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Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

It’s Christmas Eve!

In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.

The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!

Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.

Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.

As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.

It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.

We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.

the clown of god

This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.

jonathan toomey

The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.

The Other WIse Man

An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.

silver packages

The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.

small miracle

I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

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When our first child was a baby, 25 years ago, I had very specific ideas about Christmas that went along with my ideas about being a perfect mother.

From time to time when I was a child, my mother would suggest we should cut back on Christmas gift giving and concentrate instead on the true meaning of Christmas.  At which point we kids would raise a chorus of protests.  (Never happened, naturally.)

I thought to conquer materialism on the front end, by buying just a few well-chosen presents.  And that first year, it worked.  Between us and Santa, baby Emily received about $50 worth of well-chosen gifts.  My memories of that Christmas are idyllic:  Christmas dishes displayed in the china cabinet, Celtic Christmas music in the background, a baby in red velvet eating apple cinnamon bread, Midnight Mass, a day spent showing off Emily to adoring family members.

emily-christmas-baby

Of course it escalated from there.  And I didn’t count on extended family who didn’t want to get with the program.  Eventually several relatives who wanted the kids to get lots of presents but didn’t know what to buy them started sending me so much money I could hardly figure out how to spend it all, resulting in a veritable mountain of gifts under our tree each year.

That’s not to say that we ever left Christ out of Christmas. Presents were important, no doubt, but I don’t think our kids have ever forgotten the reason for the season.

The way we keep Advent has a lot to do with this, I think.  Two weeks before Christmas, the only signs of the season apparent are our Advent wreath and a few other candles here and there.  Our preparations build slowly–the other decorations will go up next weekend, probably, and the tree just a few days before Christmas.  We hold off on hosting any sort of gatherings until just a few days before Christmas or ideally even afterwards, waiting to start celebrating until the Guest of honor has arrived!

Religious decorations are given pride of place in our home.  Yes, we have Santas and trees, but my favorite Santa shows that he knows his proper place in the celebration.

christmas-santa

Christmas really begins for us on Christmas Eve, when we attend Mass as a family.  Not Midnight Mass, which doesn’t work for us at this point, but an evening Mass which we traditionally follow with a dinner out before coming home to one of my favorite Christmas rituals.

Every Christmas Eve, each child gets one present to open and it is always a Christmas book.  So the last thing the kids do before going to bed to talk and dream of Santa and presents is listen to me reading them Christmas stories, both the new ones and old favorites, most of which relate to the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Day is all presents and dinner and family and more presents, but one way we avoid having it turn into a materialistic free-for-all is that in our family presents are opened one at a time, youngest to oldest, until everyone finishes.  The kids are excited to see the happiness of the other members of the family upon opening gifts.  We do this in the morning and then we do it all again after dinner with the extended family–almost twenty people taking turns.  It takes HOURS.  It teaches patience.  And in the exchange of gifts and the love they represent we commemorate God’s gift of Christ to us, always recalling that God Himself is Love.

This post is part of the Siena Sisters’ CWBN Blog Hop.  You can read other posts by clicking here.

Siena Sisters

 

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christmas-window

No joke, y’all, I started seeing houses with their Christmas lights up just after Halloween.  Is it any wonder that there will be Christmas trees lying on the curb by Christmas night, tossed out by people who have celebrated themselves out before the guest of honor even arrived?

But the reality is, that’s the world we live in, and being all sanctimonious about it (IT’s NOT EVEN ADVENT YET!!) isn’t going to help.  We could shut ourselves away from the world and refuse to participate, but that’s not much fun, is it?  The Christmas concerts and television specials, the tree lightings, the pageants and parades–they will all be over after Christmas Day.

So how to reconcile what the world teaches with what the Church teaches?  How do we keep Advent when the world says it’s already Christmas?  (And how do we celebrate Christmas when the world says it’s over?  Perhaps I will post on that at the proper time!)

