Yuletide Pentimento

One of the things I love most about this season is the bittersweet remembrances of years gone by.

Each Yuletide is a pentimento, a layered painting. The traces of Christmases Past show through the layers of years, one on top of another, creating a beautiful, textured pattern that gleams in the candlelight.

I pull out my mother’s wedding silver from 1948, and I polish and caress each piece, remembering how she treasured it and how it made the table sparkle on special occasions. I tell the story of the time my dad and I went to a fancy store in Beverly Hills when I was about 7 years old, and we sat on a red velvet couch while we waited for them to package up one spoon to add to the set, for my mother’s Christmas present. I remember one spoon cost $50 in 1959!  And I imagine that some day this wedding silver will belong to my granddaughter Gracie, and I will tell her stories about her Great Grandma Katie.

Here is my mother’s lace tablecloth too, so worn and frayed in places, with stains that just won’t come out. There’s a bit of candle wax here and there too, each stain carrying a memory of a Lucia feast or Yuletide brunch, and I think that maybe this lace tablecloth once belonged to my grandmother, and I swear I will once again try to get the stains out.

And the old copper candlesticks . . . those were my mother’s too. The glass cream and sugar set with the filigree design? Hers. All these things only come out once a year, this time of year.


I was alone in the house on the evening of Saturday, December 13th, the night that we hosted our St. Lucia Party for 17 years. Candles were lit, the tree sparkled, strings of fairy lights and cedar decked the halls, the wine was poured, and scones were baking in the oven. And yet no one was coming to my house at dusk on St. Lucia’s Day, filled with joy and ready for revelry. It was very, very strange. I felt a disconnect, a mourning, and a loss.

I had to take a moment, to check in with myself.

And I did, and it was. Yes, I made the right decision last year. I really am OK with no longer hosting this party for 50 or 60 people or more. After dancing for two hours on Friday night at 5Rhythms, and cleaning the house all day Saturday, I was beyond tired. I went to soak in a hot bathtub scented with rose bath salts, and let the day fall away from me. I emerged some time later to a hushed dark house lit with tiny lights, and made my way to my studio. I put on a Yuletide playlist, lit a candle on my altar, and spent a couple of hours on a new piece of artwork (Guadalupe Mermaid). It was a fine way to spend the night of St Lucia’s Day.

And in the morning, the revelers arrived. A small group, our family of choice, arrived for Lucia Sunday brunch. They came from on-island and off-island, just a few folks, and it was a relief and a joy to have this small group instead of a huge crowd to grace our home.

The table was bedecked with my mother’s lace tablecloth and shining silver cutlery, and beeswax candles blazed. We brought out platters of frittata, bacon, sausage, fruit, scones (gluten-full and gluten-free), baklava, roasted fingerling potatoes, wild-caught island smoked salmon, homemade kiwi jam, mimosas and coffee . . . We were all in heaven. Happy to be together, happy to enjoy this fine meal. After we ate, we toasted and boasted, sharing good things that happened in the year gone by (a promotion at work, a healing from illness, a graduation from high school, a return to Heron House . . . the stories went on and on).  We toasted and remembered loved ones who left us this past year or a few years back: Paul, and Megan, and Charlotte. My dad.

And so a new tradition was born; brunch on Sunday morning of Lucia weekend, for a small group of chosen family.


In the late afternoon, after the house was quiet again and dusk was coming on, I video-called my granddaughter Grace in Maine. They were decorating their tree, and we took turns showing off our favorite ornaments to each other. It was almost as good as being together in person. My son Steve brought out the Sesame Street ornaments that my mom had bought for him when he was a kid — Kermit and Miss Piggy being the favorites. I held up a blown glass mermaid to show Gracie and her eyes grew big. “Oooo she’s pretty!!”  She loved the sparkling sequined red star too, and the Maine blueberries ornament. I showed her the paper and glitter Yule tree her dad — my son — made when he was a little boy, and the snowman his brother made. (Those paper and glitter ornaments are the best!)

I am once again grateful beyond words for a house that reverberates with the love and laughter of friends.

The Wheel turns. Life shifts and changes. We honor the old and embrace the new.  Oh blessed, blessed be.

One thought on “Yuletide Pentimento

  1. What a lovely sharing.. I am basking in the glow of your memories! My own family of origin does not have a lot of traditions or items which have been passed down,but I have made our own family traditions over the years..and our son will join us for our yearly trek to Sedona for the holidays, where we celebrate by hiking and enjoying good foods,homemade cookies I’ve packed up, and each other’s company.. a blissful “time out of time..”

    I also used to host a huge SOLSTICE Salon every year when we lived down in the valley.Since we’ve now moved to a tiny,I mean tiny, hamlet in the woods, our new circle of friends is smaller (and growing), but very heart-felt..Our Solstice evening will be about 8 -10 of us,compared to the 30 or so I hosted in years past.. the rituals will be simpler, the evening may break up a wee bit earlier.. and it somehow feels just right…

    As the Wheel turns, our rituals and celebrations change, but the Spirit remains the same, yes??

    Thanks for this beautiful post this holiday morning!!!!!!!

    Can’t wait to retreat in MARCH!!!!!


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