Joy, Mirth, and seventeen other one word slogans on cotton dishtowels.


hippeastrum arrangement, amaryllis arrangement, amaryllis


Are you ready? We are sent out to achieve the impossible this month.  In the midst of lives already conducted at 75 mph, and without any real vacation time, we are asked to do the following ten tasks with a smile on our faces:

 1.  Find thoughtful gifts for numerous friends and family.

2.  Entertain at least 100% more than we normally do.

3.  Bake mouth-watering treats with indecipherable recipes.

4.  Maintain some measure of self-control whilst doing same.

5.  Decorate our houses festively and tastefully.

6.  Attend various social obligations and/or fun days out.

7.  Skillfully avoid last minute post-offices, grocery stores and shopping malls.

8.  Photoshop a family portrait to illustrate how fulfilled and impeccably dressed we are.

9.  Highlight major life achievements real or imagined in a warm, personalized letter.

10.Locate 96 physical addresses in an email world; and even harder, 96 stamps.

I ask again. Are you ready?

Though the above list may have just made your eyes water with either pain or laughter, I do have to admit that my obnoxious cynicism is in fact, forced.

tillandsia, air plants, christmas tree, tillandsia tree

A tree made of Tillandsia xerographica at Longwood Gardens, PA.

I happen to love December.  It is my birthday month, and every day of it comes lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.

And, once we’ve acknowledged we can’t do everything on the above list and finally relax into the rhythm of this month, we find that it also comes with merriment, excitement and great beauty.  It is the longest month for children – the shortest for adults, and quite possibly the quietest month in twelve for health clubs.

It is also the quietest month for gardeners in a cold climate.  We get a break.  Sure we have to break the ice on the chicken waterers and horse troughs, but we don’t have to check on orange groves or irrigate acres of budding strawberries.  There isn’t a task on the list that needs to include the words ‘prune,’ ‘weed,’ ‘sow’ or ‘dig.’  All is calm. All is bright.

December symbolizes freedom from my gardening calendar.  My daily work calendar will still punish me with deadlines, pitches, website revamps and project proposals,  but long ago I vowed I’d be done with the fall gardening chores in late November and winter chores wouldn’t start until after the New Year.  Anything I end up doing outside has to be conducted without urgency and with a joyful, creative spirit.

Thus December will see me doing things like organizing my potting shed to the sweetly embarrassing sounds of an early nineties mix tape.  It will witness the making of Advent wreaths on the dining room table while Bridget Jones drinks heavily on my laptop media player. December will give me license to slowly walk around my woods and mark trees to be thinned and vines to be cut without insisting I pull out the chainsaw before the mulled wine cools.

Certainly, I will partake in a few of those idealized December tasks mentioned above.  Some willingly and enthusiastically, some willingly and less enthusiastically. The point is, I have choices – we all do – and I intend to choose carefully.   A tight smile is not the same as a broad one.

A pilgrimage drive to Longwood’s Christmas display is definitely on the schedule, as is an evening walk in nearby downtown Frederick or Leesburg admiring festive shop windows and towering street trees covered in white lights.  I may even put aside a day to head down to the Washington DC Holiday Market and soak in the vibe of a big city during the holiday season.

door wreath, christmas wreath, craft projects at christmasBig cities, big vibes and big opportunities to spend big amounts of money aside, I’m looking forward to a bit of agenda-less browsing with my holiday-obsessed daughter in crowded stores and putting together a package of favorite treats for my Air Force son who is spending Christmas in North Dakota this year.

Even closer to home, Mungo and I have a new route for our daily walk, which allows me to enjoy a whole slew of holiday decorations I didn’t have to put up myself.

Oh yes.  I’m going to enjoy myself this month.  For when January arrives, the banshees scream, and the work begins (brush-cutting top of the list around here), I don’t want to look back and wonder why I didn’t play more in December when winter felt kinder and wasn’t trying to kill me.

If you can give yourself license to play, I invite you to do it this month above all others.

Splurge on a chunk of excellent cheese, or find out what the hipster hype over sherry is all about…Watch a YouTube video and learn how to make a winter centerpiece…Pull out that ridiculously huge collection of shiny new cookie cutters and actually make a few cookies…Decorate your front step with bounty from a quieted garden, and have a couple of friends over for a dinner that lasts for six hours and feels like two.

I think you get the picture. December is a celebration of the year we have just lived  – let’s live every day of it with gratitude and joy.



A version of this article originally appeared in The Frederick News Post and is reprinted here with kind permission.