Have Yourself a Very Hygge Christmas

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The other day “hygge” was my Word of the Day and I loved it. I thought, This is My word. A word I can get behind.  Then the next day, I saw this picture with the definition again. And suddenly it seems that I’m seeing it everywhere.  And I love it. It fits into the lifestyle that I try to have, noticing the small things and realizing that the small things are actually the big things.

 

Right now, as I sit in my chair I can look out a window and see the early sun slanting in on my neighbor’s house, and just seeing that sliver of sunlight makes me happy. It gives me a feeling of hygge. 

 

Sitting at the breakfast table this past Sunday morning with twelve children all gathered together, everyone chatting happily to each other. Hygge. 

 

Walking through the house last night, right before bed, turning off lights, checking locks on doors…I stopped and noticed all of our stockings hung on the mantle, waiting for Christmas morning. Hygge. 

 

Today I will spend the day baking a humongous pan of cinnamon rolls and a quadruple recipe of pumpkin bread. I’ll get various children to help me and the house will soon smell like a bakery, the smell of cinnamon and warm bread filling the air. Hygge. 

 

Tonight my husband and I will stay up till the wee hours wrapping presents and putting them under the tree. When we are finally done, we will sit on the couch in the dark, maybe with a hot cup of tea, and admire the twinkling lights of the tree and all the surprises waiting underneath. We’ll grin as we imagine the excitement of the kids in the morning when they see all these presents waiting. Hygge.

 

Tonight also, per tradition, all the kids will gather in one bedroom, snuggle in their blankets, and one of the older children will read aloud the book, “The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever”. The younger children will fall asleep halfway through the book, the older ones will squirm around, wishing that morning would hurry up and come. The anticipation will be thick in the air as one by one they drop off to sleep. Hygge. 

 

Life is so rich if you can just stop and take notice. May your Christmas be one that is full of hygge as you pause and enjoy the small moments that are all around you. 

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Surprise!

Well, we’ve had a lot going on at our house since I last wrote. Two days ago I suddenly acquired a sibling group of three more children into my family. Six days before Christmas.  

 

Surprise! 

 

First, let me say that I am very humbled that God and all the powers that be were willing to entrust me with these children. Second, it’s absolutely terrifying. You want me to do what??? I have spent a lot of time on my face before God (mentally, because I’ve been too busy running around doing everything that has to be done), and he has showed up in a very big way. 

 

The first night we had the kids, I couldn’t sleep. My brain was too busy making lists of everything we needed to get these kids settled in AND have Christmas ready for the WHOLE household. I finally gave up on sleeping and moved into the living room, got the fire going in the fireplace, snuggled up on the couch and just let my brain do it’s thing. As I finished making up my lists I told God that I needed him to Provide in a really BIG, EXTRAVAGANT way. 

 

Twenty four hours later, almost everything on the list has been checked off. 

 

And how did God achieve this? Well, he used my family and friends and church. As I have reached out to ask for prayer and tell people what is going on, the overwhelming response has been, yes, we will pray…what can we physically do for you? And I have been able to resist the urge to think, I can do this, I don’t want to bother people asking for help, and instead I’ve been able to say, This is what I need…thank you for helping. 

 

And this is what Christmas is all about. Jesus came to earth as a baby, he paid the price for our sin and he has given us all that we need so that we can learn to be like him. The God of love. Love God, love each other. Not just mushy sentimental love, but physical, something you can touch, love. What are your physical needs? Let me help you. 

 

I am just at the beginning of this wild ride and would appreciate prayer for our family as we walk this new road. 

 

Life is full of surprises. 

 

I hate you…Merry Christmas!

So, I’ve decided every holiday season needs at least one blog to point out the underbelly of Season’s Greetings. Today is the day of the Heneise Family Christmas Party. If you didn’t get an invitation, consider yourself invited and come on over. I love this tradition. One of my girls asked me, rather annoyed because she is having to do a lot of cleaning today…Why do we always have a Christmas Party??? I said it’s because Christmas is about family, and since we don’t have a lot of family living close by, our friends are our family. And this is an opportunity to get together with them at least once during the Christmas Season. 

 

She harrumphed. 

 

If you can’t tell, attitudes haven’t been the best today. My kids love having a party, but they hate getting ready for a party. It involves cleaning, and deep cleaning, and decluttering, and picking up things that we usually ignore. Wiping down surfaces we usually leave for later. Then there is also the maintenance of the Said Cleaning. I JUST VACUUMED THAT COUCH!! GET OFF IT!!! 

