Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Two Little Girls at the Top of the Stairs

Our traditions have changed over the years. We used to go to my grandparents house Christmas day until they passed away. We still open gifts one at a time going in order from youngest to oldest. Stockings are always unloaded first. One unofficial tradition that has gone away with growing up is the morning routine my sister and I used to have.

Like most children I hardly slept Christmas Eve. I even told myself the sooner I go to sleep the sooner it’ll be Christmas morning. It never worked. My sister and would be up no later than 6am. My parents are naturally early risers but 6am Christmas morning was too early even for them. The rule was set that we were not allowed to go wake them up until 7am (or possibly 6:30? You get the idea) Christmas morning. We were not allowed to even venture downstairs to look at our presents until our parents were up.

Early Christmas morning my sister and I started our routine; we’d sit at the top of the stairs and wait until we could wake up our parents. We would ponder what Santa brought us and watch clocks intently until they stuck the appropriate time. We were always polite when we could finally wake up our parents. I don’t remember ever running into the room and bouncing on the bed like you see in commercials. We knew to knock, incessantly, until we’d hear the familiar sound of my dad being wakened out of a sound sleep (think of a drowsy sort of yelp as if someone had jumped out and said “boo!”). We’d then, politely, scream “It’s Christmas! It’s time to wake up!” We always got along on these mornings. It’s one of my fondest memories of Christmas; early Christmas morning sitting with my big sister at the top of the stairs brimming with anticipation to see what Santa brought us.

Once my parents were awake we still couldn’t go downstairs yet. We had to wait until they told us it was ok. My mother needed her. My dad needed to get his camera ready so he could get our Christmas morning reactions. There are dozens of pictures of me and my sister in our pajamas with huge grins on our faces at the bottom of the stairs. Looking back I’m glad he captured those images. They always make me smile. At the time, we didn’t appreciate it. We’d been waiting what seemed ages to open our presents and had to wait just a little bit longer. It was agonizing but so worth it.

Things have changed as we’ve grown up. I’ve discovered the joys of sleeping in on your day off. The concept of being up at 6:30 or 7 on a day when I don’t have to be at work just seems silly. Nowadays days I’m the one woken Christmas morning by my sister pounding on my door going “It’s Christmas! It’s time to wake up!” (At least the dialog is still the same.) I come downstairs and my sister and brother-in-law are already showered and dress. They have to scurry off to her in-laws right after we finish opening presents. I am the one that insists people need to wait until I get my coffee (again some things don’t change they just transfer to another generation). Once we’re all seated we’ll go through our stockings together and open presents one at a time like always. The holiday may have lost some of the whimsy it had when I was a kid but I’ll never forget those mornings sitting with my big sister at the top of the stairs.

Merry Christmas everyone! May you enjoy the traditions you have now and cherish the ones that have gone with the passage of time.

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Pass the Present

My family has a lot of Christmas traditions.  But, if I had to select one, I’d have to tell you about something my father’s been doing for as long as I can remember.  No matter what else happens, and what other traditions bend and change from year to year, one thing has remained constant.

Christmas morning, picture it:

My sister and I wrapped in our duvets, usually with a dog or two sitting with us on the couch.  Staring intently at the tree, lit up, gorgeous and buried with presents.  Now, my father begins his tradition. It starts with the explanation, which we can all recite by heart.

“We will do gifts one at a time. I’ll hand them out and then everyone can watch everyone else open all of their presents.”

As he passes out presents, in order at first, then, by the end of the morning, just whichever one he grabs.  He follows our instructions: “Give mom that one!” “Natalie needs this one next!” and reads each tag aloud then we all watch with rapt attention as the recipient opens his or her present, makes their oohs and ahhs and thanks.  Then, we start the cycle again.

By the end of the morning, several hours later, we’re surrounded by gifts, and crumpled and torn paper and boxes.  For all the reasons Christmas can be stressful and nerve-wracking, the morning of, with my family, makes up for all of it.

Merry Christmas!

