Breaking with Tradition

With my brother on a Christmas sled

All holidays are seeped deep in tradition, none more so than the Christmas holidays. We from our earliest childhood memories have something that we associate with Christmas.  Most of us have wonderful memories of family, special meals and special gifts.  Others the memories aren’t so pleasant and the holiday was not the best of times.

In our family we had oyster stew and chili, we went to Grandma’s house and attended candlelight service at church.   All these years later, all these miles away we traditionally have the same meal and go to church and sing carols holding candles with cardboard drip catchers.   I haven’t been with my family for over 20 years. Geography and weather make it near impossible.    Christmas time is very much a family time.   If you are not near your family, Christmas is  a very low-key holiday, almost like every other day.  It isn’t like other holidays where friends and strangers gather to celebrate.  At Christmas time you gather with your family.

This year is going to be different.  If I can’t keep the holiday as my family traditions dictate, then I am going all out and breaking with tradition.  This year we are spending Christmas Eve with friends and their friends.  We are having a Mexican potluck, because it is easy and everyone likes it.  Not because anyone in this group has a lick of Hispanic heritage.  When we have ate our fill we will gather round the table to play some friendly poker.  Before we head home after these festivities  we will head to church to celebrate the birth of Christ caroling by candlelight.    (Ok, I am keeping one tradition in all of this.)  Christmas morning will be spent at home just the two of us sipping hot cocoa and exchanging gifts.  We will heading to brunch at a friend’s house, bringing our contribution of pancake mix and syrup.   With our tummies full we will then head out to make a stop a couple of other friend’s homes and wish them a merry holiday, and possibly take in an afternoon ski. Christmas Day dinner we are going to our neighbor’s mother’s home, with my famous pies in tow.     On top of this all I have promised my friend who had her last chemo treatment this week and just plain did not feel like Christmas, that we will do Christmas in July, tree and all.  (I have visions of us out camping in July in our vintage trailers with our aluminum tree in some campground whooping it up)

As I write this I bet my Grandma Virtue, who just loved Christmas is wondering what happened to me.  Most of the Virtue side of my family are all pretty big Christmas extravaganza folks.   I, who used to make dozens of Christmas cookies and mail them around the US to friends and family, did not make a one this year.    I am sure my Grandma from heaven above  is wondering where my Virtue genes are in my house without a tree.    I have no answer for her, but I am breaking with tradition this year and surrounding myself with friends who are like family, and basking in the blessing they are.   Merry Christmas to all!

A Place to Celebrate the Winter Solstice

The first day of winters is of my favorite days, because it is the start of days getting longer.   It is the knowledge that winter, though there are likely 3 or 4 months of winter left, the sun will shine more a few minutes every day.  Not only will the days get longer but the sun get warmer as it moves higher in the sky.

I try to each year celebrate the winter solstice in a fitting manner.   A special meal, a special prayer of recognition of the the start of the season, and some sort of special activity.  This year I did something I had not done before, I spent it at a cabin in a Forest Service cabin on the Montana Idaho border in the middle of the Chief Joseph x-country ski trails.

This  “ski hut” that is the central hub for the local cross country ski trails.   It is in great shape contrary to so many federal recreation sites as a result of the partnership with a local x-country ski club who volunteers many hours.   Volunteers may sign up to be a hut host for a day. As a host you keep the fire burning and plenty of hot water on the stove.  It is where skiers may stop in to warm up and have a hot drink. In exchange for you host duties you get to stay overnight for free in hut.   It was a great place to spend that longest night of the year.

A Gift of Love – Homemade Goodies

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is to receive the gift of homemade candy.  I know that making and giving holiday confections is an act of love.   It takes time, lots of it.   It is expensive, groceries have never been cheap, but they have sky-rocketed in the last few years.   It takes perfect weather, no candy making unless it is a sunny day.

For many years my grandma would send me a box of candy, including her world-famous soft, white, fluffy divinity.  Friends from work would go to the post office with me to pick it up just for a piece of that divinity.

My grandmother is gone now, but my Aunt continues on in the tradition; divinity nut rolls, turtles, Fannie May fudge, maple creams and more.  She has just posted on Facebook when  she finished.  Like mother like daughter she has a list of takers for her tasty treasures.  Lucky me I am on the good list.

Thanks to my dear Aunt and my Uncle for being her trusty assistant for including me on your candy list.  The only problem is my husband expects me to share.  He only married in to this family 30 years ago.   I don’t think that qualifies a 50.50 share do you?

