Monday, December 31, 2007

Making Christmas: Odds and Ends

Fine. Enough with the Christmas stuff. I'm bummed, though, because I've really had a wonderful time doing this series - reflecting, reading others' input, planning for the future. I feel like it has helped me get the most out of the season, so thank you. I've got a few final thoughts on the various topics, so here goes. And then I'll quit, I promise.

I broke down and got Aly & AJ and Josh Groban's Christmas cd's this year, both on iTunes. I've really enjoyed both of them, especially Josh's Little Drummer Boy with a celtic flavor. Maren got me to give Chris Isaak another shot, and he's growing on me. I looked for the Garth Brooks song mentioned by Tona in the comments, but he's not on iTunes. So I need a copy.

My Santa advent calendar that I couldn't resist turned out to be resistible to the kids. Hazel just wanted to always put the tree in the "24" pocket because that's when we were going to Grandma Marsha's. Turns out we do need a tree/ornament advent - luckily I tricked Kat into volunteering to make me one. She's got a whole year and I will periodically check in to make sure she is pacing herself to be done on time.

Maren gave me a box of disco ball ornaments so I think we can see where my ornament theme will be going. Mom said she got me some colored disco ball ornaments and will keep them for me until I live nearby next year. I also went to Target on Dec 26 and got a dangly/jewely star tree topper at 50% off.

After staring at Ginger's stocking all month next to the rest of ours, I decided she needs a random sequin here and there around her name letters. Can't help noticing what a cheater's route I took with the iron-ons. Then I got inspired by my neices' stockings I saw in Colorado - the names were spelled out in beaded sequins. A nice compromise between the iron-ons and the nightmarish ribbon cursive. If I have need to make another someday, maybe I'll go that route.

Ed hit home again with the stocking stuffers - socks, Crest white strips, lithium batteries and a gift card to Little Cupcake. I cried...again.

I was surprised by the comments we got on this post - just in the small sample that responded there was a wide range of purposes the Christmas card/letter serves. I got some good ideas and I think the varied points of view helped me be a little more sensitive. Also, on that same December 26 Target trip (7 am) I picked up my cards for next year - 6 boxes of 18 (=108 cards) again at 50% off. Too bad (or good thing, depending on if you're me or Ed) I had packing limitations to consider since we were in Colorado; otherwise I would have stocked up on gift bags, bows, wrapping paper, ornaments, lights, etc. on sale. Next year.

I forgot to bring up in the original post about opening early. This is a hot topic in the Younce family because we do it and our in-laws don't. It started when we were young and our parents noticed how overwhelming Christmas morning would be on little kids - so many presents at once. So we started opening a present or two each night starting a few days early, sometimes a week out. It was a way to build up to Christmas, and to keep the mounds under the tree from taking over the house. It also allowed us to enjoy and appreciate the gifts better when not opened en masse. Christmas Eve we'd open four or five, then the rest Christmas morning. It made perfect sense to us.

When we got married I think we each encountered resistance to this tradition from our spouses. Tough.

While I got many lovely and thoughtful gifts this year, perhaps the stand-out winner came from Ed's sister Natalee: a coupon for a night of free babysitting plus a movie gift card. Ahhh...we used it two days later.

Books & Movies
Mom gave me a beautiful pop-up Christmas book to add to our collection called The Nativity. I recommend it.

I got The Bishop's Wife from Netflix since it was the only Christmas movie I came across that I hadn't seen but wanted to. I didn't get it watched before Christmas but it's here and I'll watch it soon. Darn computer keeps calling to me.

My sister-in-law Jenny made us this seriously delicious sweet bread for Christmas breakfast that's a tradition in her family. I asked her what it's called, expecting a foreign, perhaps Scandinavian name. "Christmas Bread." I hope she'll post the recipe either here or on her blog.

Merry Christmas,
Happy New Year,
and to all a Good Night!

Making Christmas: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

The traditional Younce Christmas Eve consisted of reading the scriptural accounts in both the New Testament and Book of Mormon, followed by the Treasures of Christmas, a homemade child-friendly description of Christmas. My favorite part was poring over the family Christmas pictures in the back. Afterwards we would have dessert on the holiday plates that appeared once a year, and open a few gifts. Sometimes we would watch a movie or play a game until bed time.