Our family participates in many treasured Christmas traditions in the community, even though they start in November.  We can’t control how the rest of the world celebrates.  But we can control HOW and WHAT our family celebrates this time of year.  Here’s what we do:

  • We remove the harvest/fall decorations, and leave the mantel bare except for candles.
  • We wait much longer than everyone else to decorate for Christmas, putting up most of our decorations ten days or so before and the tree only a few days before.
  • We play special Advent music.
  • We attend our parish’s annual Advent Workshop.
  • With varying degrees of success from year to year we have an Advent wreath, a Jesse Tree, and Advent Calendars.

advent wreath

If you are just getting started with the idea of keeping Advent, start small.  Pick one activity and make sure you do it every day.  Kicking yourself for not doing a better job of celebrating Advent is probably not productive.  Last year was a rough one for me in this area, so I am resolving now to be more intentional about Advent this year, even as we continue to take part in the early Christmas revelry around us.

I love Advent, and have written a lot of posts on the topic.  In addition to those I linked above, check out the links below for more:

Advent Memories

Tragedy and Traditions

Christmastime Is Here–Not!

This post is part of the the Siena Sisters Monthly Blog Hop.  This month’s theme is Keeping Advent, Advent.  You can read the rest of the entries here.

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Time to get real here, folks.  All last week I posted about Advent: Advent memories, Advent crafts, Advent Workshops, complete with Pinterest-ready graphics.  Yay me!

But the truth is, I’m failing at Advent this year, and it’s not the first time.

I wanted to buy all the Christmas gifts in November, so I could concentrate on Advent in December, but the stars (read money) did not align.  So I’ve got that hanging over my head.

While I managed to buy a chocolate calendar (not my preferred kind of calendar for Advent, but definitely Lorelei’s) we open it in spurts because we forget.

St. Nicholas came a day late.

We haven’t been able to locate the box containing the Jesse Tree ornaments and the Advent Wreath, which is probably just as well, since that would give me more things to feel guilty about not doing.

This was about three years ago when I had it so together I even had the right colors of candles!

Family commitments have meant we have already missed some of the Christmas events around town that we enjoy participating in at this time of year, and I foresee that this trend will continue.

The orange lights in the family room came down and white ones went up (thank you, Lorelei) but less-than-fresh mini-pumpkins and oddly-shaped gourds still festoon the mantel.

Do I need to mention the house is a mess, or could you have surmised that already?

I’m listening to my Spotify Advent playlists, so there’s that.

But otherwise, this is one of those years where “we observe Advent” is just a good excuse for why we are the only house on the block that isn’t already decorated for Christmas.

When this happens (yes, this is not the first time), I tell myself that there’s always next year.  But once you’ve reached that point in your life when you realize there are almost certainly fewer Advents ahead of you than there are behind you, doing it right takes on more urgency and “there’s always next year,” rings a little hollow.

 

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star boy and the virgin

Lorelei and William as Star Boy and the Virgin Mary at the Advent Workshop

Since it first launched in 2001, my family has attended the Signs of the Season Advent Workshop at our parish every year–even when Lorelei was only ten days old!  This annual event, founded and conducted by Dorothy Romines, has always been an integral part of our Christmas preparations.

This year, Dorothy and the parish CCD program joined forces and held the workshop on Sunday morning during class time.  Lorelei was one of the few non-CCD kids to attend, and she enjoyed it as always.

A few years ago I wrote an article for The East Tennessee Catholic about the workshop.  I’m sharing it in a revised form here.

Last month Dorothy Romines conducted her annual Advent workshop at Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville, sharing years of research about Advent customs around the world. But her interest in the subject began many decades ago.

As a young woman she attended Webster College in St. Louis, where her aunt was the mother superior and her sister was in the convent. She recalls the sisters celebrating St. Lucy’s feast on Dec. 13 by bringing hot chocolate and sweet rolls to the students’ rooms early in the morning, singing as they came, “like angels floating down the halls.”

