christmases of yore

i recently read that christmas in the late 1800s was like a mixture of christmas, new year’s, halloween, and a little bit july 4. there was a lot more getting out and being merry, as it were, than there is these days. less caroling door-to-door. less revelry. more sitting at home stuck in our tiny universe.

there has been a kind of resurgence, somewhat, with krampus runs and santa pub crawls, and of course each little town has some sort of winter celebration. you go out and visit santa, mingle with others when cutting your christmas tree, go to the company christmas party. but i feel like it’s pretty disjointed.

think halloween: we know what happens on halloween in every town across america. something like that but for christmas, and for everyone, would be awesome. maybe it IS caroling. or christmas night shenanigans – maybe instead of going door to door getting candy, you go door to door and give christmas cookies. while drinking a spiked hot chocolate from a beer stein. hmm. 

i don’t know why i’m getting twitchy about christmas lately; i love christmas and i love tradition, but when it’s the same thing for the past 37 years, maybe i’m getting an itch for something a little more interesting. i’m not going to my parents’ house for the first time ever. it’ll be different for sure, but something adventurous would be nice ๐Ÿ™‚

a modest christmas proposal

i really enjoy giving christmas presents. all year it’s like a treasure hunt, finding the combination of likes (or funny dislikes) that present themselves in present form (heh). 

when jane suggested drawing for names for presents, i was like “boring!” 

then i was listening to the latest “this american life” on christmas and how the mystery of christmas is what we try to recreate every year, and we just … miss. our gift lists, the same thing every year. there’s really no mystery besides what exactly is under the wrapping paper.

now, believe me, i am BIG on tradition. no doubt. i love it. and i love giving gifts. but i realizes that when it came down to it, i miss the magic and hope of christmas more than i would miss finding the right gift, or even the tradition of christmas. 

so i’m listening to TAL via podcast and my mind is just going over and over – how do you recreate the magic and hope of christmas as an adult? TAL did it as an improv show, since there are no real plans for improv. but i was struck by a different thought. 

ChristmasMagic_Book_Spread_two1what if, every year, my siblings and i pooled the money we would spend on christmas and placed our collective trust in one sibling that christmas to come up with a surprise present. it could be a physical present; it could be a trip to somewhere; maybe it’s a jaunt to the cities for the holiday parade stuff they have going on; a night in a hotel and dinner at a fancy restaurant; going to chicago for a holiday thing; driving up north for snow when there isn’t any down here; or maybe it’s traveling to the fancy-pants part of rochester or st paul to view the christmas lights. maybe there would be a cap – $100 per person (nate and i would be two people; charlie one) or what you can afford. more if you so choose. it would require some planning on one person’s part, but it would be once every 4 (or 6?) years that you’d have to think about it. possibly something big could come out of it – two people go in together to plan for a two-christmas present.

and it would ideally happen as close to christmas as possible. it would be the best on christmas day itself. the only thing the gifter would need to tell people is when this is and how long (in case work days are needed off). 

this needs some fine tuning, and it would be a big paradigm shift, but the thought of it is exciting. maybe the magic could come back.

i'm dreaming of a white boxing day


tonight the world turned suddenly white after an on-again off-again relationship between this winter and snow. according to the old farmers’ almanac, this winter is supposed to be as snowy as last year, but won’t start until almost january (true so far??). now we’re supposed to at least stay below freezing, so any snow we do get will most likely stay on the ground.

snow is so deceptive. it looks so nice and clean, so pure. it keeps the world crisp during wintertime by covering up the drab brown. but then you step outside, and your breath can be taken away by the cold. the most unfortunate thing about snow is that it goes hand in hand with the cold. 

so at least it looks better outside than it did, and we’re supposed to get 1-3″ of snow by 9 a.m. tomorrow. there’s about that much outside now, and the snow is forecast to keep coming down at least until 10 a.m. there will be a lot more than 3″ is my bet. better a late white christmas in the season than no white christmas season at all (all you naysayers aren’t realizing the 12 days of christmas come AFTER christmas).

merry christmas

Dear Editor,
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, โ€œIf you see it in The Sun, itโ€™s so.โ€

Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia Oโ€™Hanlon


Virginia, your little friends are wrong.

They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be menโ€™s or childrenโ€™s, are little.

In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.

There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.

The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but thatโ€™s no proof that they are not there.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. You tear apart the babyโ€™s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart.