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Our (Changing) Family Traditions

Amanda and I (Samantha) are sharing this post today. We figured this only makes sense since we grew up with the same traditions. Also, there will not be a post on Friday because of Christmas Eve.

Samantha:

The longest running tradition in our family started at my very first Christmas in 1978.  A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mom realized that she wanted to get me a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament. Those of you who follow Hallmark ornaments know about the hundreds of different ornaments that they come out with every year. However, back in the late 70s, this wasn’t the case. There were only a few ornament that mom could choose from. They were four inch balls with a plastic picture wrapped around it.  While by today’s standards, it was a little lame, I still love it because it was my first one.

The next year, Mom got another ornament for me, and this tradition continued. When Amanda came along, Mom started buying her ornaments as well. At some point in the early 1980s, Hallmark switched over to figurine style ornaments, and then it all went crazy.  Mom was great at picking out ornaments that reflected what was going on in our lives at that time.  I have a small mouse which is using his hat as a parachute. It was called “Hang In There.” This was especially poignant since I was really struggling academically that fall. Hallmark also has series, which are great and horrible at the same time. In 1991, I received an adorable puppy hanging on a candy cane. It was the first in a series of dogs in various Christmas situations.  Fast forward to last week – I just received number 20 in the series. And it’s not done yet. I love them all, but seriously? I feel obligated to get them so I can have them all.

Anyway, this tradition ended this year with Amanda’s 30th Christmas (Amanda’s interjection: holy crap! My 30th Christmas?!?!?). Our tree over the years has been full of very personal ornaments that bring back great memories. I’ll miss the ornaments, but unless we wanted to invest in a 10 foot tree, I think it’s a good time to end this great tradition.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together

Image by djwudi via Flickr

Another tradition that started at some point in the early 1980s was the choice of music to which we would the decorate the Christmas tree.  Somewhere a long the line, my parents bought the cassette tape of John Denver and the Muppets – A Christmas Together. Before long, that was the only music we could listen to while decorating the tree.  It even got to the point that Amanda and I would not allow anyone to listen to it until we had decorated the tree.  To this day, if I’m listening to the radio and one of those songs come on, I’ll change the station if we haven’t decorated the tree yet (Amanda: Me too!).

Amanda:

The last Christmas tradition our family observed occurred on Christmas Eve. Every year, we were able to open one present on Christmas Eve, and every year it was a pair of pajamas. As we progressed in age, we went from footie pajamas to satin pajamas. It was great as we were growing up because we always grew out of our pajamas from the previous year. Alas, both Samantha and I stopped growing far sooner than we had hoped (Samantha Interjection: Seriously!), and after that, the pajamas started piling up. We decided to end that tradition a couple of years ago.

Christmas continues to morph for me. A few years before we got married, my husband and I bought a place and moved in together. Our first Christmas together was interesting as we tried to blend our traditions. Fortunately, most of my traditions came from tree decorating to Christmas Eve while his were focused on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Darren comes from a fairly traditional Italian family. He’s the third generation off the boat, and the Italian traditions remain strong in his family. I was a bit taken aback our first Christmas Eve together where we went out for a huge Italian meal. First there was the antipasti, then the main course, and then coffee and dessert back at his parents’ house.  Keep in mind, dessert isn’t just a pie and some cookies. Most years, there’s at least one dessert per person. Growing up, Christmas Eve dinners were usually light, quick and easy. Sometimes we’d make pizza, other times it might be breakfast. The rest of the evening was spent watching Christmas movies.

In the last few years, Darren and I have hosted Christmas Eve dinner at our place. In the Italian tradition, no meat is to be eaten on Christmas Eve. Instead, we celebrate the Feast of the 7 Fishes. I don’t think we’ve quite hit 7 separate fish yet, but we usually average about 5. Back when Darren’s dad was growing up, after midnight, out would come the sausages, chicken, veal and other meats that had been prohibited earlier in the day. For better or for worse, we haven’t gotten to that level yet. I enjoy hosting dinner for my husband’s family. I feel it’s our contribution toward keeping their traditions alive.

