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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

The holidays can bring such joy — families gather together to share specially prepared meals, exchange gifts, and savor the particular magic that seems to permeate the air. Frosty windowpanes frame displays of trees and candles whose lights dance about merrily. The cold makes noses jauntily pink, and hot cocoa and spiced cider warm everyone back up. The scents of cinnamon and pine waft through the air.

Of course, that’s the ideal, what sparkles in our memories of favorite holidays. It’s also possible, with busy lives and the demands of work, kids’ last days of school before the winter break, and just trying to get ready for the expectations of what the holidays should be — grocery shopping, endless treks to the mall to get the toys and gadgets on the kids’ wish lists, getting lights strung around the house — to lose sight of the true meaning of the holidays.

Here are a few ideas for ways to bring back that wonderful feeling that can be the hallmark of this special time of year.

Get ideas from Grandma.

Ask an older member of your family, such as a grandmother or great-uncle, to share a tradition from his or her childhood and incorporate that this year. Grandma may tell you how when she was little she put her shoes outside the front door to have them filled with goodies from Santa Claus, instead of in a stocking next to the fireplace. This might work particularly well if you don’t have a fireplace and the children worry how Santa can get to their stockings without one!

Shake the family tree.

This free land of ours is a melting pot of many countries with their own unique practices surrounding the holidays. Your family may be a mixture of Russian, British and Norwegian, for example. Look up Christmas traditions that are common in Norway, perhaps, and pick one or two to incorporate this year in your celebrations. Christmas Eve dinner there usually features pork or lamb ribs or even cod, according to visitnorway.com, followed by the opening of gifts waiting under the tree. Get a recipe for Norwegian-style ribs and try that as a main course, and do the same for the traditional cookies — goro, krumkaker or berlinekrans.

Plan to volunteer or give back somehow as a family.

Depending on your family’s size and the ages of your children, it may be easy to find some way to give back to your community in some way or it may be a bit more challenging. Little ones won’t have a long attention span or may not be old enough to help out at homeless shelters or places that provide free meals, for instance. But anyone can find some way to serve others. Donating cans or boxes of nonperishable food items is a simple option; children can help Mom pick out vegetables they like and want to share with others. Take a box or bag full to your local food pantry. A more one-on-one way to brighten someone’s day is to visit a nursing home. Share your talents, such as music, or just sit and visit and ask an older person about his or her life. Ask him or her about long-ago traditions or holiday memories, even.

Re-emphasize your faith.

lightOur holidays are based on religious events, after all. Find a way to focus more on “what it really is all about.” Make an advent calendar that takes the whole month of December leading up to Christmas Day to remember miracles Christ performed. I’ve been enjoying the LDS Church’s #lighttheworld initiative this month so far, which gives an idea of something to do service-wise every day of the month leading up to the 25th, based on what Jesus did in his life.

Gift a memory.

It can sometimes be difficult to find just the right gift for a loved one. This year, try “throwing it back” by finding an item that reflects a favorite toy or experience the recipient had as a child. Children of the ‘80s had Atari game systems; try giving him a classic video game set in the form of an app. Maybe your grandma misses the beautiful farmhouse she grew up in; give her a framed photo of it or an ornament that harks back to it. Or try a charm for a bracelet or necklace. Have some fun!

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My kind of PinSeems every time “the holidays” roll around, someone invariably asks me in some setting what kind of traditions we have as a family, their eyes lit up with high expectation. I hate to disappoint, but honestly, I feel like I got nothin’. I’ve heard some great stories from other people and on social media, to be sure, but all I can mumble is something about how we “open presents, eat a family dinner, talk to family members…”. As much as I’d like to, I haven’t gotten around to taking the kids to serve at a soup kitchen, for example, or doing something strikingly meaningful and religiously significant on Christmas Eve. I do believe that Christmas exists for us to remember the Savior of the World, I really do, and I try to follow Christ every day. But do I do a lot with my kids to observe that at the time of his “birthday”? Uh … not really.