Each year Mom and Dad would appoint the time before which we were not allowed to wake them up; it varied. Christmas morning was probably the most fun and magical part of the whole season, and with good reason. When else would we sit around in our jammies as a family, hanging out for several hours, eating, laughing and talking without interruption? Of course the presents helped make it all possible. Stockings were first, followed by the gifts under the tree. Grog and coffee cake were on the dining table. When all the presents had been opened, Dad announced loudly and dramatically, "Well, that's all there is! There are no more presents until next Christmas!" or something like that. Then there would be a pause, a mime, a shocked look into the tree branches. "Wait a minute - what's this?"

THIS would be an envelope with someone's name on it, and inside would be the first clue to a treasure hunt. Sometimes it was for all of us, sometimes just for one, but we all went on the hunt. Usually the clues alternated running us upstairs and downstairs, and ended in a larger gift being found hidden in the bathtub, washing machine, or a high closet shelf. Yeah, it was a good way to "end" Christmas.

This year Christmas was paced for us. We opened a few gifts at home on Dec 23 because we flew to Colorado on the 24th. But I got sick that night and we were in a rush to get packed, so most were left under the tree. Christmas Eve at the Hickmans this year was a nice but quick affair. Ed's sister Natalee typed up a program with scriptures and hymns, but by the end the babies were ready to move on or crash. Christmas day was staggered, with different families arriving at different times. Ed and I did stockings with the girls, then helped his parents with the big breakfast they were preparing for everyone. After breakfast, mid-morning, the fourteen of us that were there opened presents. The other eight opened later in the day or the next day, as they arrived. The rest of the day was hanging out, playing games, watching movies. We were in Colorado for a week but Hazel and I were sick for all but 2 days of it. At least we were able to enjoy Christmas.

And when we got home, there was still a little Christmas waiting for us, to help usher in the new year.

How did your Christmas go this year? What activities or traditions, old or new, did you enjoy?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Birthday to Tona!

Now updated with ANSWERS!

Today is my sister Tona's birthday. She's the oldest of the living Younce siblings; also the shortest, the only redhead, the youngest to marry (19), has the most kids (4), the only Ph.D., and usually has the most on her plate to keep her furiously multitasking. Hearing about her life wears me out. But she's a super mom, an awesome sister, an important example in so many ways, artistic and creative, I could go on. But there may be a few things you don't know about her. Let's find out, shall we?

4. Once Tona decided to make herself a glamorously billowly bubble bath like in a commercial. When she drained the tub there were so many bubbles that the basement toilet overflowed with foam. When our parents interrogated her, what did it turn out she had used to make the bubbles? PALMOLIVE (dish soap)
9. What is the similarity between Tona and her birthdate? They're both _______. SHORT (December 21 is the shortest day of the year; Tona is the shortest in our family)
12. As a child, Tona collected what objects? HAND MIRRORS
13. What was the name of Tona's imaginary kingdom in the woods behind our house? According to Maren, this was the name you had to yell while running down the hill and in between the tall trees before running back to the woods path. I was deemed too young to enter the kingdom, which made it all the more magical to me. IDYLWILDE
14. What sport did Tona cheerlead for in high school? BASKETBALL
15. When she was little, Tona hopped around the house like what animal? FROG
17. What is Tona's current favorite evening activity? KNITTING
18. How is the name TONA spelled in it original Norwegian? THONE
19. Where was Tona's first job outside the home? MINNESOTA FABRICS
20. When Tona was about 10, she wanted to take a class, but didn't want to go alone, so Dad took it with her. What was the class? PAINTING

1. For their anniversary this year, Tona took Don on a surprise overnight trip to NYC. What play did they see? CURTAINS
2. What part does Tona sing? ALTO
3. What field did Tona start out majoring in at MIT? MICROBIOLOGY
5. What is Tona's favorite children's TV show? MISTER ROGERS
6. What dignitary did Tona meet at her Ph.D. graduation? JOHN GLENN (Cute story: the boys were excited they were going to meet him, so they drew him pictures. When they gave them to him, he signed them and gave them back so they would have a special momento.)
7. When Tona was about 11, what kind of bed did she have for a year? HAMMOCK (she hung from the ceiling I think, and had to climb up into the top part of the closet to get in there)
8. What is Tona's favorite syndicated/rerun TV show? FRASER
10. What did Tona eat for breakfast on big test days in high school? TUNA (disgusting)
11. How tall is Tona? FIVE TWO
16. What is Tona's "pet" middle name? BEAN - you say it "Tonabean"
20. Where did Tona & Don go on their honeymoon? PEI (Prince Edward Island)

So how'd you do? Post what you think your score is or which ones you didn't know - I'll post the answers in a few days.

