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. 🙂

 

Let’s Talk Christmas Music!

Let’s talk Christmas music!

For me, celebrating Christmas is all about the music. The day after Thanksgiving is when we officially start doing Christmas: music, trees, decorations.. An explosion of color and lights happen at our house. It truly is The Happiest Season of All.

When I was a kid there were several Christmas albums my parents played every year that just became part of the traditional backdrop for Christmas. I mean, it really wasn’t Christmas if we didn’t get to hear those albums. I carried on the tradition when I left home and now my children will hopefully think that, it’s really not Christmas unless we hear this music… That’s my hope anyway.

All the albums I’m going to talk about can be found on Youtube if you are just curious about them…

So, to start off we have  “Carpenters Christmas Portrait”. I would say my favorite song is “Merry Christmas Darling”. If I have to choose a favorite. Honestly though, I just love the whole album.

220px-ChristmasportraitGOOD

Next on the list we have “Christmas Album with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass”. And my all time favorite from this album is “The Bell that Couldn’t Jingle”.

Christmas_Album_(Herb_Alpert_album)

Of course we have the classic “Bing Crosby White Christmas” album. I think my favorite from this album is Silver Bells.

bingcrosby

This next album didn’t join our family till I was a teen but it stuck. It is Take Six “He is Christmas”. Take Six is just fun. I love “Little Drummer Boy” and of course the awesome rendition of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” which becomes “Twas Da Nite”.

He_Is_Christmas

We did have some more classical type music thrown in. Of course, every year we have to listen to Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”. As a kid I loved to dance around the living room, pretending I was a ballerina. Now as an adult I love watching my kids do the exact same thing.

nutcracker

We also have to add A Mormon Tabernacle Choir “Christmas” with the amazing choir singing the older, less known carols like “Pat-a-pan” and “Fum Fum Fum” (which when we were kids my brother and I thought they were singing “bought it at the five and twenty, fum, fum, fum!”) (that’s not what they were singing) (it’s actually “On December 5 and 20, Fum, fum, fum) (I’m still not sure what the Fum fum fum means) (but it sounds fun) 🙂 ….

I don’t have any pics for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir because I listened to several different albums and I can’t remember which ones. They’re all good!

My children have added on new music to the family tradition. We now listen to a lot of Piano Guys Christmas songs, and a lot of Trans Siberian Orchestra Christmas. Which I love!  Incidentally, my parents are taking three of my teens to the Tran Siberian Orchestra Christmas Concert this weekend. I am so excited for them. Andy and I went to one of their concerts several years ago and I was over-the-top euphoric. Classical meets rock. It is the perfect fit for me.

Well, those are my favorites. I’d love to hear about some of your favorite Christmas Albums,  maybe I can add something new to our yearly line-up!