Senses of Living® Holidays

February 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

It's February, it's cold, and we're thinking about spring. The days are still short, though they ARE getting longer. How do we go about customizing our environment to make us feel better at this time of year? I like to think of every day as a holiday, so how can we affordably celebrate holidays in February?

Plants: All plants produce oxygen during the day, and certain plants will clean the air of various household toxins. They will also help humidify dry winter interiors. I laugh when I read various popular magazines that inform me that indoor plants are "out"; they are only "out" if your magazine is so insignificant that it doesn't have anything worthwhile to write about. Get some of the larger leaved varieties to lend a feeling of the tropics. Remember that any new purchases need to be fully wrapped when being transported … frigid temperatures will reduce tropical plants to mush!

Flowers: Whether you buy cut flowers, bulbs to force, or a potted flowering plant, flowers always make us feel better (but try to avoid fake flowers; I've seen some silk blooms that are nice, but plastic plants or even those silly straw flowers are best avoided). A friend has a beautiful miniature tea rose on her kitchen table. I have anthuriums blooming in my sunroom. One year, heavy winds downed a couple of trees in the backyard, including an old crabapple tree; I went out, cut off several branches of the crabapple, and put them in vases around the house, where I was soon rewarded by brilliant sprays of pale pink blossoms. They don't have to be expensive or fancy flowers, just brightly colored. You deserve it!

Candles: Most designers will tell you candles are passé … if you like light, they are not passé. Just be certain to avoid those that have leaded wicks (test them by seeing if the fresh wick leaves a mark on a piece of white paper or card … once a wick has been lit, it is difficult to test).

Aromas: I encourage the use of aroma via my Scents of Living® program. This is NOT aromatherapy. There is evidence for only certain specific health effects of scents and aromas. However, many scents, used with intention, can lighten and brighten your mood and put you in a new place psychologically. I use essential oils in diffusers on light bulbs or in the bowls of water I have on each radiator for increased humidity (I also put cinnamon sticks in these bowls, but the nice scent lasts only a few days before turning "icky"). I also burn my favorite incense from time to time (my favorites change throughout the year; I enjoy floral scents during the winter). Sometimes I use potpourri (again, usually with floral scents).

Fruit: Bowls or baskets of fruit are inexpensive, attractive, aromatic, and can be eaten, fulfilling double/triple/quadruple-duty! Every year, a friend sends me a quarter bushel of Florida oranges … I don't have room in my refrigerator for them, so I haul out a huge attractive platter, set it in the middle of the dining room table, and "artfully" place the oranges in a pyramid on the platter. They are bright and festive, and scent the room nicely. Try other citrus fruits (it's National Grapefruit Month, by the way … make some fruit salad when you are done with the display, especially good with a bit of salt, some freshly ground pepper, and some finely-minced jalapeno and chopped cilantro) or bananas (but be prepared to make lots of banana bread … February 23 is National Banana Bread Day … you can freeze the ripened bananas for future use).

Beads and Balls: If you are asking yourself, "Huh?" at this point, I have two words for you: Mardi Gras! Ah, heck, let's add a third: Carnivale! These are great celebration of life, and are among the world's biggest parties (see below for more discussion). Papier-mache sculptures, masks and feathered headdresses are all relevant if you are having a full-scale party. For a more "low-key" approach, use some strings of colored beads draped on the backs of chairs, or on door handles, or off the corners of picture frames, or draped over and falling out of bowls filled with leftover Yule balls (see if you can find some on sale, or haul out the ornaments that you just put away … no, not in red and green, but maybe in Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple? … or play up Valentine's Day with some red and silver balls and beads? Or just match the balls and beads to the color scheme of your room[s])! There's no need to use those colored glass spheres only one time of the year! Just don't hang them on a tree (well, I'll admit that I have several red balls hanging off a dried bouquet of kangaroo paw flowers in my dining room; they look really cool).

So, just what holidays are available for the celebrant this month? National Potato Lover's Month (courtesy of the National Potato Board of America) … see this month's Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® recipes.

February 1: Chinese New Year/Year of the Ram! Red candles are considered quite chi-chi for this party, as are moon cakes and other Chinese specialties.

February 1-2: Candlemas/Imbolc/Ground Hog Day: these days concern purification and emerging from the darkness into the light. Lighting candles (especially red and white … buy extras for Valentine's Day/Lupercalia), cleaning house, and milk products are all appropriate symbols and activities (see this month's Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® recipes).

February 14: Valentine's Day: it's about love, it's about romance, it's about so much stuff that there are entire books and websites devoted to the topic, so redundancy here is unnecessary.

Lupercalia: an ancient Roman love festival … use your imagination.

March 4: Mardi Gras and Carnivale end on this day (Fat Tuesday, 40 days before Lent), but the entire month of February is host to parties and celebration in anticipation of the Lenten austerity. Feasts of gumbo, jambalaya, and other Cajun/Creole specialties, or feijoada (a yummy meat and bean stew with rice that is the national dish of Brazil) will keep you happy and provide easy entertaining fare. While these celebrations probably have roots in ancient Greece and Rome, it's easier to stick with the contemporary style of celebration (don't ask … please). Oh sure, February also has Lincoln's Birthday (February 12), Presidents' Day (February 17) and Washington's Birthday (February 18), and these are important men who deserve respect, but who really wants to decorate their home to look like an elementary school classroom?

I hope you've enjoyed these inexpensive, practical yet cheerful and festive ideas to bring a little light into your homes. Wait until you see what I have to offer for March!