 

The kids, already feeling put upon for having to clean, are taking it out on each other. I hate you! You’re stupid! I wish you weren’t here! And other horrible things that I don’t allow my children to say to each other, have been said today. I have had some rather uncomplimentary thoughts about some of my children as well, though at least I managed to keep it to myself. 

 

My husband told me yesterday that he was going to devote the whole day today to helping me get ready. I envisioned him washing some dishes and running a vacuum. This morning he announced he was going to clean the basement (???) and fix the two holes in my floors that have needed repairing for months. 

 

Ok.

 

Not exactly what I had in mind. 

 

But, the holes did need fixing, and apparently cleaning the basement was tied into fixing holes in the floor.

 

Ok. Give me a minute to readjust my expectations. 

 

Now, in a couple hours, people will start showing up and we’ll forget about cleaning the house and we’ll settle in to just having fun with friends. MERRY CHRISTMAS! PEACE ON EARTH! 

 

So, are we all raging hypocrites? Hateful one minute, sweet and nice the next? Or maybe being hypocritical is just part of human nature.  A human nature that we all need to be saved from. A human nature that was completely lost in it’s sinfulness and yet Jesus decided to give us value to the point that he was willing to come to earth and make the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be saved from this sinful human nature. 

Christmas…Emmanuel…God with us. 

 

I have believed in Jesus, decided to follow him. My sins are forgiven. But I still have this sinful human nature. I will spend my whole life learning how to be more like Jesus. Sometimes I’ll do really well. Like today! The meanest thing I said was, YOU GUYS STINK AT CLEANING! Which is mild compared to some of the verbiage that was being slung around. But then, there are days where I completely step out of grace and wallow in my sinful nature. 

 

So, really, I hate you…Merry Christmas… is completely appropriate for this time of year.  I hate you: I’m not the best person. I say and do bad things. Merry Christmas: that’s why Jesus came! We can devote an entire month to celebrate that we have a Savior now who wants to rescue us from ourselves. 

 

Let’s Just Skip the Guilt

December is here, and for me that means full-blown Christmas Celebrating. We put up the tree after Thanksgiving, pull all the decorations out, and when we’re done it looks like an explosion of red and green, silver and gold. On December 1st we start doing Advent Readings. Not really a traditional advent. We have a collection of readings on the attributes of God. Each night we read Bible verses about how God is our Rock, our bridegroom, the Desire of All Nations…And we have a little tray on which we put a tangible object to remind us of each of these names. Like a fancy rock, a ring, a silver coin. And then, after we’ve done our Bible readings, I pull out a treat like rock candy, or lifesavers (a ring) or gold wrapped chocolate coins. It is one of our favorite Christmas traditions. We also have a yearly Christmas party where we invite a ton of people to come and eat goodies and just catch up with each other. Add on various recitals and concerts that the kids are in, and a Christmas Eve tradition of making Gingerbread houses, and that about rounds out our Christmas Holidays.

 

When one of my kids asked me, Mom, is Santa Coming? I was a little stunned. Santa? It has long been our tradition to teach our kids about the historical Saint Nicholas and explain where the legend of Santa came from, but then tell our kids that we focus on Christmas being a Celebration of Jesus’ birth. The question threw me off. Have I failed? Have I somehow forgotten to put emphasis on the story of Jesus and so my kids have just latched on to what the culture around them is talking about? 

 

As I paused to think this over, I tuned into the Christmas music we had playing in the background. Almost all the songs were about Jingle Bells, and Santa, and Winter Days. Not a whole lot about the Birth. I looked over at the piano. My Christmas Favorites Book was open and I had been fooling around with some Jazzy arrangements of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” . Yikes. Suddenly everything felt very secular and my guilt-o-meter started ticking. 

 

And then, a quiet voice said, So do something about it!  Oh. Ok. I guess we could pull out some of our Bible Christmas Books and read through those. I can play my jazzy Christmas songs, but I can also pull out some of the old favorite carols. I can continue to remind my kids that Christmas is a Celebration of Jesus coming to earth. And instead of focusing on what gifts we’re going to get, I could get my kids working on some giving instead. Like making cookies for our neighbors, writing cards for their teachers, giving presents to friends. It’s never too late to change the focus. 