Mrs. Romines shared the St. Lucy custom with her children, one boy and four girls. They had Advent calendars too, and she recalls making Nativity sets and O Antiphon decorations with them. Today her children carry on some of those customs with her 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. And after 28 years of teaching elementary school, Mrs. Romines now teaches the children—and adults—of Immaculate Conception Parish about Advent.

Mrs. Romines had been a member of IC off and on over the years, returning for good when she retired about 20 years ago. Five years later she had the idea of beginning an Advent workshop, “Signs of the Season,” for the children of the parish. The project started small, with $100 from the adult-faith-formation team. It quickly became one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year, with 50 or more people attending, including adults who enjoy learning about Advent and making crafts.

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Over the years Mrs. Romines has presented Advent customs ranging from the Mexican piñata and posada to the Polish oplatki (Christmas wafer). Participating children have made Nativity sets from a variety of materials, corn-husk angels and turnip candle holders from the Celtic tradition, a variety of Christmas tree ornaments, and always Advent wreaths.

Mrs. Romines provides handouts for home celebrations, including blessings and readings for use with the Advent wreath and Jesse tree ornaments to make at home. The event has also included dinner, singing, and some impromptu dramatic productions.

Lorelei participates in a play at last year's workshop

Lorelei participating in a play in the 2011 Worshop

Already planning for next year’s “Signs of the Season,” Mrs. Romines says she is pleased by the popularity of the workshop, which she puts on with the help of the Immaculate Conception women’s group and other helpers, including her great-niece Nora Connelly who has provided music, and her late brother George Willard, who documented the event with photographs.

“It’s something I love to do,” she said, citing the O Antiphons and the St. Lucy custom as favorites. “I love the sense of cooperation with the parish community, and I hope families will benefit by learning some Advent customs.”

Here’s a link to an article on the Workshop that appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2010 if you’d like to read more about it. 

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The following was written in Advent 2011 and posted at my friend Lacy’s blog.  That first post-fire Christmas still seems very close and this time of year still is a little painful for me.

Traditions.  We all have them.  Children demand them—“We did that last year—we have to do it again!” I was fortunate to grow up in a home where holiday traditions were carved in stone.  For 25 years I knew exactly where I would be and when and with whom on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Life intervened—divorce, marriages, kids, estrangements, death.  Even as my husband, five children, and I began to develop our own traditions, we always had to be a little more flexible—never knowing for sure who would host the Christmas dinner, or where we would gather with extended family to open presents.

When my oldest was only a baby I started a treasured Christmas Eve tradition of giving each child a Christmas book to unwrap and have read to them before bedtime.  Our collection of Christmas classics grew and grew, leading to additional Christmas story evenings, reading to the kids’ classes at school, even a Christmas bedtime story party for my youngest two and their classmates for several years.

Other favorite traditions centered around the decorations we collected over twenty-two years of marriage:  the nutcrackers which covered the piano, part of a collection originally started for my husband by my grandmother and continued in later years by my mother; my less-planned collections of Santas, including my favorite of Santa kneeling by the manger;  the crèche that belonged to my grandmother and then to my mother, still in its original box from a long defunct department store.

christmas santa

The kneeling Santa my sister gave me for Christmas 2011 to replace the one that was lost in the fire

Tragedy struck on Labor Day. Our house burned nearly to the ground.

The books are ashes. The piano is reduced to its metal innards. Here and there among the ruins you can spot a piece of some treasure, beyond repair. Fire doesn’t just destroy, it consumes.

fireman

Fireman nutcracker in the ruins

Several years ago our Christmas tree fell over right after we decorated it, crushing several irreplaceable ornaments, many of them heirlooms from my husband’s German grandfather. The children and I stood around the fallen tree and cried. Every year since as we hung the remaining and replacement ornaments we have remembered and missed the ones that were broken.

This loss is so much more immense that we haven’t even shed tears over it. To lose everything you own is indescribable. What will it be like this year, putting out new decorations in an unfamiliar house?  How will it feel not to hang any ornaments commemorating “our first Christmas together”—we had FIVE! or any “Baby’s First Christmas” balls or handmade (childmade) decorations that their makers looked sheepish about but continued to hang all the same?

