A trip to Hobbycraft to buy card, tissue paper, craft knife and glue and I’m back home cutting out shapes and creating my window decoration for this year’s Bridgetown Living Advent Calendar.
It’s the third year of bringing this community arts project to life in our part of Stratford-upon-Avon and I’m delighted to have again found enough wonderfully willing participants to decorate and ‘open’ (aka backlight) their festive window on each of the 24 advent days in December.
The idea of a living advent calendar has been catching on across the UK in the last few years. I’ve seen displays in Glasgow and in Beverley, East Ridings of Yorkshire. But neither of them hold the same space in my heart that my own community calendar does, and I thank all the participants and those who gain enjoyment from the nightly display.
While plenty of us stayed at home the last week, due to the freezing temperatures and icy roads, many dog walkers have told me that they’ve adjusted their route to take in the new window each day. Others have been looking forward to the ice melting so they can go on a big walk around the neighbourhood to see the whole advent calendar lit up until 6th January.
This morning, as I stared at my rainbow tissue paper and card and wondered what I would design for my own window opening on Wednesday 21st, I was suddenly transported back to my childhood. Each Christmas, I’d be invited down the road to Mrs Kantore’s front room. She was a large-built, German lady, quite intimidating in appearance, but gentle and kind in person. I have no idea how it started, or how Mrs Kantore even knew me or my family, but each year, for many years, I’d head down there to make German corn dollies.
Corn dollies are decorative figures, made by plaiting straw, and are more associated with Harvest Festival. But I remember making them at Christmas. I’d sit for hours, watching and copying Mrs Kantore; learning how to make all sorts of different shapes and decorations to hang on the Christmas tree. I remember my excitement the first year that I graduated from making flat dollies, by just folding corn over in a square shape from corner to corner, to bringing my corn dolly to three dimensional life, using corn that hadn’t been flattened and therefore could be used to create spiral style shapes, that looked more like a Christmas bauble.
It was the memory of those Christmas corn dolly baubles and the excitement I’d felt, that helped the design for my window to come to mind.
Creative time and space
It’s not often that I open up the time and space simply to sit and create. Arts and crafts are not a talent or a hobby that I’ve historically invested much time in. But I find that there’s something wonderfully fulfilling about the act of allowing something new to emerge from one’s mind’s eye, to trust the feeling of a shape as it emerges even though you don’t yet know what it wants to become.
I have had two other experiences this year that have transported me into this creative space of not knowing, yet trusting, and just waiting to see what emerged. One was a short foray into the exciting world of fluid art, where I used a hairdryer to create all sorts of wonderful shapes as the fluid acrylics merged and splayed in front of my eyes. The result was patterns that no paint brush could have made. And a few weeks ago, I went to my first glass fusion workshop with two very dear friends as a shared birthday experience. As we looked at our finished creations, it was amazing to see how each reflected and represented our individuality so clearly. They seemed ‘just us’.
I have been grateful for these chances to explore and express. To be willing to try and not fear for the consequence. I trust that my window on Wednesday will be welcomed and enjoyed, whether it’s a spectacular affair or more ‘Blue Peter’. There can be such freedom in just having a go, following what feels good in the moment, and being at peace with however the creative adventure turns out. In this busy, results-driven world that we live in, it’s a wonderful thing to switch all of that off, and simply relax into whatever wants to be expressed.
From the heart
So, I thank you, if you’re still with me, for reading to the end of this article. It’s written from the heart, and in exactly the way that my three explorations into the world of creativity this year have been experienced. I’ve simply allowed the words to come out, without censorship or self-judgment. And if these words inspire you to let yourself play and express your true essence even more than you already do, then that’s a wonderful outcome. And if you’re not drawn to express, that’s wonderful too.
I just hope you enjoy the pictures of the windows created by those of us that have taken the plunge and lit up our neighbourhood with a little more festive cheer this year. Merry Christmas, everyone!