 

This is my normal pattern. I see a problem and I instantly get caught up in guilt and everything feels horrible and the world is going to end because I messed up. When really, most things just need a small fix. Ok. Here’s a problem. Let’s fix it. There is nothing wrong with all the trappings of Christmas. I love the lights and trees and gifts. I just don’t want that to be the main focus of our holidays. So, I can take steps to change the focus. 

 

So, here’s to having grace for myself. When I notice that things aren’t going the way I want them to, instead of getting all caught up in guilt and anxiety and anger…I can just make a change. Turn the direction back the way I want it and skip all the self-hate drama. 

May our holidays be filled with grace and peace! 

 

Not Aiming for Perfection

Today I saw a light-hearted comment on FB. Someone was wondering why a character in a very popular book series was not treated with more kindness, even though he was a mean person.  I was a little puzzled. From my limited knowledge of the book, it seemed that it would have been stepping out of character for the people in the book to treat the man with kindness. They weren’t kind because that didn’t line up with their temperament.  

 

I was puzzling over this in my head as I began the day. Today was going to be Decorate the House for Christmas Day. This is supposed to be a happy day. Family united. Everyone buoyant with good cheer. 

 

The day started off cheerfully enough. The two year old had climbed into our bed sometime around 4 am and he woke up later with a big smile on his face. The happiness lasted about twenty minutes and then things went downhill quickly. He didn’t want to get dressed even though the house is chilly and he was walking around in a diaper. He didn’t want to eat breakfast. Even though I was letting the kids eat leftover pie for breakfast. Eggs, toast, oatmeal, and fruit were also suggested, but he didn’t want any of that either. Then he became clingy and didn’t want me to put him down. For about two hours. The six year old did not wake up with a smile. She woke up whining. And then quickly got into a fight with her older sister. The boys had a friend over who had spent the night and the energy in the house was on HIGH. I was very quickly losing my patience. And feeling guilty about it. Leave it to kids to kill the mood. 

 

At the same time I was thinking about that FB post and then I had my Light Bulb Moment. Why on earth am I expecting my children to act like perfect little angels? That’s not what they are. They are human. They have a sin nature. They get irritated and tired. We’ve already had two days of holiday, everyone gets tired of celebrating after a while, plus we’ve had sickness going through the house. In fact, why was I expecting myself to be perfect? I also am human and have lots of flaws. Being perfect has never been on my list of abilities. I was in effect expecting a certain outcome from people who were incapable of producing that outcome. 

 

I have continued to come back to that little light bulb throughout the day. Like when I’m expecting my husband to be enthusiastic about Christmas Decorating and throw himself into it gungho. Yeah. Decorating is a lot more my thing than his. And he was tired today, his mind on a lot of other things. 

 

Then, when my son announced that he had just spilled all my leftover turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes out of the fridge and onto the floor (the leftovers we were going to have for supper tonight)…and I felt a ball of rage boiling up, followed by a ball of guilt for getting so upset over an accident…I remembered that I was human. Having your supper thrown on the floor is upsetting. It’s ok that I got angry. And it was a really good time to take a quick trip to the store and just get a little space from the situation. And by the time I got back from the store I was calm again and had mostly forgotten the incident. 

 

The day has turned out pleasant. The house got decorated. Christmas music played nonstop. Everyone enjoyed the new cozy atmosphere. Yes, we had fights and arguments to sort out. Lots of messes and accidents. Absolutely nothing perfect about the day. But it was good. 

 

As the Christmas season kicks into high gear, this is my goal. To remember that we are not aiming for perfection, that’s not who we are. We are aiming to be quick to forgive, count to ten when it’s necessary, get up and leave the house if needed, but above all, have grace for each other as we live our imperfect lives. 

 

Charity with Dignity

Last Christmas I ran into a rather awkward situation. I received a note from my Kindergartner’s teacher telling me that I should go pick up my child’s Angel Tree Gift at such and such a place on such and such a date. Angel Tree Gift? What? I didn’t sign up for that! I studied the paper very carefully and after looking at some websites, and talking to my daughter, I figured out that my daughter’s teacher had signed her up for an Angel Tree Gift that was hosted in my neighborhood. (For those of you that don’t know, the way Angel Tree Gifts work, is a child’s name is on an ornament and someone picks that ornament and then buys them Christmas presents, it’s for kids who probably aren’t going to get presents without some outside help.)

