Ten Ways to Deck the Halls: A Little Martha and a Menora

You’re flummoxed, or gob-smacked, as the English say. Everyone

around you is being swept along by the nouveau sincerity-especially vis-à-vis

holiday preparations-leaving you high and dry. Having turned your back on

Yuletide sentimentality right about the time movie-star trannie Divine pushed

the Christmas tree on top of her mother in the 1975 John Waters movie Female Trouble , you are understandably

at a loss. The last time you decked the halls with boughs of holly-or

challah-Margaret Trudeau was a well-recognized name. Over the years, you’ve

celebrated the holidays, but only with your girlfriends Tio Pepe, Kahlúa and

Drambuie. Now, spurred on by the shifting, increasingly warm and fuzzy Zeitgeist , you are trying desperately to

get in touch with your inner Martha, but it’s simply not working.

Don’t panic. Holiday szhoosh ( szhoosh , as I’ve told you before, is the

window dresser’s vernacular meaning “embellishment”) is not such a big deal.

Here are 10 shortcuts aimed at first-timers. Follow my simple instructions and

you will get the hang of things. At no stage of the proceedings are you allowed

to ask the question “Why am I doing this?” Promise!

1. Vintage Christmas-tree ornaments are kooky and classy,

especially if gorgeously tarnished. I’m talking about those family tree ornaments-circa

1960-which your more sentimental siblings snagged from the attic years ago,

while you were hunched over a bong at college. It’s not too late: run to the 26th

Street flea market, where vintage ornaments

abound. A box of six medium-sized balls will set you back about $30. Don’t

polish them! (This is one of those rare occasions when I actually advocate the

dreaded shabby chic!) Place your vintage orbs delicately into a large fruit

bowl, and use as a combination centerpiece and conversation piece.

Alternatively, place two small, ball-filled, glass dessert dishes on either end

of your mantle.

2. Wreaths are nice … for funerals. For your foyer or mantel, try

the following: take that old Styrofoam wig-head, or vintage millinery head, and

double-stick a lustrous drugstore wig to it ($15 wigs, $3 wig-heads at Lacey

Costume Wig, 505 Eighth Avenue,

695-1996). If you have a plain white wig-head and basic drawing skills, then

magic-marker a Modigliani-esque or Twiggy-ish face upon same. Take your

leftover vintage balls and embellish the coiffure in an aesthetically pleasing

manner. Don’t forget to add extra-long dangly earrings and give her a name.

Mine’s called Pam. (See photo.)

3. A Christmas tree covered in holiday greeting cards is known as

a “friendship tree”-which is all very heart-warming, but irrelevant in your

case, because you’re not on anyone’s card list. A lack of card-sending chums

is, however, to your advantage, because you get to art-direct your own

friendship tree. Run to MoMA and buy 40 of your fave art postcards ($14.95 for

a box of 20). No landscapes, please: Portraits work better, and Warhol works

best. Stop off at the hardware store and buy 40 alligator clips (you doubtless

know them better as “roach clips”). Simply clip the cards to a small

(three-foot) tree and, voilà , a

Warholenbaum. (See photo.)

4. Overblown, over-creative gift wrap upstages most gifts. Simply

wrap yours in metallic gold-foil paper ($4.30 for a 19-by-27 sheet at Kate’s

Paperie, 561 Broadway, 941-9816) and tie them up with yarn. Yes, colored

yarn-the kind deployed on Cindy Brady’s coiffure. It’s cheap, it’s chic and

it’s back! The fatter, the better. Tie it in simple cartoony knots. The best

yarn selection can be found at Gotta Knit (498 Sixth

Avenue, 989-3030)-for $13, you get a 60-yard ball.

5. Did you get laid off? Do

you have time on your hands? Do you crave something therapeutically

labor-intensive, something far more insanely time-consuming than even Martha

Stewart can come up with? (Remember when she wanted us to hand-block our own

gift-wrapping paper?) Why not build yourself a replica of the Kremlin using

cookies and bonbons? I have neither the patience nor the space to tell you

exactly how to execute this monumental project. I can, however, tell you where

to look: You will find a picture of a cookie-Kremlin-along with pages of

detailed instructions-on page 32 of the December 1970 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal . Gallagher’s Paper

Collectible at 126 East 12th Street (473-2404) sells copies of vintage LHJ ‘s-including this one-for $25.

6. Looking for patriotica? You won’t find Stars and Stripes balls

at the flea market. Call Bronner’s (800-361-6736) and ask about their

five-and-a-half-inch American Eagle for $8.49 and the Stars and Stripes freedom

bell for $11.99.

7. Re Martha Stewart: The great one is purveying this season’s

most perverse little tree. It’s restrained, it’s white and it’s made from

zillions of tiny, obsessively wired white goose feathers ($375 at Martha by

Mail, 800-950-7130).Dangle your solitary American Eagle from it for a

hauntingly patriotic effect.

8. Buy a kooky glass vintage

or Barbara Hepworth–ish menorah online or pop into my husband’s shop (Jonathan

Adler,465BroomeStreet,941-8950) and grab one of his ceramic baby-blue-and-navy

Brancusi-esque wedge menorahs ($98). While you’re there, pick up a chic

stoneware piggy bank ($85) for your Chanukah Geld.

9. Loosen your minimalist girdle a tad and buy yourself a set of

Swarovski-crystal-encrusted Chanukah candles by Kaos ($45 for a set of 15 at

Barneys). They’re great on a menorah or in a gentile receptacle.

10. Did you know that pickles were part of the whole traditional Tannenbaum situation? Back in

19th-century Deutschland, the gherkin was traditionally the last ornament to go

on the tree. On Christmas morning, the first brat to find the gherkin was

rewarded with a little extra quelque

chose from Saint Nick. The Bronner’s catalog has pickle ornaments for $5.49

each. They won’t show up against greenery, therefore buy two nine-inch Bronner

ornament stands ($2.99 each). You are now free to dangle your pickles in

improbable locations.

Happy hols!