I know there are many households where Christmas traditions are writ large in granite, and are henceforth Never To Be Altered. While I think it’s kind of nifty to have some elements that are unchanging, we’ve had such a wide variety of celebrations that I’m finding I prefer a more flexible tradition. Without the expectation that each year will be identical and perfect, we’re open to a lot of new experiences and alterations and variations, and that seems to leave me with something wonderful every year.
This year, some aspects of our celebration were similar to previous years, and some were new, and altogether, it’s been lovely!
Again this year, my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow dressed as Father Christmas for the Thanksgiving Day charity race, and Eldest went with him as his elf, Merry. (Christmas. We’re nerdly in our punfulness.) Since it was a full 45* warmer this year than last (it was REALLY cold last year), we had a fantastic time. I neglected to take pictures.
Again this year, we didn’t put up a tree. Our bitty cottage really has no floor space for one, and there’s no way to rearrange to fit one easily. So, we decorated the mantel (handmade by that Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow!), the kids each decorated at least one wreath, and the whole decking of halls was accomplished without blasphemy, because we packed things away very neatly last year. (In March. Don’t judge me.) Also, I neglected to take pictures.
Adapting from last year, we put the creche in the center of the mantel, flanked by angels. Last year, it was on the piano. I like it better on the mantel, tucked in with the Isle of Sky chess set king and queen, an odd tiny Father Christmas figurine or two, and the felt camel, horse, sheep, and goat a friend gave us (from Outer Mongolia. Really. Not being hyperbolic there. They were bought in Ulaanbataar. Outer Mongolia. SO COOL!)
(Oh look! A picture!)
Again this year, I didn’t send out physical Christmas cards. With the growing artiness in our family, though, and inspired by the gorgeous art cards created by a dear friend’s family each year, we may revisit this decision, and create cards next year. Years ago, before I abandoned all hope of getting personal items in the mail before Christmas (because work mailings take up so much of my time!), we had Eldest make our cards. Now we have even easier capacities to have them printed, so…. we’ll see.
With half of our children in their teens, I think we need to do more to support their Transition Christmas years. You know, those weird years where you just don’t have the same breathless anticipation as you did when a child, nor do you have full charge of the festivities as you do when an adult, so you feel rather floaty and disconnected, and it’s so easy to feel sad? There are things to do to help: focusing on the spiritual elements, seeking out service opportunities, and putting ones talents to good uses to bless others. We did this somewhat this year, and next year can be even better for our teens, with some pre-planning. It’s important to me that they get to associate our celebration of the birth of Christ with meaningful joy.
Again this year, we had a host of homemade and carefully selected (odd) gifts. That part is possibly my favorite! The Little Girls, who are still young enough for a good Mom Deception, helped me make sewn wool hens for one another. I get such a giggle out of their happiness to make something for a sister, combined with their longing, “I sure wish I had a hen like this…”, followed by my suggestion that perhaps after Christmas, we could make one together? The joy on their mutual faces as they opened their hens was lovely!
(The hens are an adaptation of a free pattern from Bustle & Sew. I overlapped the head and body portions to cut them from a single piece of accidentally-felted wool sweater, added a bit more seam allowance to make a sewn-and-turned style, rather than an exposed edge style, used blanket stitch to attach and finish the wings all in one go, and skipped the cardboard insert for the base oval. I love–and more importantly, the Little Girls love–how they turned out!)
The Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow worked with The Boy, Eldest, and our Spare Teen to create a PVC-and-canvas playhouse for the Little Girls. The Eldest did truly gorgeous paintwork to turn a painter’s canvas into a Tudor-inspired cottage, and it’s sure to be a work in progress for awhile, as she continues to add little details, like flowering vines up a trellis, a brick chimney stack on the other side, and a few painted hens scratching the in front garden beds.
(The Boy patiently awaits the emergence of Little Girls from their new cottage. He waiteth in vain. They are still sleeping in it, and it’s Wednesday.)
Eldest got to see firsthand that yes, frozen gingersnap cookie dough is indeed a fantastic gift for a nearly-13yo gingersnap fiend. The Boy was grateful to a touching degree, and ate several bits frozen. Now, we’ll have to work on his muscles of charity and sharing, because there’s no way he gets to eat them all himself, unmolested.
This year, we had so many bonus children to celebrate with! Hand-crafted gifts for each of the Band Sons (drumstick pouches, pennywhistle holsters), and our Spare Teen (a range of handmades and small purchases), plus getting together to make music and enjoy food and movies together, really extended our celebrations through the whole week, and that was lovely! (We made crock-pot haggis… offal-free, and quite tasty, too. Worth a whack if you’re up for a food dare and feeling celebratory in a Scottish sort of way.)
This year, we had more music than ever! Starting with the Eldest’s recital, and moving through impromptu music in random stores (Eldest and Spare Teen), to a singing-heavy Christmas Eve Eve devotional I was delighted to direct for church, we’ve been surrounded with sacred music, and my soul delights in it! Coming up with more and more ways to enjoy music next year is easy… we know we’ll work hard to participate in the Festival of Trees next year, and the local museum’s Old Fashioned Christmas, and hopefully another devotional, and some costumed caroling… so many opportunities!
This year, we attended church services first thing on Christmas morning. This doesn’t happen often, that Christmas falls on our Sabbath, and I am so very glad it did. (For one thing, with everyone dressed and tidy, the pictures I remembered to take during opening gifts later were all far more attractive than previous years.) The opportunity to see beloved fellow congregants, to participate in the Sacrament of Communion of Christ’s Supper, to sing rejoicing and worshipful hymns… it was soul-filling, and lovely. It makes me want to agitate just a smidge for Christmas morning services, regardless of the day of the week, next year. We shall see, we shall see.
(I must share my favorite Christmas story from Sunday services. After services ended, I went to the front to say Happy Christmas to my very favorite Austrian Organist, who is my partner in crime when it comes to playing Very Up-Tempo Hymns. She was particularly sparkly, and I asked what had her in such a good mood? Turns out, our lovely pipe organ was first play for Christmas services, 50 years ago (1961), by none other than my very favorite Austrian Organist! She was also about 42 months pregnant at the time, and when she struck the opening chords for the opening hymn, realized that it was good the hymn was a short one, or she just might have a baby right there on the organ bench. Sure enough, by supper, her seventh child had arrived. Five decades later, she still smiles her way through, and I’m so glad she shared this reason to smile with me!)
Again this year, we skipped high-stress “perfect” meals. Christmas Eve was the day for “party food”, which means homemade cayenne wings, garlic wings, BBQ kosher franks, raw veg, olives, homemade garlic dill dip, homemade blue cheese dressing (with my favorite Zoi yogurt!), my hot artichoke-spinach dip, and a few crusty baguettes.
Okay, so 90% of that is made from scratch at home, but I have minions, and the stuff goes together in minutes, I promise. It was totally slacker food.
Christmas day was leftovers, and a beef roast with roasted root veggies, gravy, salad, and fruit.
And we extended the fun into Monday with Chinese Egg Drop Soup, homemade potstickers, and a good lo-mein noodle stir-fry thing (because The Boy got nifty new enameled chopsticks for Christmas, and he was going to DIE if he didn’t get to eat noodles soon.) At no point was I trapped in the kitchen. I had time to read and play and sing and nap.
But one of my favorite events of the season? Hearing two sets of highly realistic “Bock bock brrrroooock” noises behind me, and seeing little stuffed hens “guarding” the cottage. Homemade, flexible traditions are just so very, very nifty.