Well. That was embarrassing. We are not rich. We’re not even really well-off. But, we make enough to buy our children Christmas presents. I didn’t know what to do except go pick up the gift at the appointed time. 

 

I looked up the address and found out that the gift pick-up place was at a small house only a couple blocks away from us. I had driven by that house every day when I took my kids to school and I had always been curious about it. It looked like a regular home, with a wrought iron fence around it, but at different times of the year it would have signs hanging on the fence. “Come Inside to Get Signed Up for Healthcare” or “Register to Vote Here”. I would occasionally see a group of young college-age people entering the house, name tags attached to their Business-Casual clothing. Whatever the place was, it seemed like a positive addition to our neighborhood. 

 

The day arrived to go pick up the gift and my insides were roiling. I hate having to do something brand new that I’ve never done before where I have no idea what’s going to happen. It stresses me out. I had been cleaning house and had on an old pair of sweatpants and old faded sweater. It was a busy, rushed day, and without thinking, I just drove over in what I was wearing. It wasn’t until I was leaving my car that I realized I was completely dressed for the part of Poor Person Seeking Aid. Great.

 

Figuring out where to park had been a bit confusing, but I saw that I could approach the house from the back alley and find a place for my over-sized van. I sat in my car, assessing the situation. Is anyone else coming? Is it the right time? What door should I go to? I sat there until I saw another family approaching the house. Aha. Safety in numbers. I got out of the van and walked carefully behind them. It was a latino family, two women and a handful of small children. They were murmuring quietly to each other in Spanish. They glanced my way and I gave a shy smile. They looked as uncertain as I was. 

 

As we approached the door, their courage seemed to give out and they hung back. I guessed I better lead the way. I stepped around them and hesitantly stepped up to the front door. Before I could knock, the door swung open and a tall black man stood there, big smile on his face. Come on in! Come on in! I gave my polite smile and stepped around him and found myself in the living room of the house. The only furniture was a couple desks and chairs. The rest of the room was full of boxes and bags. There were quite a few people present. A woman sitting behind a desk had a large clipboard with pages of names on it. Someone was talking to her, giving her the name of their child. Ok. So, this what we do? Go give our name to that lady? I decided it was as good a place as any to start. I got in line and waited my turn. 

 

When it was my turn, the lady, an older black woman, dressed in a modest skirt and blouse, the kind of woman who looked like she ran the Sunday School Program at her church, looked up and gave me a pleasant smile. What’s the name of your child? I gave her the name and she started searching through her lists. She searched and searched. I was starting to get really nervous. Good grief. They told me I was supposed to come here, and now they don’t even have my name on the list. How embarrassing. I wished very much that I could just leave. Like right now. The lady looked up, What school does she go to? I told her. She flipped some more pages. HERE it is! SHe looked up and briskly called out a number to a young man who was waiting nearby. She pointed at an unoccupied space and told me to stand there. I went and stood out of the way, and a minute or two later a young man approached me, confirmed the name of my child, and handed me a large garbage bag. I thanked him and then glanced around me. Can I leave now? Is that it? I watched another woman take her garbage bag of gifts and walk out the door. Ok. I guess we just leave now. 

 

I headed towards the door, but just before I got there, an older man approached me. He looked like a businessman. Black hair with silver streaks. He walked up to me and put out his hand, looked me straight in the eye, shook my hand firmly, and said Merry Christmas! The firm handshake felt comforting. The eye contact was a relief. I gave my first genuine smile since I had got there. Thank you. Merry Christmas. I walked out the door. Glad that was over, but happy. The man’s crisp Merry Christmas somehow redeemed the whole awkward situation. 

 

I am sharing this story with you this holiday season because I know a lot of you make an effort to reach out to your community during the holidays. Something about Christmas brings out the philanthropist in all of us. I would just like to give you a glimpse of how the other side might be feeling and encourage you to find ways to treat the people you are helping with dignity. 

 

Sometimes Cleaning Involves Making a Mess

Today there has been a festive note in the air. Thanksgiving is coming next week, and then we launch full-blast into Christmas. And, my son is coming home tonight after being away at school since August. YAY!!! 

 

With all the approaching festivities, my cleaning bug finally kicked in. Our house was a big ol’ mess. I had the kids help me clean up Friday night, but the problem is we had pockets of clutter all over the place. So, while everything was picked up off the floor, the room still felt a mess. So, today we tackled the clutter. I put two kids on the job of fixing our bookshelves. In order to do that they had to take all the randomly piled books off the shelf so they could organize them all neatly. In the process they also found some movies, toys and papers that didn’t belong on the shelf. 

