New Christmas Traditions

By: Rachel Sircy

My husband and daughter and I are in Ohio visiting my family for the holidays. On the way up we listened to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, read by Patrick Stewart. I’ve seen several different movie versions of A Christmas Carol and my husband and I listen to the book on CD every Christmas that we drive up to Ohio. Needless to say, it’s a story that I know a-christmas-carolpretty well, and I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this blog post will be equally familiar with it. Most years that we watch the movies or listen to the book read aloud, I think of it as just one of those quintessential Christmas stories, one of those stories that’s told so often that Scrooge and Humbug and the Spirit of Christmas have become bywords in our culture.

For some reason as we listened to it this time, the story’s bizarre nature struck me like a blow to the head. It’s a Christmas horror story, really. I mean, the parts about ghosts wailing and rattling their chains is fairly reminiscent of hell. I started to wonder why on earth Dickens decided to tell a story about Christmas in this way, and why the public ate it up in the way that they did. How did this weird little spook story become such an inseparable part of our modern idea of Christmas?

According to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge) Dickens wanted to use people’s awakened interested in Christmas (in his day Christmas traditions were changing; Christmas trees were becoming popular as were Christmas cards) to promote awareness of poverty and social injustice. So, he created a strange story about a tight-fisted misanthrope being scared straight just in time for him to spread some Christmas cheer.

I have said all of the above to say that I have been thinking about the new Christmas tradition that Dickens created, and that has got me to thinking about creating new Christmas traditions of my own. Since my daughter – I’ll call her HRH (short for Her Royal Highness) – was born, I have been trying to find ways to simplify the holidays, honor the memories of loved ones, and teach HRH the true “reason for the season.” Here are three new traditions, two I have tried and one I want to try next year.

  1. Homemade Christmas Gifts: One way that I have been trying to simplify Christmas is to make each child on my list a gift rather than just buying a billion toys that will get thrown into the corner to collect dust after the child plays with them for a week. I want each child in my family circle to have something meaningful, something that Mommy or Aunt Rachel made them that they can keep and pass down. The work that goes into a homemade gift is personal. I think about each person as I make the gift, and that thought is part of the gift. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely buy a few toys as well, but my main gifts are almost always something I have made.
  2. Honoring Loved Ones: My husband’s grandmother passed away in 2012, and her passing was keenly felt by all the family. This year I wanted to revive a tradition that Grandma Sircy started during her lifetime – making a personalized ornament for each member of the family. I began this year with a simple project, wrapping styrofoam balls with fabric, yarn or tulle. I suppose this falls in the same category as the homemade gifts, but this particular homemade gift is really a tribute to Grandma Sircy – something to remind us of her.
  3. Making the story of Christmas come alive for children: My brother and sister-in-law found a Christmas activity on Pinterest that I absolutely love, Joseph and Mary on the Shelf. The idea behind this activity is basically the same idea behind Elf on the Shelf: you make it seem like toys (or Nativity set pieces) are moving around the house while the children are asleep. However, this particular version of this activity comes with the added bonus of teaching children the Christmas story. My brother and sister-in-law partially set up their Nativity scene, putting up the stable and adding the animals to it, BUT they left out Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, the wise men and the shepherds. They began the month of December by reading their children the Christmas story from the Bible and that night and each night afterward, the children have to find Mary and Joseph who are somewhere in the house, making their way toward the stable in Bethlehem. One night, Mary and Joseph were found on the kitchen counter “eating” some of the kids’ chicken nuggets to sustain them for their continued journey. Mary and Joseph arrived in the stable on Christmas Eve and Jesus, the shepherds and wise men were waiting for them on Christmas morning.

So, these are my new Christmas traditions, ones that I hope will bring the spirit and the reason for this holiday season close to my family. If anyone has any traditions that they have created for their family, or that their parents created for them, I would love a comment about it!!

Suggested Reading: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Make a Joyful Noise

By: Jeanne Reynolds

christmas carols

My husband has a great singing voice. As a teenager, he even turned down an opportunity to go pro with a barbershop group in favor of going to college. (Did I say he has good judgment, too?) My voice isn’t as strong, but I have a good ear for pitch and sing capably in the alto section in my church choir.

So this time of year, as carols and old favorites fill the airwaves, it’s not unusual for us to sing along with the radio — or even a capella — as we drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house or wherever. And we make a pretty good duet, if I do say so myself … with one exception.

No, it’s not “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” We can nail that, and don’t even get us started on the kids’ version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with the funny asides between lines.

It’s “The First Noel.” Yep, plain ole kindergarten-easy “The First Noel.” Not the whole song, though, just the chorus:

“NOEL, NOEL, NOEL, NOEL!” 