Perfect Mix of Christmas Music – Personal Playlist

This week one of things I have been doing has been putting together a couple of playlists of Christmas music.  One very traditional and mostly instrumental.  The second playlist is vocal an includes many I want to sing along with.  It is one of those things that the computer is a perfect tool for.

Over the years I have purchased Christmas music on LPs and CDs.  Some for the great assortment of artists and songs and a few because there was just one or two songs on it I could not live without.   The down swing on all this is that if there was one song on your LP you hated, there was no good way to avoid it short of going over to your stereo record player lifting up the needle and put it down in that shiny black grove that told you it was the beginning of a new song. CDs are better in that they have a skip key,but no matter what you still have to make the skip happen.

Playlists are a computer option weather you use Windows Media, iTunes or one  of the half-dozen other options.  It is exactly as it sounds, a list of things to play.  This great option allows me to pick and choose what Christmas songs I want to include in a playlist.  You can create as many as you need to suit your mood or your method.  You can arrange them just so to make it perfect from your point of view.

The other great thing to do when making your playlist it to cherry pick and fill in your play list with those missing favorites.  I don’t need or want any more Christmas albums.  I am missing a few classics sung by who is suppose to sing them.  Solve that problem I head off to Amazon, you can do iTunes if you’d rather, and buy a song or two. It like the days old and buying 45’s at the local Ben Franklin.   I got Blue Christmas by Elvis, Happy Xmas by Yoko Ono & John Lennon,  and Christmas Time Is Here by Sarah McLaughlin.  They helped to round out my playlist for this year, and I have a few more that I have on my wish list yet to buy.

Lastly I  have been putting my playlists on my MP3 player and a CD for my rig when am on the road.   So this Christmas I will be surrounded by holiday music I love.  Don’t you just love technology?


It seems that there is so much to do in so few days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I find myself hurrying for one task to the next this year and not enjoying any of them.   We all have long lists of things to do during the holidays.   The list is made up of strange combination of things…things we want to do, things we feel obligated to do, things we feel guilty if we don’t do, things that are tradition, things that we thing some expects us to do and it goes on and on.

If you make a list of all you want to do  and then classify the chores you will likely find many things have more than one check.    But I suspect that the list will also have quite a few things that you don’t check off as “want to do(WTD)” items.    I looked at those items that were not WTD and asked myself what would happen if I didn’t do them?  Would anyone besides me know that I hadn’t done them?  Almost universally the answer was no one would notice or care.  I say axe those off the list.  I also looked at some things and said this month, this year is there another way I can take care of this?  Amazingly yes.  Volunteering at the food bank is nice in December, but in January many of those volunteers are done for the year.  I can volunteer after the holiday when the charity isn’t so overwhelming.  So there were a few things that could easily be reassigned after the holidays.    A few more things off my holiday season list.

Now my list is much shorter, but I am sure it is still too long for the time I have   But with a shorter list and  the only WTD things on my  I am hoping I will take at least a couple of  minutes on each of those tasks and bask in the joy of the holiday.   I hope you too will enjoy the holiday and won’t get lost in all the things we think we need to do.

The Pulls of the Holidays

The holidays are a busy time and they pull us in many directions with our time, our emotions, and even our personal economics.

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s day we find ourselves planning  major meals, one, two, three.   If you host the meal it is not only the planning of what you will make but also getting your guests to bring the right combination of dishes to round out the meal.   We also worry about how to seat the people we have invited.  I used to always rent hall tables and chairs, that made it easier for me. Some of us also struggle with making our family and then the in-laws side on a single day.  Others of us struggle geographically to be with family who are great distances away.

Gift giving that goes with the holidays is another pull.   Gift giving is very emotional as we want to give something that the receiver will enjoy receiving.  Sometimes this isn’t as easy as it sounds.   If you live a great distance away from your family most of the year then knowing what they want isn’t as easy as remembering you dad saying a new socket set would be nice when he was working on the lawn mower, or hearing your mom say that her friend just got a nice new fleece jacket.  That distance generally results you asking for a Christmas list.    Those lists have been edited if we give or receive the list based on what you think is the right price point for that person.

In the best of economic times the holidays stress everyone’s budget if you have one or not.   We spend extra money at the grocery helping to buy the ingredients for things we only buy once a year.  Those dishes we make only once a year require  ingredients we don’t stock in our pantry.   We buy gifts for friends and family. Even if you make your gifts, you must purchase the supplies to do so.    These seasonal expenses  makes us work to balance out those bills we must pay every month.

No matter how carefully we plan, the holidays will pull us in many directions.