Add to that people’s Facebook posts or tweets or Pins on what they do with the Elf on the Shelf every day of December (luckily, that didn’t get popular until my kids were well into growing up, so… phew!), and I just shrug and feel a little boring or deficient.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think my kids are suffering from lack of “notable” story-worthy traditions. They’re well-adjusted, happy, fun, giving, and all-round great girls. They have good memories, as do I from Christmases past. I guess my tradition as a parent is just to do the same things my parents did when I was a kid: shop and wrap presents, fill stockings, bake and cook. And hope not to be woken up way too early December 25th. I remember presents I received, time spent with my parents and grandparents and aunt and uncle and two cousins and two siblings, the music we would listen to, the cookies and pies Grandma made, my mom’s homemade noodles simmered in rich turkey broth to perfection. And my girls will remember pretty much the same things: I make the same meal, the same pies, the same cookies and noodles. And miraculously, my daughters don’t wake up at 4 a.m. (as I remember doing one year, generously keeping to my room until about 6 a.m. before disturbing my sleeping parents) or even 6 a.m.

So life is good. We may not have many cool traditions; we listen to music, hang lights, decorate the tree, put out presents, unwrap them gleefully, stuff ourselves at dinner, even read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. I do absolutely nothing Pin-able. Who cares? Not my girls. And in 20 years or so, they’ll be doing the same boring things I’m doing right now and smiling nostalgically about the boring days of yesteryear. I’m cool with that.

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I’m not a HUGE Christmas nut. I don’t start fantasizing about the holiday in July; I don’t listen to carols in October; I don’t decorate before Thanksgiving. (My husband’s the one chomping at the bit about those things before Thanksgiving rolls around.) But that doesn’t mean Christmas doesn’t mean something to me. I have good memories of the holiday growing up, involving family, gifts, and treats, among many other things. Especially, I like to remember the significance of why we celebrate: Christ. I’m a Christian, and I love the spiritual messages that remind me of Him during this season. At the same time, I have nothing against Santa and the commercial stuff that’s not exclusively centered on Christ. It’s fine to enjoy all the other trappings of the holiday, too.

I don’t even have a problem with people who aren’t Christian celebrating the holidays in general, all the trappings but not Christ. That’s fine.

martin shortBut I’ll draw the line at what I saw last night on TV: I happened to have the set on when Saturday Night Live came on, and it showed Martin Short hosting. That, I thought, was worth my time watching for a while to see what he would say and do. He’s done and said some very funny things in the past, so it was fun to see him again.

Honestly, though, he did almost nothing to make me laugh. He was straining. Then he mentioned that “a lot of babies are conceived at Christmas.” OK. Fine. But then, rather than moving on, he and the SNL cast turned that into a huge production number. The tune of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was turned into a crass and completely tasteless number about sex, and Short used lots and lots and lots of synonyms: lascivious, lusty, … well, I don’t really care to think about it anymore. But it went on for four or five minutes, probably. I kept thinking it would end quickly. It didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t turn off the TV sooner than I did. Perhaps it was like a train wreck.

I can’t express how tacky and tasteless and offensive it was. Sure, I expect there to be lots of that kind of thing on SNL. That’s part of why I haven’t watched it regularly since, well … ever. But to hijack Christmas, a day on which as a believer, I do try to remember the Savior of the world, well, I just found this one particularly bad.

It’s all been said before, so nothing I can say here will be new. I just hate to see it happen: the insensitivity of others who would call me intolerant if I were to express my views on subjects they wouldn’t agree with me about, but who have no problem taking a subject I consider deserving of some reverence and respect and just dashing it to pieces with, yes, blasphemy.

Needless to say, I didn’t watch any more of that show. I’m sure the SNL folks won’t care that they missed me. Yes, they have a right to do and sing and say everything they did, but was it right? Was it respectful? Was it tolerant? Me, I’m thinking no.

Contrast that “holiday” scene with the one I encountered today during our church service. Two young men sang, one played cello, a friend played her flute, and another woman played piano, coming together on a simply divine arrangement of “Away in a Manger.” For five minutes, I was entranced, transported, absolutely enchanted. The music truly focused on everything that’s best and most important about Christmas, and it was done so well and with such reverence and care. The feeling in the room was of rapt attention and holiness. I wanted it to go on and on. That was absolutely the spirit of Christmas, and I’ll keep it in my heart a good long while. The several minutes I was held captive (somehow) by Martin Short’s completely non-funny routine are minutes I’m trying to scrub from my memory.

