Tag Archives: christmas

I Don’t Ask a Lot for Christmas

I wrote last night about how I gave my family their Christmas gifts in a return to our old custom.  I’ve written about Christmas trees and shopping and the weather and moving the holiday back a month just to suit my own (completely reasonable and correct and you should totally agree with them) tastes.

Christmastime is about a lot of things.  It’s about the birth of Jesus, and as such is one of the holiest days of the year for Catholics.  It’s about Santa Claus and reindeer and snowmen.  It’s about giving gifts to our loved ones.  It’s about cooking, and enjoying, a big dinner with family and friends.  It’s about falling asleep after that big dinner.  It’s about snow.  It’s about radio stations playing holiday music non-stop for the entire month of December.

It’s about all of those things, because it’s about whatever you want it to be.  That’s true for any holiday, really, but I feel like Christmas really drives that home more than the others.  Maybe it’s because it’s so close to the end of the year; in one week, everyone will be starting fresh (despite the demarcation of one year compared to the next being completely arbitrary), so it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the year that’s coming to a close.  Maybe it’s the religious significance of it.  Maybe it’s the (usually) colder weather that makes people prefer to be inside by the fire, sharing stories and warm beverages.  Maybe it’s the music.  And yes, maybe it’s even the fact that it’s by far the most commercialized holiday on the calendar, with ads appearing sometime around Labor Day, that gets Christmas into our collective conscience as something to look forward to, something to be celebrated.

No matter how much you enjoy Christmas, make sure to take a moment and smile today.  It could be at a joke your uncle has told every year since you can remember, or at a gift you received, or one you gave.  Try to appreciate how lucky you are to have people around you who care for and about you, and that you get to spend time with them.  And if you’re away from your family, or alone, then smile because hey, at least someone is thinking of you.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Tradition, Tradition!

I wrote yesterday about my family’s traditional “Christmas is in two or three days so we should probably get a tree” outing.  We have some other traditions as well that personally make Christmas Eve a bigger deal to me than Christmas.

For starters, there’s the tree.  I remember when I was young I would wake up and go downstairs on Christmas Eve morning to find my mom working on getting the tree standing and secure.  By early afternoon she already had the lights on, and my sister and I would begin hanging ornaments on it not long after that.  Nowadays, things seem to get started later, and it’s often not until well after dinner that we decorate it; today, however, things got started early and there are already lights and ornaments and even some tinsel on the tree.

Speaking of dinner, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner of the “seven fishes” is another thing that we kinda, sorta do.  We always eat seafood, but not usually any actual fish; nor are there seven of them.  We have crab cakes, along with shrimp and clam chowder.  This year, we added tuna for my dad and scallops for…well, everyone, but at my persuasive insistence.  That makes five pseudo-fishes; next year, I’m aiming to add two more.

This year’s dinner was a little more stressful for me than usual.  Instead of picking up the food we ordered from the seafood shop,* I’ll be in the kitchen making the crab cakes.  I had made them a couple times earlier in the year and people liked them, so I offered.  They turned out reasonably well, so that made me happy.  Well, relieved more than anything.  I did NOT want to ruin Christmas Eve dinner.

*Tangent: my mom always orders it for a 4:45 p.m. pickup.  The store closes at 5:00.  This often makes for a ridiculously unnecessary race against the clock to make sure we get there before they close.

We always visit my grandfather on Christmas Eve.  Usually it’s at night, after dinner, but today I pushed for an early afternoon visit.  See, my sister and I used to give our parents their presents on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to get back to that this year.  My hope was that the whole family would do it, because our gift exchange has gotten later and later over the past few years.  I figured this was as good a time as any to corral that bronco and walk it back to the stable.  It was a half-success; we gave our parents and our aunt their gifts, but my mother hasn’t wrapped ours.  I’m sure we’ll get them by Memorial Day.

