Every year right before the holidays, I look around the house and think – gee, I should do some cleaning before we start having lots of company over. Even though the color of our carpeting, bought purposely to match mud, chocolate, and cat barf, does hide most stains, it would probably be a good idea to rent one of those carpet cleaner things. And the light-coloured walls are covered with fingerprints and scuff marks and all kinds of dents: I really should get out the paint and do some touch ups. Spouse will look at the walls and say things like, "Maybe we shouldn’t let the kids rollerblade in the house," but in our climate, thoughts like that are patently ridiculous. It is true that the wild games of Monster do take their toll on the interior of a house. I suppose I could wash or paint the white windowsills, too, to make them look more respectable.
Since Spouse will be at work and the kids at school next week, getting help from them is not an option. No, it will be all up to me, the person home with a stack of portfolios to grade. For a brief moment, I contemplate doing the work, with a fantasy in which I become Super Woman, able to tackle household chores in a single bound. After all, compared to grading papers, chores like painting and carpet cleaning sound like fun.
But then I remember the time-honored solution, the fastest way to make our house look nice for a holiday party: dim lighting. It's so much easier than cleaning. The windows of our house have deep sills, perfect for candles. A fire in the fireplace will light up one corner of the room and the old-fashioned coloured bulbs on the tree will light up the other. We have a red light bulb that fits into the lamp on the piano. And I will sometimes drape little white Christmas lights above the cupboards in the kitchen area to make it light enough while I am preparing food.
This solution is not without its drawbacks. When my house is crowded with people -- many of them women with long, silky hair -- all those candles can be dangerous. Blonde Niece was happily talking one year, gesturing with her hands, her hair swishing about, in the animated way that is characteristic of the women in my family, when someone noticed that her silky hair was brushing right through the flames of the candles behind her. Luckily, the smell of burning hair is strong enough that we usually stop those fires before they spread far.
Despite the risks, I love the look of candles burning steadily in the big dark windows that mirror back tiny flames. The smell of beeswax candles mixes nicely with the scent of freshly cut spruce, the spicey smell of veggie chili, and the sweet smell of cider mulling on the stove. Since we live in the country, we never pull the curtains shut, and anyone driving up to my home or walking up the long driveway through the snowbanks can see the candles burning in every window. I love the intimate light of a night time party, with friends and family standing in little clusters to talk and laugh, eating bowls of chili and drinking glasses of punch, with candlelight and firelight flickering over the whole scene, the soft colours of the Christmas lights glinting from the pine tree in the bay window.