Though I don't remember it myself, movies from my childhood home in Montreal reveal how much my parents relished creating a magical atmosphere for my brother and me at Christmas. My mother made handmade presents and wrapped them with care, while my father cut out footprints from black card stock and arranged them in parallel lines between the tree and our fireplace. There were always piles of snow outside and warm beverages to be sipped indoors.
With the early fading of daylight and a marked drop in the temperature, December is a time when we want home to feel even more embracing than the rest of the year. My Christmas decorating scheme changes yearly--one year a large bare branch with a handful of ornaments, another year twinkle lights and ornaments in every room of the house. But I always make room for some of the traditions that developed over my youth. My great-grandmother on my mother's side handmade ornaments for each of us that have become a considerable collection--angels and toy soldiers, Santas and reindeer. This is the first Christmas that there will be no new ornament with her stitched signature arriving in the mail. From my father's parents, a sweet little creche with Provencal figurines--a woman carrying a tied bunch of lavender and a shepherd with a lamb across his shoulders--always holds a place of prominence. Though my tastes alternate from minimalist to all-out celebration, a few meaningful family heirlooms always find their way into the mix.