Only faith, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

night divine no longer

As an adult, what is the closest you’ve come to recapturing the awe and wonder of childhood christmases?

quite frankly, i don’t think you can. nothing i’ve experienced as an adult can match what i felt at three years old waiting for santa. the closest thing at christmas time was listening to choir lady in spicer sing “o holy night.”

christmas this year is weird. liz and doug are going to spicer to be with doug’s fam over christmas, so last weekend we had a weird mini christmas where we exchanged gifts with them. tonight it’ll be my parents, jane, and me. charlie gets done with work at 8 p.m., and i’m not sure what nate’s going to do. church is at 11, so it’s probable that charlie will go to church, but it still leaves out a contingent.

add in that it’s already weird because we don’t go to church in new london-spicer anymore. no more choir singing “o holy night.” awe and wonder out the window.

i guess things change and you deal with them. 

merry christmas all y’all. 

a tree's life

Michigan Christman tree farm

in austin, my family owned a farm. it wasn’t a working farm, and for a long time, i didn’t know what to call it – not a hobby farm, but not just a large piece of land. we had a barn and a big garage, a field and a pasture. sometimes we had people rent the pasture land and horses cavorted among the oaks and down by the creek that wound its way over the acreage. 

eventually i realized and told everyone i grew up on a tree farm. 

the 20 acres close to our house was littered with large oaks, old apple trees, and many many acres of conifers. my dad was partial to blue spruce with their light-blue hue, and long-needled norway pines lined the ditch along the edge of our property. 

springtime brought the UPS man with boxes of wispy bare-root trees that went into the earth we cut open with shovels. they grew a little each year, the new growth bright neon green against the dark green needles. 

as they grew, they each took on characteristics of their name. short needled trees took longer to grow, and if we didn’t cut back the long-needled norways, they grew like weeds into leggy, branchy trees whose trunks you stayed away from unless you wanted a hand full of sap.

springtime also brought birds to the lines of trees along the other side of our property. because the trees were short enough for someone to peer into, we walked along the treeline to see if anyone had made a nest. more than once we found blue robins’ eggs in a tidy little nest. we never touched.

summertimes were glorious – playing hide and seek was a task if we hid among the rows of trees instead of behind the large deciduous trees. most times we had to define boundaries so we wouldn’t be searching all afternoon. 

but come christmas, that was when we truly earned the title of tree farm. after thanksgiving, we opened up our driveway to people to come cut their own tree. my dad painted a large sign that he screwed to our fence post down at the end of our driveway so anyone driving the county road could see. it could have been the size of a door, was painted white with a large green tree on it, with TREES in red. 

they came up our driveway, grabbed a saw, found their tree, and pulled it back. at this point, we brought out the measuring pole (it, too, was painted white with lines at the 4′, 5′, 6′, 7′, and 8′ marks. we charged more for short-needled trees (remember they take longer to grow). then finally the tree would be tied onto a car roof or thrown in the back of a pickup, and off for christmas it would go. it was exciting.

now the farm and its trees have been left to grow. no more trees are planted in the springtime, and no more people drive in during the weeks leading up to christmas to cut their own. the land is almost unrecognizable, the pines that i remember planting already so tall i couldn’t even begin to guess their actual height. instead of trekking out to the backyard to pick a tree for christmas, i drive to someone else’s tree farm and pick one out. from wispy to wondrous.

o christmas tree, how lovely are your branches.

christmas movie update


well, christmas movie viewing season is in full swing. i ended up delaying a little bit, and now i’m slashing a couple so i can get them all in on time. whoops!

elf – watched this right after thanksgiving, and it was great. i love the end of this one!!

rudolph went down with a hitch – great bouncing icebergs!

the santa clause – i like judy.

home alone – i like the old guy killer.

national lampoon christmas vacation – i rented this one with charlie so he could say he’s seen it. funny as always!

love actually – looooove this one!! the jamie/aurelia story is my favorite. 

die hard was great. “now i have a machine gun. ho ho ho.” 

bad santa – ok, i just watched this because it was on netflix. first time for it. wasn’t that impressed, but it might have something to do with the fact that i can’t decide if billy bob thornton is good looking or ugly. i can’t decide what parts he should be playing….

jane and i watched the claymation special , which was shorter than i thought it was. “here we come a waffling!”

watched muppet christmas carol tonight, which is always a fun. 