As if there was room for any more traditions, I’ve started taking an annual trip to the bookstore.  It started out a few years ago when I was looking for a last-minute gift for my dad.  I ended up walking out with a book for him and three for me.  Now, it’s usually just the last place I go when I have last-minute shopping to do, and I almost always leave with at least three or four books that I then proceed to blow through over the next two months.  I don’t read that often anymore, but when I do, it’s at a prolific pace.

This year, however, the bookstore trip was a one-off journey.  My shopping was finished, so it was simply a run-of-the-mill Tuesday afternoon book binge.  It did, however, serve the alternate purpose that made the previous trips so cherished: it always allows me the opportunity to get away from the family for a little bit.  I know, the holidays are about spending time with each other, but when you have hectic days such as Christmas Eve, you sometimes need to make sure you get the right dosage.

I’m a creature of habit and routine.  I feel like tradition falls under that umbrella, so it’s something I’ve been very adamant about over the years.  If I have my own family someday, and my wife and kids want to put up the Christmas tree a little early, I might cave.  If I have to miss Christmas Eve dinner because we’re out of town visiting her family, I won’t be happy, about it, but sometimes you have to make compromises.

Just make sure there’s a Barnes & Noble nearby.  Daddy needs to go shopping.

Thy Leaves Are So Unchanging

One of my family’s rather unique traditions is that we have always put our Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve.  This may not be all that unique – to hear my mother tell it, back in the old days everyone used to do it – but I also don’t know anyone else who does it.  The whole Christmas tree thing is really important to my mom, so I don’t question it.

Doing it so late allows us to wait to pick out a tree in the first place.  This is not conducive to having a wide selection of trees, but hey, it was nice back when I was in college because I could still go with the family to pick it out.  My sister lives in Boston, so the trip now gets put on hold until she gets home.

The three of us usually go out without my dad, because it’s not something he ever really concerned himself with; his family always had an artificial tree and put it up much earlier, so it wasn’t a big deal to him.  However, with him being in and out of the hospital three times in the last two-plus months, and twice in December, he’s been doing a whole lot of nothing all day, and I told him he was coming this year.

My sister arrived the other morning, as I already wrote about.  We had planned to go tree shopping yesterday, but I refused to do so when it was 68 degrees and raining.  There was literally no way I was going to buy a Christmas tree in early May-type weather.

It was a little colder today, but still raining, so we pushed the trip back as long as we could.  We finally had to bite the bullet and go; my mom had to be at work at 4:00, so it was now or never, raining or not.

Now, lots of families have hot-button topics or sore subjects that always lead to screaming and yelling.  Sometimes it’s that someone doesn’t like someone else’s spouse.  Sometimes there’s a relative’s arrest or a history of alcohol and drug abuse that ruins the atmosphere as soon as it comes up.  For my family, it’s Christmas tree shopping.

It boils down to a simple fact: every year, I walk around the lot(s) and identify suitable Christmas trees.  My sister, on the other hand, identifies Christmas bushes.  I’m right around six feet tall, and I always pick trees taller than me.  She has never once in her life picked out a tree taller than her; considering she currently stands at a little over five feet tall and stopped growing like 12 years ago, this is a problem.

A Christmas tree is supposed to be, among other things, majestic.  In your entire life, have you ever walked around a garden and thought, “my, what a majestic shrub?”  No, you haven’t.  My sister sucks at picking out trees.

I think it stretches back to when we were super young and the biggest fight was over who got to put the star on top of the tree.  I don’t ever recall doing it, and I feel like my mother always did it, but I do know it used to make my sister upset when she didn’t do it.  My best guess is that she got it into her head that if the tree was small, like her, she could put the star on it and reach the upper branches when hanging lights and ornaments on it.  Ever since the invention of the step-stool back in like 1594 (don’t quote me on that), however, this has been a stupid reason to pick a tree.

