Three Christmases ago, we were preparing to open the Quittner Warehouse. It was early December, and we had a tree but no ornaments, and no decorations beyond a few strands of warm lights. Driving down Camp Creek Road a mile from the store, I asked Ben to pull over.
In the cool light and the deep cold, the red berries of bittersweet vines popped out from a brambly pile of bushes and brush. Nearby, the dried pods of milkweed stood proudly, sculptural against the grasses. I grabbed a set of clippers from the cupholder and started snipping. Back at the store, we draped the bittersweet across the tree, encouraging tendrils to reach out gesturally past the edges of the tree. The milkweed pods got tucked in between branches, lit from behind by sparkly lights. It was quiet from afar, but revealed itself up close.
Each year since we've continued to look to nature for inspiration for our holiday tree.
For 2023, the garden at our property next to the store, Eden Hill, served as inspiration. We clipped hydrangeas, yarrow, and queen annes lace, in the summer and dried it through the fall. Now, the plants the brought life to the landscape when weather was warm adorn our tree, a testament to how time and effort can pay off far beyond the point of input.
We've paired these natural botanicals with balsam heart sachets sewn from fabric remnants, ornaments by our friend Lara Gillett, and paper chains made with assistance from our young song. At the top sits a brass star — a new find, but patinated to suggest the passage of time.
Below runs a vintage 1950s model wooden train collected by my parent's and passed along to Crowe. Made by Frank Tilton, these train cars connect to my childhood while also offering a playful graphic statement. Namely, not to take yourself too seriously.
I would have loved to have milkweed in the tree this year, but nature didn't cooperate. And so it goes. By letting our tree express our year on the land, we're met with limitations that are also opportunities to reflect, to remind, and to appreciate. Which sounds a lot like what the holiday season is supposed to be about — taking a moment to look around in awe at the beauty that surrounds us, even as cold creeps in, encouraging a deep sip of hot cocoa and another hour by the fire.
P.S. We would love to see your holiday trees and traditions. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or share them with us on Instagram (@quittnerhome) for the opportunity to be featured.
P.P.S. If you are native to the Hudson Valley or in the area for the season, we hope you will join us for a holiday celebration on December 23rd at the Quittner Warehouse from 5-8pm. Invitation below.