tomorrow is charlie brown christmas and maybe it’s a wonderful life. i have stuff going on tuesday night and then wednesday is christmas eve, so the time is now!

the only new movies this year were bad santa and the claymation special, which wasn’t as awesome as i remember, but it was fun to watch. ๐Ÿ™‚

undeniable proof

a repost from almost 10 years ago about christmas!

when i was 2-1/2 years old, my family (consisting of my mom, dad, and myself) went to kathleen and georgeโ€™s house for christmas eve. when i got older and my family got bigger, we started to host christmas eve at our house. but until i was about 4, we went there for christmas eve.

they opened their presents that night instead of christmas morning, so there was frantic gift unwrapping and sighs of gratitude from all. then there was a buzz circulating the room about santa claus. is he coming? my 2-year-old self was a firm believer in santa claus.

oh, how i hoped he would show up. oh, how i hoped i would meet him and see what he looked like so i could ask about his reindeer and mrs. claus. oh i hoped i hoped i hoped. so i sat on colettieโ€™s lap and waited and watched, mostly the fireplace because it was widely known that santa came down the chimney.

then i heard sleighbells jingling through the kitchen from the porch. my attention swiftly diverted from the chimney to the door where i could glance through the window to the porch.

a flash of red!

the door to the outside was closing as i whipped through the kitchen door to the porch. i had missed him.

but in his wake was a pink and blue big wheel. ecstasy!

a few minutes later my uncle george came through the front door, rubbing his hands together and shedding his coat, explaining that he had seen reindeer tracks and had santa come? and oh boy! a big wheel!

and i was a believer. oh to have that feeling again.

o christmas tree

yesterday, i dragged charlie out to help me get a christmas tree. the last time nate helped with that was in 2007, so it was really nice to have someone else help with this process. nate hates christmas. but not really. nate hates retail at christmas.

anyway, getting off topic.

i have specific criteria for a tree, as cha can attest. it needs to have enough room in the branches for me to hang stuff on the inside of the tree without it bunching up. full on the bottom and can be sparse on the top. i think we found a good one!

IMG_2353bonus ralf under the tree.


goodwill toward all

in the great blog migration, i lost a post i wrote about celebrating christmas. i remember it being quite good, and i’m going to try to revisit it.

christmastime. the word conjures visions of early mornings and wrapping paper, christmas trees and manger scenes, stockings, flutters of hope, and long-standing traditions. the manger scene is what most will tell you is central – the meaning of the season. belief in the divine humanity of jesus.

what about those who don’t believe in the divineness of jesus? who think jesus was pretty cool, but don’t necessarily think he was son of god? the population of people raised on christianity but leaving it behind – atheism, agnosticism, secularism, non-religious – is increasing in the US. this means there is a group of people out there who have celebrated christmas their entire lives, and over time they decide christianity is not for them. do they stop celebrating christmas?

some do. i would wager that most don’t. on top of that, there are non-christian religious who do celebrate christmas (some jewish people do). personally, i think it’s easy to embrace the christmas spirit without believing in the divinity of jesus.

there are a lot of elements to christmas besides the nativity, many of which are religious in nature, many of which are not. symbols aside, one of the biggest parts of this season is family history and tradition behind it. christmas is something a person celebrates every year, and mostly the same way. sure, there are new family dynamics and refined gifting tastes, but ultimately, the bones of christmas remain. this is a difficult thing to suddenly renounce, especially with a long holiday season such as christmas, which we probably spend more time entrenched in that all other holidays combined. how do you say goodbye to something you have been celebrating all your life?

you don’t. in fact, a lot of christmas spirit can be spread without the divinity of jesus and just by being a simple person trying to be good and empathetic in the world. happiness, family, gift giving, caring for others, joy, goodwill to all, peace on earth, hope – none need the divine to be spread as far as christmas cheer can reach.

and that’s what it’s all about, right? even the nativity story is about family, giving, happiness, joy, peace, hope. so while some may scoff at christmas as a religious holiday, it is so much more, and there’s no reason that everyone can’t partake. in turn, it would be nice to accept non-christians and non-religious celebrating christmas without skeptical looks and questions as to why they would celebrate the season.

because what WOULD jesus do? divine or not, he would open his door, hand you a cup of hot chocolate, and invite you to sing christmas carols ’round the tree.

happy christmas.