Every year she goes right to a four-foot high shrub, and immediately I begin mocking both her and the “tree.”  You’d think she would know by now, but she never learns.  She also never gets her tree picked, but at the same time, neither do I.  I’m always told that my choices are too tall, or the wrong kind, or some other nonsense my mother makes up to keep me from being able to gloat.

Well, this year, I came prepared.  I found a good tree that I liked, and presented it to the family.  I immediately pointed out that while it looked too tall now, we could cut six inches off the bottom, where there were no branches anyway, and maybe pare down a couple of the branches at the top to make sure they didn’t scrap the ceiling and left room for the star.

Maybe it was the quality of the tree.  Maybe it was the unassailable logic.  Maybe it was the rain.  Regardless, we drove away not long after with the tree tied to the roof of my car.  I won.

It might seem like small potatoes, and it might sound incredibly stupid.  It is, and it is.  But at the same time, we’ll actually have a Christmas tree, with actual room underneath for gifts and decorations.  You just don’t have that with a Christmas bush.

That makes us all winners, really.

Here Comes Santa Claus

I think we should move Christmas back a month, to January 25.

I know, I know.  Hear me out.

I already told you that snow makes me feel the Christmas spirit a little more than, I don’t know, RAIN AND TEMPERATURES IN THE 60s JUST A FEW DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS.  Who doesn’t like snowflakes on Christmas?  Al Qaeda, that’s who.

Where I live (and really, that’s all that matters to me in this case), we get more snow in January than in December.  Ergo, January is more suited to Christmas than December.

Holiday timing as it stands now is too bunched together.  This year, Thanksgiving and Christmas are less than four weeks apart; granted, that 27 days is the shortest time possible, but even when Thanksgiving is as early as it can be, it’s only 34 days between big, heavy-preparation-required meals and traveling headaches and oh, man, my family?  Again?

Push it back a month and you get some space.  Wouldn’t you rather have two months between major holidays?  More time to recover from all that turkey you ate!  More time to (legally*) listen to Christmas music!  More time to shop for presents!  Of course you would!  This is a fantastic idea.

*I firmly believe that anyone guilty of playing a Christmas song before Thanksgiving should be shot.

The biggest hurdle would be the religious one: if December 25 marks the birth of Christ, you can’t celebrate Christmas a month later.  True.  BUT, if you want to break up the two parts of the holiday – the religious observance of the birth of Jesus and the commercial observance of “holy crap, gifts!” – you can celebrate them separately.  The line is blurred as it is; let’s just make a clean break.  Failing that, the Catholic Church could (be financially enticed to) claim that we’ve been looking at our calendars all wrong, and we’ve been off by a month for two thousand years.

Then, of course, you have the school schedule.  Well, I’m 30, so I don’t really care about the school schedule anymore.  Start and end the school year a little later – say, the end and beginning of summer – and you can fudge it however you like to allow the new Christmas break to be roughly the middle of the school year.  Who would be opposed to that?  Put your hands down, Al Qaeda!  Yeesh.

Look, it’s far-fetched, but couldn’t you use a little more time between Thanksgiving and Christmas?  Don’t you want snow on the ground on Christmas morning?

January.  It’s the way to go.

From Me to You

Many people engage in a “Yankee Swap” gift exchange with their friends around the holidays.  My family does something in that vein, but I had a new idea for what to do this year, and I’ll share it with you as well.  Consider it my gift.  It’s probably not original, but then again, most gifts you’ll get at Christmas aren’t unique anyway.

First, make sure everyone who attends the party brings a wrapped gift that has a predetermined cost.  You can make it $10 or $20 or whatever seems appropriate for your group.  For the sake of this example, we’ll say there are eight people in the game, which means there will be eight gifts available.  You’ll also need a pair of dice.

Everyone sits or stands around a table with the gifts piled up in the center.  Someone starts with the dice – pick this person however you like – and rolls.  The dice will move clockwise around the circle.  When a player rolls doubles, they select a gift from the center of the table.  Their participation in this round is now over.  Make a note of what order the players draw gifts in; you could make a note of the order on a sheet of paper, or you can all shift your places around the table.