 

I assigned another child the hall closet. He had to pull everything that had been stuffed in there and make a giant pile on the floor. Then from that pile he could hang up all the coats, put all the gloves, scarves and hats in a box, line up the boots, and put the duffel bags of snow pants back up on the shelf.

 

I cleaned out the Random Drawer that had all our coloring papers, school papers, playdough, puzzles, school supplies, and a bunch of other random kid things. (It’s a big drawer.) In order to clean it out I had to make all kinds of piles on my dining room table in order to sort everything out. 

 

Sometime in the middle of all this cleaning, my husband came in from some errands he had been running. The house looked worse than when he had left. I quickly defended myself. We ARE cleaning. It just doesn’t look like it. We’re going to have to make some messes before it all gets clean. He understood. 

 

Today I also decided it was time to start potty training our youngest. It’s way past time, I’ve just been procrastinating. So, I bought a bag of M&Ms and asked him if he wanted some in exchange for sitting on his potty. Of course! He sat and peed for me. And so far has stayed dry and peed five times in the potty! I’m super excited. But, I know that we have some accidents coming in the very near future. It’s part of the package deal. Some of our kids have potty trained in as fast as a week, and some have taken a year. But all of them had accidents. It’s part of the transition from changing dirty diapers to having clean dry underwear. 

 

One other thing I did today was commissioned my fourteen year old to paint me a Christmas Painting to hang on my mantel for the holidays. She got out her sketch pad and started sketching out some ideas. She showed me one, rough lines outlining the little drummer boy. It was a messy sketch, but I could see what she was drawing. It looked great. I knew that eventually she would turn it into a beautiful picture. 

 

Of course, you’ve probably got the point by now…It has occurred to me this evening, that in order to clean something, or accomplish a goal, you usually have to go through a messy stage where you are making progress, but it doesn’t look like it. 

 

It gives me some hope. I am dealing with some personal shortcomings that have me really discouraged. I have been spending a lot of time recently just thinking about the problem. Trying to get to the root of why I can’t seem to ever overcome in this area. Spending some concentrated time just thinking about this has not been fun. It’s put me in a bad mood. It’s also helped dredge up some old stories from my past that I’ve not properly dealt with. It’s all been rather messy. But, here’s where the hope comes in. Right now it just looks like a mess, but it’s still forward progress. I’m closer to overcoming today than I was a week ago. Sometimes, in order to clean something up, you have to make a mess first. 

 

 

Post Christmas Blues

Holidays are strange things. The more you get hyped up about them, the lower you feel when they’re all over. Some article I read about emotional cycles said it was normal, if you have a big emotional high your emotions are going to swing low afterwards before they eventually even out again.

Christmas is a big high for me, an entire month of celebrating. Then Christmas night I feel that low feeling creeping in on me. What’s next? New Year. ugh. New Years for me is an odd mixture of disappointment as I look back at the past year and realize I didn’t accomplish half the goals I set out to accomplish, and then hope…maybe this next year will be better and I will finally make those positive changes to my life that I’ve been dreaming of for years.

Christmas night is also a good time to realize once again that: stuff doesn’t make us happy (as evidence, the kids still found something to fuss about); it’s really the people in our life that bring us joy (Christmas was fun because I was with my family); it’s more blessed to give than to receive (I think I had a lot more fun than my kids, just watching everyone open all the presents we got them); and in the end, we all need Jesus (as I felt the low encroaching on me, it was Jesus, not my new stuff or even my family that could calm my spirit and bring me peace again).

So, I”m going to end this with my cure for lowness. I’m going to be thankful. I am thankful that my husband and I had the resources to get our children gifts this year. I am thankful that my children put out effort on their own to get presents for each other. I am thankful my parents were able to come and spend time with us. I am thankful for my warm cozy house that has enough room for 10 kids. I am thankful for sparkly lights and candles and bright cheerful ornaments. I am thankful for my husband who worked alongside me Christmas Eve on all the last minute preparations even though he was burning up from a fever. And I am thankful for a grand big celebration of Jesus coming to earth. Thankful that he is Emmanuel, God with us. Thankful that Jesus is enough for my highs and my lows. Happy Post Christmas Everyone.

Tradition!