The louder, the more off-key, the more obnoxious, the better. It’s a family joke with a story behind it that I’ve long forgotten, which doesn’t make it any less funny … at least to us. In fact, we can barely get out the first two “Noel”s before we’re laughing so hard we can’t sing. Others along for the ride and hearing this, ahem, performance for the first time are somewhere between bewildered and stunned, and I’m sure would leap from the car if it weren’t moving.

This is the stuff of holiday memories! Our unholy chorus holds a place of honor in my heart, right alongside my famous gingerbread men, the hush of candlelight at Christmas Eve service and the hunt for bows the cats have stolen off beautifully (until then) wrapped packages under the tree. No, it’s not the pitch-perfect Norman Rockwell moments I’ll always remember. Rather, it’s the quirky, unique, only-family-and-your-best-friends-could-appreciate-it times that make holidays memorable. I’ll bet — I hope — you have some, too.

We haven’t had a sing-along yet this season, but I’m sure it’s coming. Don’t know when — Christmas is full of surprises, right? So now you have fair warning. If you’re around us and hear the opening notes of “The First Noel,” leave quickly — or better, yet, join in!

O’ (Half) Christmas Tree

By: Chaunte McClure

Grandma always said put the Christmas tree away before New Year’s Day, but there was really never a conversation about when to put it up. Some families decorate their tree Thanksgiving night or the following weekend. There are enthusiastic Christmas lovers who pull it out of the attic and make it pretty before Thanksgiving. In my book, that’s too soon. Half Christmas TreeThis is probably my third year putting up a tree and like the past two years, I’ve had good intentions of having it on display all of December. Again, I’ve failed.

This year is the first time I’ve had two trees and I’ve been looking forward to adorning them with the ornaments my friend gave me. I came home Friday night, after leaving work and stopping by a home decor store, ready to at least decorate one tree. I started with the no-assembly-required, pre-lit I bought after Christmas last year, and to my disappointment, after inserting the plug into the outlet, the tree did not completely light up. I finally figured out that a bulb on top was broken and I replaced it. Voila! The top of the tree lit up. I thought, now, what about the lower part? I searched and searched for broken bulbs and hidden plugs that I might have overlooked, but to no avail. I called the store where I purchased it and they allowed me to return it. I really liked the faux fir and I especially loved the price I paid for it during the after-Christmas sale. After lugging it back to the store in the cold and rain Sunday night, the friendly associate searched online for a replacement comparable to the damaged tree because that style was discontinued. She found what she thought was similar to it and showed it to me for approval. She placed the order and told me it would be delivered in three to five business days. I was happy until I looked at the receipt a few hours after returning home. It read: Pre-lit artificial half tree! I gasped. Half tree? Oh no! I realized that the store was closed and it was too late to call customer service. (In case you’re wondering: A half tree is flat on the back side and can be placed in a corner or against a wall. I didn’t even know there was such thing.)

I called customer service at 9:03 Monday morning but because the order was in process, I couldn’t cancel it. My options were to not accept the delivery or return the package to the store after receiving it. I was disappointed, but then I decided I was going to make this half tree work. It was created with small spaces in mind — perfect for our modest abode.

I found a spot for my half tree and, one-by-one, decked it out with an assortment of blue, silver, turquoise, and white ornaments just 15 days before Christmas.

The other tree finally made it out of the box on Sunday and now I’m ready to have a merry little Christmas.

Finding Quiet Moments

By: Ashley Whisonant 

As I have written before, being a grown up is tough. I don’t care if you are a mom, dad, single, married, or none of the above! Worrying about bills, work, social life, family, and balancing it all… I have tried hard to find quiet moments to center myself and remember the important things in life.

christmasMaking time to take care for myself has now become more of a priority. I make sure to work out at least three times a week in the morning while my family sleeps. Thankfully, my neighbor convinced me to try an all-female work out group, FiA. We meet in the mornings, varying between 5:00 and 5:15, to work out and get better together. Those moments pushing myself and enjoying fellowship with other ladies has made me a better wife, mother, and employee at work.

Remembering the important part of the holiday season isn’t always easy. I get no less than fifty emails a day about a Christmas special or discount on something. Is that really what it is about this month? To refocus myself, my husband and I decided to make a commitment to going to church every Sunday. We are working hard to teach our boys of thinking of others this season. We found a quiet night after cleaning up from dinner last night. While listening to Christmas music, we wrapped presents as family. Did it take longer with a five and two year old? You betcha. Was it worth the extra time? Without a doubt, yes.

Work hard to find quiet moments this holiday season. In what ways do you find these special, quiet moments?

Buckeye Nuts

By: Rachel Sircy

buckeyes

If you ever want to get a hysterical laugh going in my family, especially around the holidays, just tell someone near to you that there are Buckeyes in the kitchen. This inside joke works best if my mother is just within earshot – my mother will become indignant and everyone else will start laughing.