I’m sure over the years we’ll continue to navigate blending our traditions, and coming up with new ones once we decide to have kids. At some point, I’ll have to start retiring some of my ornaments from my childhood to make room on the tree for the new ones my kids will get on tree-decorating-day.  I’m sure they’ll like all the good food on Christmas Eve and then getting into their new jammies and crawling into bed to wait for Santa Claus. I just hope they prefer the carols of the Muppets over something from their time, because it’s just not Christmas without the Muppets (Samantha Interjection: Amen!).

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

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The finish line…keeps moving

I finished.  I crossed the finish line and walked away breathless with my victory.  In a race I run every year, a race against myself and my generous intentions, I usually emerge victorious. 

This is the race of Christmas knitting. 

Every year in (roughly) August, I make a list (much like another “Nick”) of friends and family upon whom I will inflict bestow knitted items as a holiday gift.  The list is invariably ambitiously long and filled with complex and time-consuming projects.  In my defense, I tend to begin the projects immediately after jotting down the list.  This year, socks, scarves and hats have dropped quickly from my needles.  There were moments recently when the end seemed far away, and then, all of a sudden, I found myself last week, finishing my final Christmas project. 

Two weeks early!  Absolutely unprecedented.  This year is going down in the annals of holiday knitting victories.  When they tell of it to future generations of knitters who will marvel at the tale of one woman’s trials and tribulations, her unflinching dedication in the face of nearly insurmountable obstacles, and her ultimate triumph.  There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

This is not to say that I have tamed this particular beast every year.  There was the year that my father received the meticulously wrapped front of a sweater (no sleeves, no back: for all intents and purposes, an apron), which, in my defense was finished and in his hands by July the following year.  There was also the year that my sister got a ball of yarn, to be turned into a scarf or something.  You see, even though I had failed, I didn’t want my loved ones to feel that I hadn’t thought of them.  In retrospect, the message they probably received was more along the lines of, “I love you, but not enough to set aside an appropriate amount of time in which to complete a gift,”  or, “sorry, I had a party to go to.”

But I stand before you today having accomplished the goals I set for myself this year.  Also, I stand before you with a list of three more projects I might be able to squeeze in before the holiday.

After all, it’s no fun if you aren’t sweating it out just a little.

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Black Friday has Arrived

Black Friday (1940 film)

Image via Wikipedia

So, did you wake up early this morning and hit the stores? Were you at Sears at 7am? How about Target or Macy’s at 4am? Kohl‘s at 3am? If not, then you obviously aren’t in the holiday spirit! What kind of Scrooge are you?

Personally, I avoid the malls from this point on.  The over-commercialization of what should be a wonderful holiday just make me cranky.  I do the majority of my in-store Christmas shopping in November and then have a fairly strict no mall policy from this point on. I end up doing the majority of my shopping in December online. It makes sense – most of my gifts go across country at this point, so I can have things shipped directly to them, saving me a trip to the post office later on this month.

I didn’t always used to feel this way. My family would get up and be there when the store opened (back when opening at 8am was really early!) I remember one year in particular when my dad was recovering from hip surgery. We took advantage of his disabled parking permit, wheeled him around the mall in his wheelchair, and piled our packages on him as we purchased our gifts! It was really kind of fun.

I think it was the Christmas in 2000 that I discovered the beauty of shopping on the Internet! I was hooked. What did I ever do before Amazon.com? It is by far my favorite shopping site. I can get books, music, and movies, sure, but I also get my dog supplies there, dishes for my household, and variety of other things. It’s amazing. And, with free shipping over $25, there’s no reason not to use them!

So as we descend into the shopping frenzy that is December, I avoid the malls, mute the commercials on TV, and try to find gifts for my family and friends that truly show how I feel about them. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

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It slices! It dices! It does your laundry!

I think it’s generally understood and accepted that we live in a consumer culture.  We’re constantly bombarded with imagery that in one glance tells us that our lives are somehow lacking because we don’t own THE essential item.  We’re not yet whole because we don’t have the most up-to-date electronics or the most fashionable home furnishings. 