Traditions. Most everyone’s got them. I love the Christmas traditions that my husband and I have created for our family. They’re very different from the ones I had as a child. Unlike my children, when I was a kid I did not have Christmas Stockings. I was vaguely aware that other kids did stockings, but never thought much about it. Our family tradition, passed down from my English mother, was that you laid an empty pillow case at the end of your bed and in the morning it would be full of presents. I remember the joy of waking up, realizing it’s Christmas, and then spotting the bulging pillow case.

We had a set routine for Christmas morning. The night before, my brother and I would barter with our parents on the earliest time that we could get up. They always won and we could never get them to agree to any earlier than 7 am. My brother would then set an alarm for 6:30, wake up and then tiptoe into my room, shaking me awake, whispering, “IT’S CHRISTMAS!!” My eyes would pop open and I would look and see my bulging pillowcase. My brother had his with him. We would then quietly walk out to the Christmas tree, dragging our pillowcases with us. Under the tree there were some other presents, mostly for my parents, but maybe a big present or two with our names on it that wouldn’t fit in our pillowcase. We would set down our pillowcases and check the time. 6:33. We had to wait till 7 to wake up our parents. That last half hour seemed to last for about 2 years. Simon would go in the kitchen and put the water on to boil. My mom had a requirement that we had to bring her a hot cup of tea when we woke her up. So we put the water on to boil and by 6:45 the tea was made. Fifteen more minutes. We went and stared at the presents. Squeezing some, looking to see whose names were on the big ones, looking into our pillowcases with longing…..WHEN WOULD IT BE 7?????

Finally at 6:59 we would figure we’d waited long enough. Rushing down the hall we would fling open their bedroom door yelling MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!! IT’S CHRISTMAS!!! WAKE UP!!! HURRY UP!!! My dad would inevitably make some comment like, No, it’s not Christmas, you’ve got the wrong day, that’s tomorrow..NO!!!! GET UP, GET UP!!! My Mom would smile at our enthusiasm and tell us to wait for them in the living room. OK!! BUT HURRY!!

Several long minutes later my mom would come out in her robe and head straight to the kitchen to put the water on to boil again. I’m not sure why she asked us to bring her tea in bed because she was never satisfied with our luke-warm, weak, over-sugared tea and she would always discreetly pour it down the drain and make herself a fresh cup. More long minutes of waiting…AAAACKK!! Then my dad would make some comment like, I’m just going to shave and take a shower first.. And we would about fall over in a fit of impatience. NO DAD!!! JUST COME!!! Finally, a lifetime later, both our parents would be in the living room sitting on the couch and we could finally proceed. We would each take turns, my brother and I arguing over who got to go first. I would open my present, show everyone what it was, lots of exclamations from the family and then the next person would open one of their presents.

There were several traditions we did that were different from my other friends. My mom would always get a fruitcake or make a fruitcake. Fruitcakes, in my young opinion, were very disappointing things. They looked so pretty, so promising with all those bright colors, but every time I took a bite, it continued to taste like Yuck. My mom informed us that us not liking fruitcake just meant that she could have more. My mom would also make some kind of fancy fruit bread: yeast bread with nuts and raisins, shaped in some pretty way. One year she shaped the bread into a wreath and decorated it with hard candies which melted into sugar glass when she baked it.

The other tradition we did faithfully all through my growing up years was caroling. My dad would bring his guitar and my mom would have a hymn book or maybe photocopies of the most popular carols. We would usually try to invite other people along, but sometimes it was just our family. Usually we visited elderly people that my parents already knew. I loved climbing out of the car at night, feeling the strangeness of hearing the guitar strum out in someone’s yard or on their doorstep and the fun of singing. Usually we would end up going inside to say hello and we would end with a rousing, “We wish you a Merry Christmas, We Wish you a Merry Christmas, We Wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!” Then back to the car to head to the next destination.

You know, Christmas is about Jesus and I am all about keeping him in the center of the holiday, but it’s also a holiday. I think God is all for holidays. He certainly gave the ancient Jews plenty of celebrations and feasts to fill their year. I love the Christmas season. I love Christmas trees and stockings and presents. I love Christmas carols and the story of Jesus’ birth. Wise men, shepherds, angels. I love special food that only comes out once a year, and the feeling that everyone should be happy. I love how people reach out to be kind to others during this season. Angel tree gifts, filled stockings for children in need, Christmas parties. To me, it’s just all one big party, and I like to think that Jesus is sitting in the middle of all my blinking lights and tinsel and grinning at me while I happily write Christmas cards and wrap presents for my children.