The story behind this joke is the famous Christmas when our family was inundated with gifts of Buckeye candy from my mother’s friends. For those of you unfamiliar with this treat, Buckeye candy is made to look like the nut of a Buckeye tree. I don’t know how popular they are in South Carolina, but in my home state of Ohio (the Buckeye State) these chocolate peanut butter confections are the staple candy gift at the holidays. For some reason that Christmas my mother’s best friend and her husband decided to make countless dozens of them. When they realized they had more than they could handle, they foisted them off on us. We had candy coming out of our ears. My mother harassed the whole family and all of our guests that year trying to get us to eat the candy just so that she could be rid of it. By the end of the season we were so sick of chocolate we couldn’t stand to hear the word “Buckeye,” and still my mother harped, “Hey guys, if you have a sweet tooth, there are Buckeyes in the kitchen.” Nobody had anything resembling a sweet tooth for months after that Christmas.

Nevertheless, if you are looking for a delicious, easy to make edible gift, Buckeyes are great choice. The best part is that they are gluten free!

Since my family threw out all our recipes for Buckeye candy after the famous Buckeye candy incident of ’03, I am going to share a link to the Allrecipes website. This is a pretty authentic looking recipe and it will make quite a bit of candy.

Elf Everywhere but the Shelf

By: Azure Stilwell

elf on the shelf

It’s December and for all parents of the new “Elf on the Shelf” generation, it is not all holly and jolly. It is a struggle to keep that little elf busy doing antics for 24 days, assuming he comes on December 1st. The idea originally started with the elf moving to a new spot every night so your child believes it has gone to see Santa to report on good/bad behavior – but then Pinterest got involved and the simple moving turned into silly antics every night.

This year, Santa gave Jake the low down. He wrote a letter explaining how the elf antics could be distracting for those trying to work during this busy time at the North Pole, so Santa really needs Jake to keep an eye on the elf so all goes well Christmas Eve. It was also a good way to teach Jake about Grace because sometimes our elf goes as far as hanging underwear over the mantle, wrapping our toilets in Christmas paper, and even tp’ing our living room with a fresh roll of toilet paper. For the most part it is fun but now that our oldest and most creative child is off at college, it has become harder for us parents to muster up the energy to keep the elf going every night. However, for the sake of believing, we will continue to peruse Pinterest for ideas and hope for the best.

I bring this up because a very clever friend of mine recently posted to her Facebook that her elf, Peppermint, had gotten stuck in a blizzard at the North Pole and wouldn’t be arriving for another week. That’s 7 more days of blissful elflessness. Wish I had thought of that but it is nice to know that we are not alone in our longing that sometimes the elf would just sleep at night.

Happy Holidays to all of you and if you have an Elf on the Shelf, we wish you the best of luck!  🙂

Give the Gift of Receiving

By: Jeanne Reynolds

christmas season

The closest I got to shopping on Black Friday was a quick trip to the grocery store. (Downside of Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s home: You don’t have a fridge full of leftovers to enjoy the rest of the weekend.)

Actually I must be missing a girl gene because I hate, detest, loathe shopping. Especially this time of year. My ideal Christmas shopping is more like a military maneuver: a lightning-fast surgical strike that identifies the target, removes it as quickly as possible and gets out.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love giving. There’s no better feeling than seeing the delight on someone’s face when they receive something they truly wanted, or maybe didn’t even know they wanted and are surprised and thrilled.

Being able to share that feeling is also a gift — one that requires us to allow others to give.

And that seems to be difficult for many of us. Yes, gals, I’m talking to you, and to moms in particular. Genetic or cultural, most women I know are wonderful givers and caretakers, but sometimes struggle being on the receiving end.

christmas season

Case in point: My mom is 84 and lives nearby for the first time since I was in high school (we’re talking decades here). She’s a widow with a limited income and I’m half of a DINK household, so it’s fun to be able to treat her to lunch or tickets to the theater once in a while. When she comes to my home, I enjoy cooking for her and doing all the things she spent so many years doing for us.

The problem is she often has trouble accepting these “gifts.” She says it’s too much trouble for me, or I’m surely too tired, or she must pay half. I’ve tried to explain how happy it makes me to be able to give back to her, but I guess she’ll never stop feeling like she should be taking care of us. While I appreciate the love behind that, it does take a little of the joy out of giving for me.

I’m probably no different. How many times have I insisted I could handle a task myself instead of accepting sincere offers of help, or only accepting an invitation if I pay my share or contribute in some way? So, in the spirit of removing the plank from my own eye first, here are some mantras with which I’ll coach myself this holiday season (and beyond):

  • Thank you, I’d love to!
  • That would be wonderful. Thank you so much!
  • I really appreciate your help.

It’s a blessing to be able to give to others. And that includes giving others the chance to be givers, too.