Happy Birthday, Tona!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Making Christmas: Food

The goods are an important part of the holiday season. Weight loss programs get more recruits in January than any other month. I'm a big fan of culinary creations myself, though as I've thought about this topic, no certain dishes stood out as traditions or must-haves for me. But food does play a part in many of my Christmas memories. Kat's holiday parties in Colorado come to mind - full 4- or 5-course meals of amazing decadance. Candy dipping and sugar cookie making were also favorite things to do at Kat's house (miss you, man.)

For as long as I can remember my Aunt Janet has brought us a homemade coffee cake sometime the week before Christmas, and we always ate it with hot grog* Christmas morning during present opening, help-yourself style. I wonder how many of those she makes each year. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be the final post in this series, but we can still talk about the food. Last year I was delighted to partake of Aebleskivers, a High family tradition (my sister-in-law.) One year Maren made some serious stuffed french toast I wouldn't mind having again.

My sister Tona's family has a middle eastern meal Christmas Eve, along the lines of what the shepherds may have eaten - pita, olives, dried fruit & nuts, lamb. I myself am a big fan of a Honey-Baked Ham, but I'm not picky.

Food is a great gift to give, especially for co-workers and neighbors. I was always happy when the home teachers would bring by a sampler plate of goodies. One year my visiting teacher brought me a little cellophane bag of homemade bark - pretzels and peanuts in dark chocolate. Totally simple, cheap and easy but I got a little addicted for awhile there. This year one of my friends worked at perfecting Williams Sonoma's peppermint bark, and did a fine job of it, I was happy to receive.

Every year I get Food Network's 12 Days of Christmas Cookies emailed to me but I've never made them for some reason. Also I love Starbucks peppermint hot chocolate, or any hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane that melts into it - yum.

This Saturday is our ward Christmas party and I signed up to bring a dessert. Easy, right? I mean, how do you pick? So many options. Well I'm drawing a blank so suggestions are welcome. (I don't make pie crusts and I don't work with yeast. I do love a good Bûche de Noël, but I'm not up to it.)

What are your Christmas food plans, traditions or memories?

*Grog recipe: orange juice, apple cider, mulling spices, lemon or lime juice, honey. Combine to taste and warm on stove in a big pot - serve in mugs with a ladle.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Making Christmas: Movies

I know, I know. I should have done books and movies together in one post. But neither one was on my original list so I wasn't organized enough to do it. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't think of movies earlier. I like movies. I used to watch a lot of them - I think I remember doing that. Anyway, I saw a commercial for Fred Claus the other day and it got me thinking about all the Christmas movies - several come out every year, hoping for a little box office holiday love, and they're not usually any good. But people go see them because 'tis the season. Then I got thinking about a few Christmas movies that are good - we might call them classics - and this addition to the Making Christmas series was born.

I could only come up with four that I like enough to recommend:
It's a Wonderful Life - Cliche, yes, I know. I've never been one for bandwagons. Which is why I never watched the whole thing through. Then last year I finally saw it start to finish and it was so...wonderful!
A Christmas Story - What can I say? If you've seen it, you already know. If you haven't, you're missing out.
Scrooged - A Christmas Carol that doesn't put me to sleep. Love Bill Murray.
While You Were Sleeping - At first thought I don't consider this a Christmas film, but I guess it really is. It's set around Christmas time and the themes of family vs. loneliness are emphasized. Sweet story, and one of Sandra's best, in my opinion.

I know Miracle on 34th Street is a classic for many, but I pass on the whole Santa thing. Here are a few other people's lists to get your juices flowing:
The Culture Beat
Listmania! Ultimate Christmas Movie List
Lots of Christmas Movies
Reel Reviews
Christian Christmas Movie Reviews

What are your favorite Christmas movies?
Any classics that it's tradition to watch?
How about new ones - are any of the holiday movies made in the last 10 years any good?
What's the absolute worst Christmas movie you've ever seen?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Making Christmas: Gifts

This is a tricky one to address. Many of us are disgusted with the commercialism and consumerism around the holidays that takes away from the reason for the season. And hey, I'm in that boat. Avoid malls, avoid toy stores, avoid too much Santa, try to find meaningful Christian ways to celebrate. However, that said, I love, love, LOVE to give gifts! I don't really mind getting them, either. I guess it's one of my love languages - I think it is for most of us Younces.