Oh Christmas Stick, Oh Christmas Stick..

Christmas trees are one of my favorite parts of celebrating Christmas. Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving sees our family going and getting a live Christmas Tree and putting it up in our house. My husband is in charge of putting up the tree, putting on the star on top and doing the lights. After that I’m in charge of handing ornaments to the kids and letting them put them wherever and however they want. Later, after they’ve all gone to bed, I go to the tree and try to spread the ornaments out a bit better so they’re not all clumped together in one spot. Not that the ornaments stay where I put them. What with toddlers, preschoolers, kids throwing frisbees at the tree (on accident!), and the general inability of children to not touch shiny sparkly things, the ornaments get moved, dropped, picked up, and moved again. Over and over again. It’s a continual work in progress. Every year we lose a good handful of ornaments that just break from all the mishandling. I have developed a philosophical attitude about the whole thing, and just buy new sets of plastic shiny balls every year and try to hang my favorites or the most breakable ones way at the top of the tree where no one can reach. (We do tall trees.) (We have high ceilings.) (Why not?).

When I was a kid my Christmas Tree experiences were a lot different from my kids. Probably the combination of both my parents growing up in the tropics, being missionaries, and moving around a lot, the Christmas tree was not a sacred thing. We always decorated something. Just not necessarily a Christmas Tree. I remember when I was very little, in Haiti, my parents chopping down some kind of tropical bush/tree thing that had lots of little round leaves. That was our Christmas tree. Another year we decorated one of my mom’s indoor plants/bushes. Another year, when we were living in a trailer and planning on having company over the holidays, my mom declared that we simply did not have room for a tree. Instead we decorated one of her tapestry wall hangings that happened to be in a triangular shape. Other years we had an old fake tree that always looked a bit scraggly. The important thing though, was that we decorated something! We made things look festive and cheerful.

I carried this loose expectations of a Christmas Tree with me when I left home. When I was in college and Christmas time came around, I decided on the Christmas Stick. Yeah, I was going home for Christmas, but I was going to be in my dorm for almost all of December, that was several weeks of Christmas Cheer that I didn’t want to miss out on. So, dragging my roommate with me, we went in search of the perfect Christmas Stick (basically you need something with lots of little twigs on it). We decorated it with lots of laughter and it’s happy blinking lights made me smile as I pushed through finals.

 

biolastick

When I was 20 I went back to Haiti for four months. I lived with my old piano teacher and helped out wherever I was needed. One of the places I was needed was at the mission school that was set up for the children of the missionaries. The small school had a couple teachers, but they were stretched thin and so I stepped in to teach math and science to the two sixth graders. We had fun. Christmas time came along and I determined that we must decorate our little classroom for Christmas. I did not have any stores available to buy shiny lights and pretty ornaments, so we got really basic. We made paper chains out of red and green construction paper. Then, I introduced them to the tradition of the Christmas Stick. We went out on an expedition to find the best stick ever and then worked out a way to keep it standing upright. We decorated the tree with paper chains and then used string to tie on our “ornaments” which were pencils and rulers and a nice shiny cd for the star. I admit, it was rather homely, but it made us happy and made the classroom feel cheerful.

jerichostick

 

After I got married I got to join in my husband’s tradition which was to get a live Christmas Tree every year. Yay! I kind of forgot about the Christmas Stick tradition. Then, this year we had cousins come to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. One of the young cousins asked if we could make a Thankful Tree. I said sure! She went out and found some nice sticks, set them up in a coffee can and then cut out leaves. Everyone wrote down things they were thankful for on the leaves and then we tied them to the tree with string. It looked very cheerful and was a great way to remind our kids about being thankful. We set the tree up in the center of our table for the big meal and just left it there.

After the cousins had left, we slowly got into the swing of decorating the house for Christmas. I was idly standing by the table, looking at the Thankful Tree and thinking I needed to take it down, when something suddenly clicked. Christmas Stick! I got excited! After a quick trip to the Dollar Store, I had everything I needed, the tradition had been revived!

christmasstick

 

I have no idea why silly things like Christmas sticks make me so happy. I’m just wired that way I guess. My kids roll their eyes at me, my husband smiles and shakes his head. But, deep down, I think everyone loves my Christmas Stick. 🙂