While the magic and generosity of Christmas is the high point of the end of the year for many of us, it’s not the only thing to celebrate right now. Late autumn and early winter, in all their frosted, fiery splendour, have a magic all of their own. So, in the spirit of the season – and not just Christmas alone – let’s welcome all that’s wonderful about the colder months into our homes, from the natural spectacle of November right through to the glorious festivities at December’s end.
The late autumn home Come early November, Christmas may feel on the horizon but we’re not ready to head full-tilt into festive decorating quite yet. Instead, now’s the time to revel in this side of late autumn that’s more about cosiness than sparkle.
First on our list would be to fill our homes with candlelight. At times, autumn’s darkness is to be embraced, turning the lights low and opting for the quiet, reflective shadows created by a singular candle instead. At others, it is to be chased away, every nook and every cranny illuminated as soon as day turns to dusk. Choose scented candles accordingly too, opting for pine and wood-smoke notes now rather than the spices and citrus that will come later.
Next in the process of dressing the house up for late autumn (and in preparation for winter) is the bringing in of the great outdoors. A ritual much older than the Christmas celebration, evergreen stems are a reminder that, despite appearances, there’s still verdant green life to be found outside. This month, opt for those branches and garlands that are less snow-dusted and sparkling and more straight from the forest (even if they are life-like ones). A simple twiggy wreath hung on the door will hint at the cheery home inside, and you can add berries and burnished leaves to it now, swapping them out for gold accents, velvet ribbons and pinecone clusters as we march towards Christmas.
Finally this month, and if you haven’t already, it’s time to really think about cosiness. By which we absolutely mean cushions, throws and rugs, of course, but also those details that go beyond soft and cuddly to create a true sense of comfort. It’s the fully-stocked log basket beside the fireplace (and a generous pile outside), the jewel-like gleam of bottles and glassware on a close-by drinks trolley, the ease of having everything you need (book, lamp, blanket) near to hand, and the sheepskin-wrapped hot water bottle slipped between the sheets ten minutes before bed that all create genuine cosiness.
The first preparations As we gradually transform our homes ready for the big day, it’s when we head into December that Christmas truly begins to make its presence felt. The seasonal foliage of November is joined by the tree (complete with a skirt of hand-woven rattan). And for this, your home’s festive centrepiece (and for every mantel, windowsill and tabletop) there’s also, of course, the ornaments.
Whatever shape or size your Christmases take, there’s one thing that’s for certain: they all start with that much-awaited, tantalising trip up to the attic, into the far reaches of cupboards or deep under beds. Boxes are opened with a waft of Decembers past. Since-forgotten decorations are untucked with exclamations of, ‘Oh, remember when we bought this?’ Your home’s every surface is, mysteriously, dusted with glitter. Bringing out the decorations is when the excitement of the season well and truly begins.
The first few weeks of December are also when fairy lights begin to put in an appearance. We graduate from soft candlelight alone to a more twinkling, starry sort of illumination. The pastel shades of vintage coloured bulbs will always have a certain charm, but for us, there’s nothing so timelessly festive as a warm-white glow. Subtle? Yes. Enchanting? For sure.
The night before Christmas
There’s no denying, now that December is in full-swing, that the festive season is well and truly here. The tree is up, its branches festooned in fairy lights and baubles, and its base gradually becoming surrounded by presents. These are as much a part of your home’s decorations as any ornament or garland, so choose your wrappings with care. For a look that’s coordinated but still unaffectedly eclectic, choose papers in an edited palette and then mix and match plains and patterns. A variety of different ribbon textures (like plush velvet, gossamer-fine silk and smart grosgrain) will add more depth and interest too.
And then, as thoughts turn to the big day itself, it’s time to address the table. The tree might be the centre of present-opening attention, but it’s the dining table that’s the real festive hero here. A Christmas Day table is a sight to behold, and it’s worth dressing it to the nines even if it’s only your little household that’ll enjoy it. Candlelight will always be its heart and soul so, if you do nothing else, make sure there are tealights and tapers aplenty. Life-like and garden greenery is our next favourite feature, as are place settings dressed up in bows and baubles. Now, where to put the turkey?