I never had Christmas tree envy. I never even yearned for a Hanukah bush. My mom spray painted pine boughs with silver and gold then frosted them in glitter. They captured the magic of Vermont's December's snowy shimmer. That was more than enough for me.
I decorated my first Christmas tree for the Harry Potter-like dining room at Middlesex boarding school. Fellow elves included my outspoken agnostic friend Beth, a handful of international students from Saudi Arabia, and our French teacher who was still in the closet, but lent our tree a certain "Je ne sais quoi."
Yet somehow my family's Vermont country inn's Christmas tree now graces a full page spread in Yankee Magazine's holiday issue.
See, two years ago, my siblings and I inherited the majestic Wilburton Inn in Manchester, Vermont that our parents had run for 27 years.
We also inherited Pam, Jan, and Jewels, aka "The Twinkle Girls," three lifelong best friends who have been decorating our tree on girls weekend escapades for a decade.
In addition to festooning our tree, they also decorate themselves. (Click here for a video of them in action.)
They arrive armed with glue guns, martini shakers and a carload of arts and crafts. Late into the night, they create matching light-up theme costumes in triplicate. They have been candy canes, angels, Christmas trees and reindeers. Then like Santa, they spread joy to all, caroling at the town nursing home and tossing candy from the lead float in Manchester's light up tractor parade. They even decorated my puppy and inspired me to turn Rudolf into, "Jetson, The Red Coat Cavalier"
This fun loving trio comes back for annual summer girls' weekends too. Then they wield their glue guns to make summer themed outfits like cowgirls, luau dancers or patriotic cheerleaders. The Wilburton Inn is their happy place and they make everyone happier when they come to visit.
Innkeeping goes back to the very first Christmas when Mary ended up in the manger because there was no room at the inn. (Perhaps the modern equivalent is Columbus Day weekend in Vermont?)
Times have changed, but innkeeping has not. In a world of Facebook, innkeeping is always face-to-face (though I admit I love Facebook because it helps me stay in touch with our guests that literarily span from Brazil to the Arctic Circle.)
The Twinkle Girls bring their glittery spirit in good times and in bad. When we were stunned to learn that our mom, Innkeeper Georgette Wasserstein Levis, had cancer, the Twinkle Girls decorated the inn for her pink sparkle "This Is Your Life" party. They invented new light-up pink costumes from the shoes to the hats - and made a 4th matching outfit for mom.
When mom passed away just three weeks later, the Twinkle Girls were back to decorate the inn with white organza garlands and overflowing boughs of flowers.
This was going to be a very special Christmas for the girls. It kicked off their second decade of decorating the Wilburton Inn Christmas tree and of course their new celebrity in #Yankee Magazine. (Would you believe a man from California read the article and called the inn to get their autograph?)
Two weeks ago, however, I got a call from Pam. She just heard the devastating news that she had cancer and would be spending December in surgery. She said she was was doubly heartbroken to miss decorating our tree. But at least the Twinkle Girls will be together. One went on leave, the other quit her job so they could all be there for the surgery at Johns Hopkins and the recovery period back home near Albany. The Wilburton Inn staff sent Pam a pink sparkly Christmas tree -- because if Mohamed couldn't go to the mountain, the mountain was coming to her. We also sent three matching hot pink Wilburton tank tops and a cozy new Wilburton Inn bathrobe so Pam can feel wrapped up in our family's embrace. And whenever she is up to it, all three girls are coming to recuperate in their favorite suite at the Wilburton for as long as they want on the house.
Innkeeping is intimate. Some guests are just passing through, but for the majority of guests, the Wilburton Inn becomes their touchstone, and they become a part of our extended family. You don't get that at a Sheraton. (But of course, as we sing in our family inn theme song, "We didn't buy it to run it like a Hyatt.")
So this year, I will decorate my first Wilburton Inn Christmas tree. Fortunately, Linda, our head housekeeper and Wilburton Inn dorm mother will be there to help me. And Pam, Jewels and Jan can be there on Facetime on my phone to be sure we've done it just right.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or just the winter solstice, to me, the season is really about wonder. The wonder of cold dark nights that twinkle with glittering stars. The wonder of catching up with extended family and sharing good laughs and good meals. It's lifting your voice and singing out in gladness and going back in time to hear bells on horses ring. It's feeling cozy and content in front of the fire and grateful for the blessings of friendship, family and health.
I am grateful that my new career in innkeeping has introduced me to so many wonderful, inspiring friends like the Twinkle Girls who make every day merry and bright.