“Years ago, I barely did anything,” she admits about her holiday decorating style. Extremely ecoconscious, the photographer was tortured about the negative impact purchasing a Christmas tree would have on the environment, so she elected instead to decorate a cedar sapling and plant it in the garden after the holidays. “The tree was always a little tragic looking and barely supported the weight of even the smallest of decorations,” she said.
Then one year, her end-of-year-born son requested a Christmas themed birthday party and the mama bear simply couldn’t say no. “The more I spoke to my other ‘crunchy’ eco friends, they finally convinced me that these trees are planted specially for this reason and they are constantly replanted, and so I finally caved—mostly due to the deliciously convincing and heart-breaking look in my son’s dark brown eyes.
“The smell of the house with the tree was so heavenly, and that first year I kept the tree up for ages,” she continued. “My birthday is at the end of March and my husband refused to have a birthday dinner for me unless I took the brown tree down! That was six years ago and we have never looked back.”
Every year since, the family has been the “bane of the shop’s existence” as they obsess over finding the absolutely perfect tree. “Then we bring it home and my poor husband is under the tree while I obsess about angle and straightness and which side should face out,” Blackburne continues. “This all absolutely must be done before December 1st because after the kids have gone to bed I secretly create an advent calendar. I will have cut branches off our tree, and those extra bits I hang up on lights that line a wide doorway into the living room.
“Throughout the year, I collect little trinkets and place them in brown paper bags tied with rustic string and decorated with beautiful numbers which I made that first year we had a tree. When the children come downstairs on December 1st, they are surprised by the advent calendar and then each day have a wee gift to open. They are tiny things like pencil sharpeners or a pretty clothes peg, and almost always a decoration or two for the tree.
“That night, we all play Christmas music for the first time that season and decorate the tree together. When all the decorations are on the tree, we make a big production of standing back and Ben plugs in the extension cord and the tree lights up. Then it is a big rush to bed as it is always way past bedtime and usually a school night.”
Nowadays, the traditional Christmas tree has pride of place in the artist’s living room. True to her natural, Zen-like style, the ornaments are all neutral tones to match the room’s palette of stone, cream, linen, silver and gold. “I am a visual artist and I experience the world visually,” explains Blackburne. “Things that look wrong to me impact me visually almost as an assault. I can’t explain it, but I have physical reactions, be they positive or negative, to visual stimuli, and I like my living room in particular to feel Zen.”
While many decorations in the early years were store bought, the artist’s house is now overflowing with stunning decor handmade by her equally talented family. “Both children love being creative and I have an entire Pinterest board with holiday crafts ideas. We always make new decorations for the house, plus the kids collect toilet rolls and use scraps of wrapping paper to make our own Christmas crackers. They save trinkets that they no longer need and research jokes and make paper hats out of tissue. There is something so satisfying about pulling our homemade crackers at the beautifully laid table on Christmas Day.”
As for the rest of the house, Blackburne uses both dried and spray-painted natural elements along with fresh cuttings from her garden to keep within her theme. “I use Japanese yew on the mantle and pick croton and put it in tall vases in the windows of the dining room. I have a wreath I made years ago from our Christmas tree after we took it down—sprayed it gold and decorated it with spray-painted gold pine cones the kids collected on holidays over the years. I mix in sparkly floral decorations with greenery in vases, and on the tree there are gold-painted dried pomegranates, as well as banana leaf angels which were both gifts from my son’s godmother. I spray painted some willow branches and hang small balls on those, and in the bathroom I have a dried palm frond berry branch spray-painted silver with more pretty balls.”
“It takes forever but it brings me so much joy, I almost feel a glee rising within me the entire holiday period which carries me a few feet off the ground,” Blackburne says. “I am a very visual person and I tend to try to make my home a painterly experience, so Christmas is the time I can really express my creativity. That combined with my husband’s love of cooking, my son’s love of baking, my daughter’s love of singing and our love of crafting, the house is just brimming not only with beauty, creativity, music and treats, but also—and most importantly—love, love, love.”
Natalie Angeli’s Home
She may only be dreaming of a white Christmas, but Natalie Angeli doesn’t let the balmy Bermuda December deter her from her sparkly decorating style. “My husband would say it’s over the top, but I think I always have a ‘winter wonderland’ theme in my head, even if it feels slightly out of place with the warm weather outside,” she said.
With a palette of warm, dark woods, blue-grey walls and white accents, the winter white and glittering silver décor sparkles in the main living areas. “I used to add different colours in and then match the wrapping paper too, but now I think I’ve settled on the white and silver for most of it,” Angeli said. Her latest edition includes two large canvases dominating the dining room walls that feature a glistening silver Santa and reindeer head that she painted herself last year.
Starting with the purchase of the tree on December 1st, the family—which includes her husband Odilio, his two older daughters and the couple’s eight-year-old and four-year-old—traditionally gathers to decorate. “In years past I’ve done it with my step daughters,” Angeli said. “We would put Christmas music on and have some hot chocolate (or champagne!) while we did it. Now that they’ve been away at school and university, I do it with the little ones’ ‘help.’ Then I do the rest of it mostly myself.”
As in most homes, the décor in the Angeli house consists of an amalgamation of pieces collected over the years—some from travelling, many found locally and others lovingly homemade.
“I probably do something a little different every year, but mostly it’s a collection of things that has evolved and grown over the years,” she said. “When my daughter was born I started to collect the Georg Jensen annual tree ornaments as something to give her when she’s older and has her own home, so they are special to me. Last year we added the Dr. Neil Burnie silver ornament that was made. He was a dear and much-missed friend of ours, and that is a piece that will always take pride of place on our tree.”
