A Merry Little Condensed Christmas

When the Christmas SWAT team came a knocking, it was completely unexpected. It was an innocent July day—there was nothing Christmasey about it, except for the fact that Kim and I loosely agreed to be part of the “Jolly Holly Tour” in November when asked point-blank. We had been cornered in our backyard while drinking beer, intermittently digging up coneflowers and wayward Bachelor Buttons between gulps. We were deep into summer, sweat stinging our eyes, shirt sleeves rolled up, flip flops kicked off. Why wouldn’t we want over a thousand strangers to traipse through our house? Surely that wouldn’t entail much work to prep for. We warned the organizers that we had about four decorations between the two of us, but that didn’t seem detract them.

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Our vivacious neighbour Dawn had nailed us as a target. She had watched us industriously transform our gardens into near Buckingham for the parade of 150 Galt Horticultural Society members in June. We seemed like an approachable couple, eager to have mass amounts of people traipse through our backyard—and, why not inside our house too? Dawn wooed us with fall fair-winning lemon loaves and chunky oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Plus, she somehow always smelled like vanilla frosted cake, putting me under a cosmic cake spell to anything she asked.

“We usually sell about 1,200 tickets a year for the event.” My god, Kim and I and our little stone cottage were going to be like a rock concert—1,200 was half the capacity of Massey Hall!

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It all seemed so far, far away and we joked about our commitment to something so Christmasey. It wasn’t our nature–our family members and friends roared with laughter at the prospects. Coming off the tsunami of relief after the garden tour, we didn’t fret about Jolly Holly until we found ourselves in mad decorating brainstorming sessions in at the end of August.

To clarify, our idea of the perfect Christmas is four decorations and on the eve, a bottle of champagne, cheese, charcuterie and watching Love Actually for the bazillionth time. Christmas Day we make the pilgrimage to my parents’ house in Walkerton where Christmas comes alive and we can simply immerse ourselves in the holiday spirit courtesy of my mom’s splendid decorations. It’s like walking into a glossy December magazine feature complete with clove-studded oranges, reindeer of wood, wool and silver, nutcrackers, whimsy and gravy-scented rooms.

Dawn brought over a stack of House & Home mags for inspiration. Her holiday sidekick and designated sparkle guru, Kathy, pulled out her iPhone and showed us her ideas gleaned from Restoration Hardware. They already had our house wrapped up in black tuile and were losing sleep over mercury owl placement and dogwood planters. Kim and I were not losing sleep. Yet.

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The Jolly Holly Tour is an annual event hosted by the IODE—Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. I kept referring to the group as the IUD which raised a lot of eyebrows, but also attracted interest. In 1900, Margaret Polson Murray recognized the need to support Canadian troops departing to fight with the Empire forces in South Africa. She formed a group in New Brunswick that urged the human condition basics: loyalty, patriotism and service. They sent parcels to the troops while providing for families in need at home. The IODE has evolved its mandate to “women dedicated to making a better Canada.”  Dawn and Kathy were apparently part of the “Make a better Christmas at Kim and Jules’ house chapter.” We made them promise not to barf Christmas all over our house. We couldn’t say no to a group that just oozes good.

The IODE donates to the Cambridge Memorial Hospital’s children and maternity ward. They give to summer camps, support suicide prevention and bereavement counselling programs, the local hospice, the food bank. They donated Canadian flags to local elementary schools, reading programs, crisis shelters…

We said yes to the dress—despite realizing that our house would have silver sparkles dotted around it for another 153 years. For the tour, five local houses would be decorated to near National Lampoon standards. If you build it, they will come. For $20, holiday flockers spend a day touring around the homes to get in the Christmas groove, looking for inspiration coupled with a little bit of permissible nosey-parker-ness. Who doesn’t want to snoop around somebody’s home? How else do you get the opportunity? The IODE raises over $20,000 from the house tour event alone.

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The bombardment started before Halloween with the assembly of the tree in the carriage house. Dawn and Kathy, the holiday drill sergeants, enlisted other members. Dawn’s sister and a cousin joined the crew and soon we found our minimalist house feeling very maximalist.

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We’re not talking Clark Griswald though—the women kept to our simplistic, subdued, rustic request and created a lovely condensed Christmas. Kathy must have cut down a swath of cedar, birch and pine from her property to deck our halls. And this woman had balls! A lot—red, silver—bowling ball-sized. The balls and glitter found homes with the rest of their combined Christmas cartel.

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I littered Facebook with posts on the process—who had we become? Kim was hanging garland the day after Halloween!

Kim and I transformed into Christmas zombies about four days before the show. In the midst of all this we had our en suite shower glass installed, bagged 23 bags of leaves, painted the hallway, the back door, installed a new light fixture and medallion in the guest bedroom (in the dark, with headlamps on), vacuumed and scoured to the standards of a Queen’s visit. We even met with our investment advisor to see when exactly we could retire–maybe we were holiday decorators at heart, stymied by our full time jobs.

The bottles of wine were like downed bowling pins with sleepover guests. We had a few nights of cheese and cracker dinners around 10:30pm.

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The show was an immense success—and, as part of our evacuation plan on Sunday, my parents joined us on the tour of the showcased homes. (Side note: with a pit stop for the best bison burgers at the New Dundee Emporium!)

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A huge thank you to the IUD for keeping us sane and calm during the invasion. Thanks to Monica and Graham at Monigram’s for jumping in last minute to showcase Galt’s best coffee beans and merch on our countertop. (*And for those perky Americanos that you delivered to our house during the set-up!).

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Thanks to Hercules at Grand River Soap Company for supplying the generous stack of lavender studded and lemon balm sensory appeal in our main bathroom. Calgon, take me away!

If you missed the show, here’s the virtual tour—and as you walk through, consider giving handsomely to the IODE as they do keep it local and make life sunnier and hopeful for so many.

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