Now that we're grown, we choose names for sibling gifts in both the Younce and Hickman families. It would be my great pleasure to give Christmas gifts to everyone, but it's just not financially feasible, so we rotate, which works well. But there are always spouses, kids, and parents to give to. And then there are other people, like friends, neighbors, and teachers, if applicable.

What I'd really like to do is have everyone throw out their gift ideas for different people, but we don't want to spoil any surprises. So instead we can talk about gifts and gifting in general. For example, every magazine this month has a gift guide of some sort. I love looking through these, though most of the stuff I would never buy for anyone. I just like the window shopping. I tore out one page of cool ones to mention on here but Ginger ripped it up beyond recognition. Sorry. Friends and neighbors usually get consumables - one year I made chocolate peppermint biscotti, this year I gave homemade hot chocolate mix or Trader Joe's Orange Cranberry bread mix and my holiday mix cd. I love one year Tona gave neighbors fresh bread or baguette and a little dish of homemade flavored butter, like orange honey or basil parmesan. I don't have kids' teachers to think about yet, but having worked in schools I know what they want - gift cards for classroom supplies, anything handmade by the kids, and baked goods will never be turned down.

This brings me to one of my favorite gift ideas - handmade things. Food is going to be the next post topic so here we're talking about nonedibles. This is a potentially limitless genre, and with so many creative ideas out there, handmade does not have to mean subpar. I remember one year at Kat's over-the-top holiday dinner party she made star stained glass ornaments for each guest as favors. Last year I took Hazel to The Painted Pot and she painted a mug and picture frame for gifts. For awhile I enjoyed making earrings and necklaces for gifts, but the beads have been packed away since the little ones came along. Even if you don't knit, paint, bake, sew or otherwise "craft", custom gifts are still an option. I myself am a big fan of photo gifts - puzzles, tote bags, post-it pads, magnets, note cards, calendars, etc. Drag, drop and a few clicks of the mouse, voila! ReadyMade is one of many good sites for "making stuff", and check out responses to Todd Oldham's call for DIY holiday videos.

What other awesome gift ideas have you used, seen or heard? What's at the top of your list? What's your approach or attitude toward holiday gifting?

Fresh ideas on wrapping gifts is also welcome!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Book List

Here are all the book recommendations, compiled, alphabetized and linked for those of you building a Christmas collection. Thanks to our contributors: Jen, Kat, Maren, and Tona!

The 12 Days of Christmas by Robert Sabuda (see picture)
Cajun Night Before Christmas by Trosclair
The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado or The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck, illus. by Mark Buehner
Christmas Eve: The Nativity Story in Engravings, Verse and Song by Carole Taylor and Lezle Williams
Christmas Eve: the Joy of Giving by Lisa Sferlazza Johnson and Tucker Johnson
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and P.J. Lynch
The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere
Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel by Shirley Clima
Dream Snow by Eric Carle
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The Kingfisher Treasury of Christmas Stories by Sian Hardy
The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola
Night Tree by Eve Bunting and Ted Rand
The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt and Tim Jonke
The Tall Book of Christmas by Various

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Making Christmas: Activities & Community

As you can imagine, New York does Christmas BIG. The iconic tree at Rockefeller Center represents New York's whole attitude on the holidays - do it up (and rake in the revenue.) Two years ago we went downtown in December to see the tree, Macy's windows, and other holiday sites. Walking down 5th Avenue I honestly heard a fur-clad woman saying on her cell phone, "I just left Gucci, I'll meet you in Cartier." We considered visiting FAO Schwartz but ditched the idea when we saw the line out the door and down the block. We had a chicken soup lunch in a tiny deli instead. Needless to say, this barely scratches the surface on holiday activities in New York City.

Last Saturday we went to breakfast at a hip little local diner and I had gingerbread pancakes. Then we bought Hazel some mittens and on the way home we passed a Christmas tree seller set up by the grocery store. On a whim we bought a little 4' tree and stand. We don't go to Colorado until Christmas Eve, and with this blog series I've been especially into the holiday spirit this year, so I was stoked to get a real tree - our first - for our home. It was awesome to set it up and decorate it with our small ornament collection.

Next week we're hosting a playgroup with Hazel's friends where we'll make graham cracker gingerbread houses. I saw at the store gingerbread flavored graham crackers so I guess we'll get those, and I'll do an internet search for stiff frosting recipe.