The owners of the popular Rustico, The Dining Room and Gulfstream restaurants, entertaining comes naturally to the Angeli family and they often host dinners and lunches for friends and family throughout the holiday season—with food being the highlight, of course. “Usually we have Christmas Day at our house,” said Natalie. “I cook a big breakfast—Panettone French toast, bacon, eggs, pancakes, etc.—then, when we recover from that, later in the day we’ll have a roast with all of the trimmings and some ridiculously decadent dessert.”
“I love so many parts of the holidays,” she adds. “We’re big foodies, so I love the cooking and baking and, of course, the eating, but I enjoy the little family traditions we’ve evolved, too. Things like opening new pajamas on Christmas Eve, and then watching a Christmas movie before we go to bed, or reading Christmas stories with our younger children. Mostly doing family things and making memories.”
Daina Casling’s Home
“I pretty much love everything about Christmas,” says Daina Casling, a VP legal counsel at RenaissanceRe. Married to Clive Langley and with two young children aged ten and seven, the busy mom relishes the holiday madness with her close-knit family.
“My mother established a lot of traditions as we were growing up and a firm belief in Santa,” she said. “We have a family Christmas cookie decorating competition event that has been going on almost as long as I can remember. The kids love it and the adults get just as competitive. The winner last year was a bell-shaped cookie that my brother made into Darth Vader. It’s an hysterical event and definitely always one of the highlights of the holidays.”
When it comes to her own home, Casling likes her décor bright and colourful. “I went to a wreath decorating workshop with a friend down in St. George’s a few years ago,” she said. “She left with a very organic, natural looking wreath with lots of Bermuda cedar pieces and I left with something that was dripping with colourful baubles and rainbow glitter. We thought it was incredibly funny how representative they were of our individual decorating styles!”
Of course, with two excited children in the house, the decorating starts early. “Usually we try and get the tree on the day of the Santa Claus parade and get it decorated shortly thereafter,” she said. However, she admits, one tree is just not enough. “Everyone thinks I’m nuts because I have to have two Christmas trees, but I love having one to hang all the kids’ creations and our special, meaningful ornaments on, and then I have to have a ‘department store tree’ that matches my living room!”
The “department store tree” features glittering lime green and teal ornaments that perfectly coordinate with the living room accents, while the vibrantly decorated family tree resides in the den. A collection of cherished vintage glass ornaments originally belonging to Casling’s grandmother has pride of place on the sideboard.
As it often goes with excited little ones, decorating is a family affair—well, sort of. “The kids basically unpack every box in a matter of minutes and trash the house,” laughs Casling. “And then I am left with the job of trying to find a place for everything. It drives me crazy to have things half done, so I am usually the only one still up at midnight finishing everything.”
Celebrating the holidays with family is the central theme in the Casling/Langley household, and their love of entertaining has brought on the hosting duties. “We like to entertain around the holidays and for the last couple of years we have hosted Christmas dinner which is fun,” she said. “I am in charge of décor and my mother leads the charge on the food front.”
However, what goes up quickly often comes down quickly, too. Sometimes as early as New Year’s Day the décor is all put back away, says Casling. But it can’t go back up soon enough!
Kim Floyd’s Home
“Christmas has always been a huge celebration with my family,” said Kim Floyd, who moved to Bermuda from Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband three years ago. “My mama and daddy would prepare for days for my family and my two sisters’ families, with all of the grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
Her favourite holiday memories include her parents making ambrosia, the women in the family enjoying “shopping, shopping and more shopping” and making homemade candy together, and her mom, sisters and herself wearing matching outfits on Christmas Day every year for over 30 years. “We have many old pictures for our entertainment!” she said.
“My mama suddenly passed away the year before we relocated to Bermuda,” said Floyd. “Many traditions and Christmas celebrations as I had known them for years were changed forever. My mama gave my sisters and me collectible Snow Baby figurines every year. At Christmas, the year before she passed away, she told me, ‘This is the last one that you will ever get from me.’ I, of course, asked her ‘Why?’ She said: ‘Because they are discontinuing the line of the ones I gave y’all.’ That year, she gave each of us our last one, and that one was of three girls with our names on it. Mine is priceless to me!”
While Floyd says she certainly misses being with her extended family at Christmas, she has made lot of new memories with her friends on the island. “We do enjoy the mornings at Elbow Beach on Christmas Day with many other expats and the wonderful home-cooked dinners shared with them.”
Making the most of her Bermuda home, Floyd has chosen a sea blue and green coastal Christmas theme for her holiday decorations. “I have always thought it would be wonderful to decorate a home with a coastal theme,” she said. “I finally did get my opportunity and love it!
“I have always loved the beach, and never dreamed of living on an island, especially one as beautiful as Bermuda—it is truly paradise!” Floyd added. “It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I continue to take pictures as if I am a tourist on vacation.”
Being crafty, Floyd has created many of her own decorations—including ornaments and wreaths using pink sand, sea glass and other natural elements she’s found around Bermuda. For the rest of the décor, she buys everything locally and then embellishes the pieces to suit her laid-back, beachy style.
And while she may no longer experience the joyful chaos that a huge family holiday brings, Floyd knows the true essence of what’s important this time of year. “My favourite part of the Christmas holiday is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, decorating, and socialising with my family and friends.”