There’s a place a few towns over called The Pink Sleigh Christmas Shop. It’s open from July to December, but I usually only get there around the holidays.
Though I’ve lived out here for almost 15 years, I didn’t visit the famous shop until last year. I stumbled onto it doing errands, and turned into the driveway. I walked in and discovered that the friendly couple who own it live one street over from me. I wasn’t surprised. I live in the kind of neighborhood where you don’t meet some people until they’re moving out.
I went to The Pink Sleigh last week because I needed it. The Curmudgeon and I have been sick with colds, and it’s starting to take its toll. We’re tired, grumpy and we don’t have our usual stamina for long hikes or runs. We traded naps as Eli Manning and the N.Y. Giants lost another game. As diehard Giants fans, we accept the season is over, but still watch to catch a few plays and nap. There’s nothing like a one-sided game to trigger a nap.
The Pink Sleigh is one of the reasons I’m happy to live in New England. Founded in 1963, it’s one of the country’s oldest Christmas specialty shops and exudes charm. Housed in a 150-year-old post and beam barn, it’s packed with all things Christmas: ornaments, garlands, nutcrackers, ribbon, snow globes, sleigh bells and miniature villages.
The Sleigh’s magic hits you before you even enter. Rows of old Radio Flyer sleds painted in primary colors and stenciled with snowflakes, snowmen and toy soldiers flank the entrance. You check the $89.99 price and gulp, thinking this might be a good do-it-yourself project. You’re not deterred, just on notice that this will cost more than a swing through the Christmas Tree Shops.
You walk through the door and your inner child screams to get out, so you let her. You’re on autopilot, making a beeline to glittering ornaments depicting the State of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben. You pick up a sparkly Eiffel Tower for your niece studying in Paris. It’s a keeper, something she’ll have when she’s 50 to remind her of her crazy youth.
Your eyes dart, marveling at glass ornaments swirling on the magnificent 12-foot centerpiece tree stretching to the second floor. It’s covered with all manner of ornaments, some turning on tiny rotators affixed to branches. You’re in awe of a large tree branch suspended from the ceiling and covered with hanging crystal snowflakes and lights, thinking of ways to replicate it. You quickly dismiss the idea, realizing it will require a handyman and could damage the ceiling. But it was a cool idea.
You’re thrilled that you came during the week, and had the place to yourself for about 30 minutes. The owners praise your good fortune, noting weekends are so crowded that it’s hard to walk around. You’re relieved. This would be an entirely different place crammed with harried Christmas shoppers fighting over ornaments.
You’re not surprised when you learn that the Sleigh is a tradition for many families, who exchange special ornaments each year and then wrap them in plastic or newspaper so they’ll live to see another Christmas. You wish you had established the tradition with your family, but are pleased that you jumped in now. Better late than never.
Walking through the Sleigh reminds you of the importance of presentation in retail. As you browse, you’re transported, almost forgetting you’re in a store. It’s almost like a holiday show house with trees trimmed by decorators and designers. Yes. that’s it. The ornaments are as much on display as for sale. You get the impression that sales figures aren’t driving this operation.
Unlike chain stores that sell ornaments in bins or boxes, ornaments are individually hung and grouped by theme, such as nautical, nature, cooking or hobbies. Many of the ornaments are artfully placed on 25 display trees of different sizes, and there’s an ornament for everyone – a red glass blow dryer for your hair stylist, a bumble bee for your beekeeper friend and fuzzy birds for the birders on your list.
Though some are imported and expensive, many are reasonably priced – just right for the teacher who has everything or the coach who helped your kid through a rough season. You’re a bit saddened when a fellow customer tells you that her teacher friend hosts a party every year where unwanted student gifts are swapped over nibbles and wine.
You think back to the hummingbird feeders you gave one year, and hope they didn’t end up in the Yankee swap. Just thinking about it makes you a little sad.
Note to teachers: buying gifts is a hassle and costly, and parents dread buying them as much as you dread receiving them. If you don’t want presents – and I completely understand why you don’t – tell parents to donate to a charity in your name or have your room mother organize a group gift. I love it when parents pool money and buy teachers a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. It makes everyone’s life a lot easier.
Mostly, the Sleigh’s greatest gift is inspiration and a much-needed infusion of Christmas spirit. Arriving home, you decorate more lavishly than usual. You trim the mantel, suspend ornaments from the ceiling with fishing wire and haul in a fallen tree branch, cover it with mini white lights and erect it in a corner. As a finishing touch, you perch a single bird in a tiny nest: a crimson cardinal to remind you of your father, who loved Christmas.
For the first time in years, the enthusiasm extends to the outside of the house. You hang a string of icicles that you got at Costco from your porch, and wrap red string lights that look like old-fashioned twin ball ponytail holders around your Radio Flyer sled, which has seen better days. You’re thrilled when neighbors compliment your efforts, and one rings the bell to tell you to take a photo because it looks so nice.
You abide by his wishes, hauling out your I-Phone in the snow and leaving the house for the first time all day. It’s night, snow is falling and as Paul McCartney & Wings would sing, “The spirit’s up. And that’s enough.”