I love to laugh, I love to feel reverence, I love to appreciate talent. Today gave me the opportunity for the second and third, and there will be some other wonderful opportunities in coming days with friends and family to experience the first. I am just sorry that SNL insulted me rather than allowing me to laugh.

Here’s to all the wonderful gifts of the season.

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Well, here it is the holiday season, and I’ve been working hard to get my shopping done a couple weeks before Christmas so I can maybe sit and breathe and just enjoy the actual holiday. With four kids and a bunch of interests and projects, I’m always busy, so the holidays can really turbo-charge my busy-ness. I’ve found myself going to bed at 9:00 at night several times because my days have worn me out so thoroughly.

Now THAT's the kind of face I like to see when I give a gift.

Now THAT’s the kind of face I like to see when I give a gift.

Even though the selecting and buying/preparation of gifts can be exhausting, particularly when it’s so many all at once, I still find myself reflecting on how much fun it is to find just the right ones. It’s so satisfying to know someone well enough to match them with a cool present that will make him or her smile. Even better is if that gift becomes something they talk about for months or years to come.

I was thinking about the year I sent a pregnant friend a box of Omaha steaks. We’d been talking about how she was at that point of the pregnancy where she was just wanting meat. I’d been there myself, so I knew that right around the midway point, I always wanted steak. Meat, meat, meat. I guess that is also when the baby’s brain is really growing, so it probably needs lots of protein. So I craved steak. I thought it would just be fun to ship her a box of meat. Sure enough, even her family remembered it for ages. One sister told me some years later that she thought it was a great idea. And how often does someone get a box of meat in the mail?

My dad was generally very enthusiastic about the gifts I got him. He got into a smoothie groove one year, so I sent him a  personal smoothie maker. He loved it. When he died and I had to clear out his apartment, his freezer was still stocked with smoothie ingredients: sherbet and yogurt and frozen fruit. I brought the little smoothie maker home and now use it myself. It makes me smile to think about Dad and his smoothies. Another time, I got him a peanut butter maker. I happened to run across it in a kitchen store, and knowing Dad’s dedication to natural peanut butter, I snatched that right up and gave it to him for Father’s Day. He ran that thing ragged, making a lot more peanut butter than that gadget was probably designed for. Over the course of a few years, he got great mileage out of it until it died. We were both very sad I couldn’t find another one by that point.

One young friend who enjoyed my fresh waffles received a waffle iron for a wedding gift, along with my recipes for waffles. He tells me now that he and his wife are now famous for making waffles for young missionaries they have over for dinner, just as we fed him when he was a missionary for our church. It’s really satisfying to know that a tradition we started now has carried over into another family.

My oldest daughter decorated this wrapping paper herself. That was even cooler than the gift inside!

My oldest daughter decorated this wrapping paper herself. That was even cooler than the gift inside!

Of course, it’s also a nice thing to give people gifts that aren’t necessarily things, but services. If someone never has time to cook, make them some homemade meals that freeze easily and can be popped in the oven. I am a fan of baking homemade bread or cookies because a lot of people don’t bake anymore. I just invest in a lot of flour, sugar, and butter. Or if a friend is particularly busy (or pregnant), give a gift of a month of maid service. Just be sure to remind them not to feel compelled to clean their house before the maid comes over.

I’ve kept a file on my computer with a list of all the Christmas gifts I’ve given family members over the years. It lets me ensure I don’t repeat years, and it just helps me keep track of what ideas I’ve come up with in the past and even can help spark new ideas. The Word document I’m using now has gifts all the way back to 2002. This year, I think I’ve come up with some really neat, personalized gifts, some of which I’ve made myself, but I can’t yet write what they are because my recipients might read this!

I just love gift-giving occasions. Christmas can be overwhelming with the sheer number of items and people to shop for, so I particularly enjoy birthdays and other celebrations like weddings or baby showers. (Now that my girls are getting big, it’s really fun to buy tiny little clothes and other items for someone else’s babies.)

Yep, giving can be lots more fun than receiving. (But it is nice to get a really great gift sometimes, too, particularly from my husband.)

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