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Mrs. Sharp's Traditions

Seasonal Customs Highlight Holidays

November 04, 1987|SARAH BAN BREATHNACH

In the beginning, integrating traditions into the lives of your busy families is bound to feel a bit awkward. Mrs. Sharp, after all, has been at this tradition business a tad longer than you have. Which is how she knows the perfect way for you to begin.

Why not let Mother Nature assist Mother Mortal in this regard? Introducing seasonal traditions into your repertoire of activities will ease the family into the celebrating spirit, naturally. You will be delighted to discover that what worked a century ago to bring a family closer together--the reassuring rhythm of simple, old-fashioned pastimes and pleasures that revolve around the seasons and calendar holidays--still works.

Take, for example, the seasonal table . It is a small, permanent table in our dining room. It reflects, through the objects displayed on it, our personal walk through the year together as a family.

This is the simplest of activities. But because it allows the scope of one's imagination and creativity free reign, it can also be a sophisticated and satisfying work of art. Mrs. Sharp knows that you will be delighted as your family's enthusiasm over its seasonal table grows. Over the months and years each family member's contributions help create memories that make this a cherished tradition.

The focal point of Mrs. Sharp's seasonal table is a 17-inch high cone-shaped tree fashioned from wild grapevines (without leaves) which have been tightly wrapped in overlapping circles around a chicken-wire base.

If you have the luxury of time, a seasonal tree is a wonderful project for the family to work on together. After you've gathered your wild grapevines, soak them at least 24 hours so that they will be pliable and easy to work with. You will also want to make sure to completely cover all the chicken-wire.

However, since Mrs. Sharp is a firm believer in conserving emotional as well as creative energy, she obtained her beautiful tree from the Vinery, 103 Alta Vista, Waterloo, Iowa 50703, (319) 234-8603. They have wild grapevine trees available by mail order in three sizes: 8 inch ($12.95), 17 inch ($25.95) and 25 inches ($49.95).

You know how much the family looks forward to trimming the Christmas tree. Well, with Mrs. Sharp's seasonal tree the fun lasts all year long for our decorations change seasonally. Mrs. Sharp uses a basic decoration of one-quarter-inch wide silk ribbon (in seasonal colors), and ornaments--doll-house miniatures--which are hung on the grapevine tendrils or tucked in around the tree.

If you are unfamiliar with the Lilliputian world of miniatures (available at hobby and craft shops), then you are in for a delightful surprise. Designed with painstaking detail for hobbyists to use when creating realistic vignettes for their doll houses, the world of miniatures mirrors real life with an astonishing range of accessories (from birthday cakes to tiny seasonal delights such as carved jack-o'-lanterns) all made to a one-inch scale.

As with any project, the old wisdom to "start small" applies here: just a few pieces at a time. You will be amazed at how quickly your collection grows. It can even become a tradition for each family member to add one miniature per season. For example, on vacations or outings, everyone can be on the lookout for tiny mementos while gift-shopping to add to the tree as permanent souvenirs of family fun.

But don't stop here: Your family will also enjoy making some of their memory ornaments. Children are also great improvisers and even cupcake decorations have been successfully adapted as ornaments. Just keep the size of the objects you select in proportion to the tree; most anything under 2 inches works well.

Right now Mrs. Sharp's tree is dressed for autumn with miniature Indian corn, jack-o'-lanterns, tiny trick-or-treat bags and school-days' miniatures such as old-fashioned slates and books. Father and the boys have also added a football and their favorite team's pennant. This autumn's homemade addition was a small scarecrow made out of clothes for a 6-inch doll--jeans and a plaid shirt--stuffed with tissue paper and straw foraged from an old broom.

Next comes Mother Nature's contribution: yarrow, tiny autumn leaves, pine cones and wheat stalks. Finally, our tree is topped with silk ribbon streamers in rust, beige and gold.

Besides being a charming custom, the seasonal table helps the children develop a sense of the year's rhythm and an appreciation for the four seasons. Most of all, this Victorian tradition gives the family a permanent focal point for ceremony and celebrating.

Come what may, our family's seasonal table reflects what is happening at the Sharp household and its magic will work wonders in your home as well.

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