Once all the gifts are claimed (the last person to roll doubles will be left without a choice of gift), the swapping and stealing round begins.  The person who claimed their gift first opens it.  The person to their left then rolls the dice, again moving clockwise around the table, ending with the person who just opened a gift.  If a player rolls doubles, they may swap their gift – depending on how many times you’ve gone around the table, it could be opened or unopened – with any other gift on the table.  Once the person who just opened their gift has rolled, the round is over.

Then, the next person in line – the second person to claim a gift in the opening round – opens their gift, and you repeat the process.  In the final round, the last player to claim a gift will open their gift last, and be the last to roll for a final swap.  This allows that player to have the advantage of having the most information when making their final choice; a small consolation for being the last person left in the opening round.

Once all the gifts are opened and everyone has rolled the dice, the game is over and everyone either enjoys their gifts or rues the day they agreed to this stupid game.

You can make some easy modifications to the game if you’d like.  One change would be to allow players in the swapping rounds to only swap their gift for the one specific gift that was opened that round, i.e. each gift in the example would be at risk just eight times, and once that round is over, the person who holds it can’t have it taken from them.  A follow-up to this variation would also be to force a player who rolls doubles to swap the gift whether they want to or not; this is for the particularly spiteful among you.

I would also throw in the wrinkle of adding an extra gift to the pot, provided by the host or the person who suggested playing the game.  That way, even the last person has a choice of gifts, and then during the later swap rounds, if there’s nothing open that you like, you can still swap an unopened gift and add some mystery and intrigue.

I haven’t tries this yet, so I have no idea how it would go, but the element of chance certainly mitigates (somewhat) the inevitable occurrence of one gift being passed around the entire table and everyone fighting over it.

Then again, it’s not the holidays without a fight or two, so hey, whatever floats your boat.

Let It Snow

I’m in my extra-late 20s (I’m making that phrase happen, I don’t care what anyone says) but I’m not afraid to admit it: the other night, when they were calling for snow in the morning, I was legitimately excited.

When you’re little, snow is awesome.  It means no school.  It means playing outside in it.  It means everything looks pretty and serene and it’s the best.  When you’re an adult, it means dangerous driving conditions and shoveling and cleaning off your car and worrying about that shaky power line in front of the house.

But you know what?  Even when you’re an adult, sometimes snow means no work.  And yesterday, I had a snow day.  What did I do?  Absolutely nothing.  And it was grand.

Normally, I can work from home if I’m sick or need to go to an appointment or something, but the project I was working on required me to be at my desk with equipment that is in the office.  And when said office was closed, oh well, I’m sleeping in.

The time of year helps, too.  I’m not a big “Christmas spirit” guy, but there are two things that make me feel like it’s Christmastime.  The first, obviously, is snow.  If there’s snow on the ground in December, it’s so much different than snow in January.  January is cold and dark and cold.  February is colder and somehow, despite the days technically getting slightly longer, even darker.  December is cold and dark, but with the promise of the upcoming holidays to warm you up.  And if there’s snow on the ground when you go shopping, and on the trees at the Christmas tree lot when you’re picking one out for the living room, all the better.

The second things, oddly enough, is the hustle and bustle at the stores the few days before Christmas.  I know, I know, it’s become a commercial holiday, etc. etc.  But nothing screams “it’s Christmastime” to me more than going to the mall and seeing the mobs of people wrapping up their shopping (or, in some cases, beginning their shopping).  I’m not usually a last-minute shopper, but sometimes I save a couple things to pick up on the 23rd or 24th, just to feel like I’m a part of it.

(It’s weird in my head.  You should know this by now.)

So yeah.  Christmas is two weeks away, and I think I may be a little more ready for it than usual.  Then again, if it’s 50 degrees and raining on Christmas Day, just forget I said anything.