Celebrating Christmas In A Transitional Season

I asked my husband what would be an appropriate title for this post.

“I need a word to go after, ‘Celebrating Christmas In A . . .  Season,’ what’s a politically correct fill in the blank?”

“Uh, in a struggle bus season?” was his response. Without even missing a beat.

I married up, you guys.

Humor aside, while I wouldn’t necessarily consider this season we’re in to be struggle-bus calibre it’s certainly been a challenging one and one with well, a lot of transitions! With a sweet new family member added to the mix two months ago, a toddler with big emotions, continued (failed) potty training efforts, professional changes on the horizon for Andrew, a return to work date for myself following the holidays, plus physical changes for me and inevitable emotional ones that come as a result, the holidays have felt different than usual for us.

As a purveyor of all things celebratory, I’ve felt like a celebrating failure.

See, one thing that usually most excites me about Christmas is the first time seasonal music comes on the radio. The lyrics in many traditional holiday songs reminisce about things I always yearn for each holiday, things we don’t admittedly actually do (lol-ing here) but things that the mere thought of make me look forward to the holidays with eager anticipation and a sense of nostalgia; sitting by a roasting fire, riding in a one horse open sleigh, holly on our front door, and visions of sparkling snow blanketed everywhere come (which, we usually DO have a ton of snow here in the Midwest except it’s not as sparkly as it sounds in a catchy holiday tune). Goodness, the sheer sense of festivity and inevitable magic of the holidays gets me to my core.

So. When real life happens and circumstances take over sometimes the magic can subside a little.

But, and here’s the big but, one I was reminded of when reading this post by Diana, the sadness I might feel celebrating the holidays in a different current season may be the result of missing the whole point of the holiday to begin with. Whatever you believe in, whatever faith values you have, I suspect this entirely misses the mark! And to that, I say amen and bring you a very real and timely collection of ideas to help celebrate Christmas in a season of transition. Just in case you too, are going through a season where less feels best.

Unapologetically Take An Off Year

As I mentioned above, we decided to do lights only on our Christmas tree this year. Lachlan’s in a stage right now where I find myself continually asking if every item in his hands is a toy or decoration. Spoiler: it’s usually a decoration. And while some would argue perhaps there are too many decorations in our home for this to be true, to that I say we are simply in a season of what feels like boundaries being pushed and typical three-year-old behavior becoming a big part of our day to day navigations. Lachlan’s learning more about his world just like Ev is.

So instead of constantly running around keeping all the things we usually have out in perfect order (or exerting extra energy and money on things that feel like too much), we decided to leave some things put away or on the back burner this year. Decorating the tree fully, putting lights and garland up outside on the house, sending business holiday cards, making cookies from scratch for the neighbors and garbage truck men, staying up late to watch holiday movies instead of precious sleep and snuggles as a family, and doing gift exchanges with immediate family are all things we’ll skip this year to revisit next. What a relief and wonderful way to have time and resources left in our tanks to focus on a few other, more important, celebratory avenues.

Which leads me to . . .

Make Time and Budget For a Couple Special Traditions

Discuss with your spouse, and kids if they’re old enough, which holiday traditions matter most. Is it sledding in the snow or cutting down your own tree like we opted for? Perhaps it’s a trip to see grandparents and stopping for hot cocoa on the way. Maybe your kiddos love their Elf on the Shelf, or having cousins over for a holiday sleepover. Or is it that you look forward to making handmade glitter bombs for the four trees in your home and you cherish your annual neighborhood cookie exchange? Be sure to communicate with everyone in your family, what traditions you WILL make time and resources for, and ensure everyone’s unique desires are considered.

Even better, take it a step further and share your seasonal priorities with friends and relatives. Letting friends know you can’t join them for their holiday gathering because sleep training your baby is a bit more important right now, or sharing with family your plans to give physical presence and love in lieu of tangible gifts (and that you’d appreciate the same in return) is a great way to take even more of a load off your shoulders (and wallet) while gaining the support and understanding of those you love and care about most.

Blinders ON, Like Rudolph 

I hate to feel like so many of the solutions I give to problems presented here on the blog are to not compare but here me out in case you don’t understand. For me, when I go online without a specific goal (e.g. to support someone on instagram, find a particular recipe on pinterest, wish my aunt a happy holiday on facebook) I end up mindlessly scrolling and find myself down the black hole, namely around the holidays, of complicated party projects, glittery Christmas-scapes, Hawaiian holiday beach photos, and you know where I’m going.

The things on our phones and online aren’t problematic, for many these things are actually quite joyful and inspiring. Our phones can indeed connect us and even alleviate common day communication conundrums. But in a season of transition when you may be overcoming hurdles and intentionally focusing on the meaningful treasures around you, your head buried in your phone doesn’t help cultivate gratitude. It leads to feelings of discontent, the lie that we do not have enough, and can make a refining season feel like a poorly dealt hand.

I have a lot more to say about this particular subject and want to further work through my thoughts for a blog post in the new year (new babies always inspire new thoughts!). So much of our online culture, the way we share and communicate, has evolved over the last couple years. I’ve found myself wanting to continue sharing and connecting since that’s such a heartbeat of what I love and do. But I have wanted to redefine the ways I do this instead of contributing to what I think has become problematic. I want to cultivate a sharing strategy in a way that feels a bit more healthy, productive, and simplified for myself, family, and work.

Should this strategy inspires others too, then that’s simply a bonus.

If this Christmas you feel conflicted by the flocked trees and decor section at Target, clever pregnancy announcements and sweet proposals, and endless parties, cards, sweets, travels and tinsel, shut it down. You’re not a sour person. Put on your cozy winter socks, or sandals if you’re a Southern friend, turn off your phone, and relish in the true meaning of the season in whatever way feels healthiest and best for you (for me, I find this often at church or in my bed snuggled up with my three boys).

