I love historic homes and holiday decor, so naturally I was captivated by the cover of this new book. Christmas at America’s Landmark Houses (Schiffer Publishing $45.00), written by designer Patricia Hart McMillan and architect David Strahan. Browsing through the pages, it was a pleasant surprise to find a tree that I designed (page 67). I immediately procured a copy from the gift shop at Fonthill Castle. Architectural Digest has featured the book and provides a link for purchase.
Fonthill Castle is one of the historic homes featured and our Chinese themed tree was photographed there. Fonthill is decorated for the holiday every year. Trees can be seen throughout the castle during regularly scheduled tours. The trees will be on display through January 3, 2016.
This tree debuted at the Pearl Buck House, for their Festival of Trees. Miss Buck spent roughly half her life in China and half in America. Through her legacy many children have become a member of American families but celebration of their birth culture is also encouraged.
At Fonthill Castle the tree can be found in the Central Hall. On the guided tours guests move from viewing the Chinese Roof Tiles, down the stairs and into the Central Hall. The tiles were collected by Henry Mercer and date back as far as the 15th Century. Photograph by Karl Graf Photography.
Decorated Christmas trees originated in Germany and became widely popular when Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert were illustrated with their children and holiday tree in the London News. Early Victorian tree decorations included handmade items and paper containers filled with sweets. By the 1870’s glass ornaments were being imported from Germany to Britain.
What about China? Do they even have Christmas trees in China? Yes they do. A very small percentage of Chinese are Christian and they decorate a “Tree of Light” with paper lanterns and paper chains. The most important holiday celebrated in China is the Chinese New Year. On a larger scale Christmas has become a prelude to the Chinese New Year.
The Chinese New Year is a time to celebrate ancestors and to visit with family. New Year wishes are for happiness, wealth and longevity. Many of the customs and decorations are representative of these ideals. Children are given coins in red envelopes and oranges are set out as a symbol of prosperity. Decorations of Chinese knots and paper cuttings are hung. The various knots and paper cuttings can have many different meanings such as happiness or good fortune.
This tree combines these holiday symbols. The paper containers inspired by the Victorian tree have a decidedly Asian flair. The handmade tassels with minute prosperity knots are representative of Chinese knotting. Paper lanterns blend harmoniously with glass bead garland and traditional glass ornaments. Although oranges are a symbolic Chinese New Year decoration, I recall as a child piercing oranges with cloves and using them as Christmas ornaments. Representing the Chinese New Year holiday are the traditional coins used as garland and decoration for the tassels.
One thread that seems common to various times, cultures and holidays is the celebration of the blessing of family and friends.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!