Brown from "The Private World of Tasha Tudor".

    From that same December 1989 issue of Victoria we really love the article "A Beloved Celebration" showing Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House with photographs by William P. Steele. It is a special joy to us as my 5th great grandfather Eliakim May was 1st cousin to Louisa May Alcott's great grandfather Samuel May.

    Also in the December 1989 issue of Victoria is a lovely article with photographs by Steve Gross called Mark Twain's "Palace of St. Nicholas". Can you tell we love old houses? :-)

    We really think that the December 1989 Victoria is one of our favorite issues!

    Tasha has always inspired us in many ways! We had the joy of being her friends and kindred spirits. Here is a link to our online journal, The Corgyncombe Courant, that shows my photographs of the favorite things that we shared with Tasha:

    We hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

    Diane and daughter Sarah, Victoria admirers