On a more personal note: As I mentioned above, one of the traditions we did decide to stick with this year was heading out to find a fresh, pre-cut Christmas tree at our favorite tree farm. For the past few years we have stuck with a Thanksgiving weekend tradition of going to find our tree, followed by cheeseburgers and fries at Jodi’s, and a slow day back at home decorating, drinking Silk nog, listening to holiday music, and savoring a slower pace. It’s a fun day I always look forward to with great delight, especially with children of our own.

Our friends joined us this year in their own tree hunt and Sam snapped a few photos for us. You can’t tell but Ev was intensely crying the entire time we had him out of his carseat for five minutes of pictures. Sam kept encouraging us (well, me) to smile and roll with it. “This is just our reality right now!” I kept telling Andrew through our helpless smiles and pleas with Lachlan to not run through the trees out of sight, which we let him do anyway because #toddlerlife. We didn’t stay for our usual hot cocoa at the farm and my cold cheeseburger was consumed over a nursing baby back home only 30 minutes after these photos were taken.

While I might remember that day as one marked with two exhausted parents, an inconsolable baby, and a toddler with his own agenda, I’ll certainly remember it as a day filled with the people I love most in a season I’ll remember always, that won’t feel so hard in hindsight. We got out! We’re together! We’re lucky. That’s the best celebration.

I’d love to hear about some of your favorite holiday traditions, especially some of the more simple ones! Xoxo

Anwuli + Patrick

Over the last couple years we’ve been fortunate enough to work with clients and oversee weddings locally here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Not only is it a perk to work with vendors we know and love in our home town, but for me and my team coming home to our own beds and families at the end of a long day is a relief and blessing.

As you can imagine, last Christmas when Anwuli first approached me about her July 2018 wedding, I was delighted to learn about her and her now husband Pat’s desire for a romantic, summer-inspired, and formal wedding celebration at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Andrew and I met with the two of them over a festive dinner downtown and enjoyed getting to know more about the couple, their young son, Tobe, and of course what they hoped their wedding would encompass. With family and friends hailing from various parts of the Midwest and Nigeria, where Anwuli’s family lives, this wedding celebration was truly a melding together of two families.

We don’t often take on weddings with stand alone design services, but it’s one of the areas where my team and I flourish and as such, this was a highlight of our summer season. And I think you’ll agree too, Anwuli and Pat’s wedding was picture perfect on a beautiful Michigan summer day just like we had envisioned and hoped for. Enjoy some of the stunning images below from Kelly Sweet Photography and on Martha Stewart Weddings. The couple’s love story is wonderfully woven throughout the feature the MSW editors created and it’s absolutely worth a read!

One of the elements with this event that I wanted to really challenge myself with as a designer, was the escort card display. Because the museum is first an active museum and second an event space, there were (and are) a lot of mechanical obstacles to work around. From placing nothing less than six from any wall or within a specific distance from the ceiling, no flame of any kind, and nothing adhered anywhere, not to mention a very wide open space that feels a little sterile, I had to get creative and intentional (which is never a bad thing but still).

So my vision was to create a lush, vertical, and interactive escort display that felt layered but still simple and understated. The display was the first thing to greet guests at this particular wedding and would need to help get people their tables efficiently since there was no cocktail hour and dinner service was the begin immediately. The display was also positioned in a part of the venue where the ceilings are the highest so our vertical metal screens were perfect statement pieces, adorned with fresh flowers in glass test tubes, and calligraphed name tags placed in with each tube. The design was much like a vertical garden, a little whimsical with great movement, but again, very structured and clean to give us that simple aesthetic complimentary to the venue.

It’s one of my favorite installations we’ve ever done because it not only exceeded our client’s expectations but it allowed us to flex our creative muscles a little too! I remember many people commenting on this via my Instagram story from the day, remarking on how unique the display and that’s exactly what we strive for with every wedding. Unique and personalized details that really stand out in classic and tasteful ways.

And the tablescapes! I was looking forward to this wedding all year for these tablescapes. The custom rose gold linens which reminded me of abstract art (a nod to the museum), lush centerpieces full of beautiful product including stunning peonies from Alaska (in late July!), custom foiled calligraphed stationery and formal tablescapes (from our favorites Alex and Robyn), not to mention rose gold votives and the most convincing LEDs that flickered like the real deal; it was a really lovely scene as the late summer sun poured in the floor to celling windows.

Anwuli and Pat, thank you for allowing us to be a part of your special day and trusting us with your treasured vision and wishes! We greatly enjoyed making magic happen for you. Congratulations and may this next chapter in your life together be the sweetest one yet. All of the vendors who helped make this wedding come to life are tagged below. Thank you to everyone for your service and outstanding professionalism (as always).

. . . . . . . . . .

Photography: Kelly Sweet Photography / Design, styling and florals: Rhiannon Bosse Celebrations / Ceremony: Cathedral of Saint Andrew / Reception venue: The Grand Rapids Art Museum / Stationery and calligraphy: Prairie Letter Shop / Videography: Second Mile Video / Catering: Yo Chef’s / Bride’s ceremony gown: Hayley Paige / Shoes: Badgley Mischka & Rachel Simpson / Veil: Ariel Taub / Bridesmaid’s gown: Dessy / Wedding cake: Connie’s Cakes / Entertainment: Blue Water Kings / Grooms tuxedo: The Black Tux / Make up: Allison Bower / Hair: Pomp & Artistry / Vintage car: Detroit Class Car Rental / Rentals: The Rental Company / Linens: Special Occasions West

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