This time of year, the commercials, catalogs and store circulars come fast and furious.   I tend to ignore (or TRY to ignore) this assault on my senses and sales resistance.  So, while this week I’m meant to be dealing in shopping tips and tricks, you won’t find that in this post. 

I love buying gifts for the people I love.  I really love finding a special gift that lets a person know that I put a lot of thought and love into selecting something they would like, or at least find useful.  I love making gifts tailored to the tastes of my family and friends.  But, I do not love holiday shopping because it has so very little to do with any of these things. 

Holiday shopping has become such a high-pressure, fast-paced, take-no-prisoners atmosphere that it drains the holiday season of all those wonderful warm feelings people are supposed to be having.  Instead of holiday cheer, we have stampedes of customers trampling others in the pursuit of a toy for a five-year-old (who probably couldn’t care less).  Instead of goodwill toward men, we have lines of angry customers waiting at the mall.  Instead of peace on earth, we have tension headaches.

So, in a season of so much emphatic gift-buying and so little time spent with those we love (because we’re so busy buying things for them), perhaps we should shift our focus.  Maybe we shouldn’t be spending ourselves into debt.  Maybe we should be spending our time with loved ones instead.  

Life is, after all, short.  And, while I’m sure there are a few people who look back at the end of it and think, “If only I’d had that Play Station, my life would have been perfect.”  The majority probably wish they’d had more time to share with the people they love, more laughter with friends and more cozy dinners with family.  Why don’t we ever try to give each other these things?

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In Memoriam: Thanksgiving

Am I the only person that remembers the quaint holiday of Thanksgiving? You might recall that it’s the day most people have off from work between Halloween and Christmas. The one that doesn’t require presents or costumes?….Still doesn’t jog your memory? Ummm….it’s the day before Black Friday? Remember? …There it is! I knew you’d get it.

I feel increasingly bad for Thanksgiving (you may recall from a previous post that I have an issue with actualizing inanimate objects and concepts). Ever since people started stringing up lights and going all out in decorating for Halloween, Thanksgiving has increasingly gotten the shaft. I guess it just can’t compete with the costumes and candy of Halloween or the presents and lights of Christmas.

In my mind, Thanksgiving is the ideal holiday. It’s one of the few left that hasn’t been overly commercialized. You don’t have to worry about presents or spiffing up the house with decorations. You don’t have kids ringing your doorbell all night looking for candy. Unless you’re the one cooking the dinner, all you really have to do is show up somewhere, eat, drink and be merry. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Then there are the leftovers….pumpkin pie for breakfast, turkey sandwich for lunch and a second go around of turkey and all the fixings for dinner. Excellent.

I also think that Thanksgiving is a holiday where people are the most real. No one’s trying to fake that they really like that ugly sweater they just received and no one feels forced to go to a religious service. Thanksgiving gives us a time to relax with one another, catch up, maybe watch some football or play a pickup game. In any case, of all the holidays, I think Thanksgiving is most about togetherness (yes, I’m sure many of you have Thanksgiving horror stories and I’m probably being overly simplistic and naïve, but I’m feeling sentimental and warm-hearted toward Thanksgiving right now so just work with me here).

Poor Thanksgiving. No one appreciates it anymore. Everyone is just rushing to get to Christmas. I’ve even heard some stores (Sears, I think?) that will be open on Thanksgiving Day. Really? Is it too much to ask to have one day where Christmas and the need to shop and buy the perfect gift is not shoved down our throats? Well I am not jumping on that bandwagon! I plan to give Thanksgiving its proper due. Until the day after Thanksgiving, I will scoff at people who already have their houses decorated for Christmas; scowl at the Macy’s Christmas windows and tree on my way to work; mute the TV commercials advertising Christmas specials; and shake my fist at those festive red Starbucks cups. After Thanksgiving, I’ll be as jolly as a fat elf drunk on eggnog, but not a moment before. Long Live Thanksgiving!

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