We believe in celebrating Advent before we move on to Christmas, so we haven’t had to deal with decorating yet. We cling to the traditions we can, so we started the season by attending the Advent Workshop sponsored by our church, where we made an Advent wreath that we will light each evening as we listen to a special reading for the day.  We’ve begun to attend the holiday celebrations—the downtown tree lighting, the Fantasy of Trees—that we have gone to every year since we’ve had children.  The Christmas Parade, the Living Christmas Tree, the Nativity Pageant, and the Walk through Bethlehem will provide continuity with other Christmases.

At home we will put up new decorations. We’ve already collected quite a few –some from a Christmas thrift store, some from Target, many from family and friends.  The question of whether to try to replace missing items or do something altogether new is something we still don’t have an answer for—and that applies to other lost belongings, not just Christmas decorations. So far, it seems we know what we need to replace when the time comes. The nutcrackers, for example—they seem to be important to everyone and we’ve already bought a few, including two big ones to guard the front door.

We don’t really need decorations to remind us of the true spirit of Christmas this year anyway—we are surrounded by the proof that there really are people who “honor Christmas in [their] hearts and try to keep it all the year.” If Christmas is about love and giving, we’ve been experiencing it since the day our house burned, when the offers of assistance started pouring in, shortly followed by donations, clothing, toys, gift cards, and enough furniture to completely fill our new home.

We are planning a holiday open house the weekend before Christmas, so that all our family, friends, and even strangers who shared what they had with us can come celebrate with us and see how their generosity helped us make it through the past few months. Who knows?  Maybe it will become a tradition.

christmas house

Our new house at Christmastime

I’m sharing this post at the #WorthRevisit linkup–please visit the hosts’ blogs here and here to see other great posts!

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It’s New Years Day and y’all know what that means, right?  Black-eyed peas and greens, at least for us Southerners.

new years peas

As long as I can remember, my mother forced us to eat at least one bite of black-eyed peas each New Years Day, “For luck,” she said.  Later I learned that greens are also required, if you want to make money in the new year.  And who doesn’t want that, right?

new years greens 2

Luckily in this house a majority (read:  everyone but the little people) like either the peas, the greens, or both.

I’d never realized until this year that this tradition is strictly a Southern one.  I looked up its origin this afternoon while I was cooking and learned that it started post-Civil War, when supposedly those affected by Sherman’s March to the Sea were left with precious little to eat except for the black-eyed peas which the Union soldiers (who called them “cow peas”) assumed were only good for fodder for the Southerners’ long-gone cattle.  The erstwhile Confederates grew strong again on this minimalist yet healthy diet, and the foods eventually morphed from a generic “new beginnings” meal to one symbolizing future luck and prosperity.

As I perhaps have mentioned, I am an English major so I found additional meaning in today’s meal.

Just look at these collard greens, y’all.

new years greens

I don’t know if you can tell but that’s a LOT of greens. (And for only .99 at Kroger, too!)  It’s three enormous bunches which were too big for the plastic produce bag and took up the entire bottom shelf of my refrigerator.  It probably took me an hour to wash and rip them up so I could cook them.  The picture of them in the pan?  That was less than half of them.

Yet after ten minutes cooking, we were left with this:

new years greens 3

Yes, that’s what they boiled down to.  So that’s the source of that saying! I thought, cleverly, to myself.

But I also really did think, and announce to my husband, that I am going to try to apply the lesson of the greens to any situations (I won’t say problems yet) that arise this year.  Whatever big tangled things I have to deal with, I’m going to envision them as a big mess of greens that haven’t been cooked yet.  I’m going to know in advance that really there’s just a little kernel at the heart of whatever it is that I really have to deal with.  Before I get all worked up and confused and overwhelmed, I’m going to think about what it all boils down to.

Happy 2014 to you!

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