There's a neighborhood in Brooklyn near us that is famous all over the city for the house decorations and lights. Here's a photo gallery to give you an idea. (And here's another, which appropriately calls it a "decorgasm.") Tour buses bring people from every borough to gape at the gawdy outdoneness, and we ourselves have learned to enjoy this tradition that is costing these people unnecessary thousands in electricity bills and hired help.This season some people participate in Messiah singalongs or school concerts. They see "The Nutcracker" or go to the movies as a family. Maybe go see Santa at the mall or do the 12 Days of Christmas for another family. I knew one (rich) family who for 15 years while they lived in the San Fransisco area, took their kids and one friend each to stay in a downtown hotel on the 23rd and 24th to shop and see a special train show. Some people just make to-do lists and hope something gets done.

What activities have you done this year or past years that were great? What family traditions have you developed or hope to, for the month of December? What's something special that happens in your community this time of year?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Making Christmas: Cards

On top of everything else, Christmas is card season! I do know a few families who send out their annual greetings at Easter or end of school year, but for most of us it's a perfect time to wish friends and family happy holidays and additionally inform and update on ourselves. This adds to the expense and time consumption of the season, but to me it's worth it.

We just started sending out Christmas cards 2 years ago, after Hazel was born. We went the easy route - picture card from shutterfly. A nice one-liner and you're done. But last year I so enjoyed the family letters we got from friends that I decided it's time for us to step it up. I also realized that I strongly preferred pictures that had all family members in them - not just the kids! As a parent who's put on some pounds - and wrinkles - over the years I definitely understand the preference to stay behind the camera, but come on, people! It's so fun to see my old friends, whatever condition they're in, and not just their kids who I've never met! So taking my own advice, this year we are sending out a regular family picture and a one-page letter. What I'd really like to do is send out something classy like this, but it will have to be another year.

Now the list. Ours is on an excel spreadsheet with 2 pages - Family and Friends. Family has all immediate family, all aunts, uncles, grandparents, and some cousins. Friends has three columns - the A, B and C lists. Each year names get shuffled among these, based on priority of new additions, returned cards the year before, how well we've kept in touch, etc. All said we're looking at about 90 going out this year - a number which surprised both me and Ed when we added it up. We know that many people? Guess so. When we reviewed the list he was also surprised - and disturbed - that most of the Friends were actually my friends, or friends we both had in Colorado. He does a terrible job of keeping in touch, and regrets it. So he racked his brain for high school, mission or work friends to track down and add to the list. We'll see how fruitful that exercise is.

Like almost everything else this year, I ordered my stamps online, so while I wait for them to arrive I've spent my evenings addressing envelopes in front of the TV. Friday night Ed came home at a reasonable hour so we divided up the list and stacks and got them all ready to go. When the stamps come in out they'll go.

Finally, what do we do with all the cards that come in? I love devoting a little time to each of my old friends as I read their updates or stare at their pictures. It's a great way to feel connected to people from the past, and also the present. But then what do you do with them? This year I bought a ribbon board to display the cards as they come, so we can look at them more than once and Ed can see what's come in when he comes home late at night. Eventually I'd like to get a nicer card holder, but that's another thing to plan on but put off. I read in a magazine of someone who cuts pictures from Christmas cards to make gift tags for next year, or to make Christmas books or collages with their kids. You hate to just throw them away, but you can't keep them around forever, either. I think I still have a stack from last year. What do you do?

So, that's it - what are your thoughts, habits, preferences, opinions on Christmas cards?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Making Christmas: Stockings & Books


As mentioned in earlier comments, our family has a stocking tradition. Grandma Younce made felt stockings for us kids, decorated with appliques, sequins, beads and ribbon. When Tona (our oldest) married Don, he was immediately embraced by our family, and just to prove it Mom made him a stocking so he'd fit in. It was of a skier whooshing down the slope (Don is a big skier.) Since then, each of us girls have made stockings for our husbands and kids as they come along.

Not being as patient, creative or skilled as the rest of the Younces, this was an intimidating task for me, but important for some reason. So I've stuck with the tradition but recruited some help with each one. Mom helped me with the design and materials for Ed's stocking - it's a red-haired shepherd boy sleeping on the ground with sheep, elk, mountains and a bright star in the background. Sorry I don't have a picture. When we get it out of storage I'll post it. Bless Kat's heart, she painstakingly sewed Ed's name on the stocking in thin gold cursive, when I had given up.

I designed and made Hazel's stocking pretty much on my own, but Tona helped with finishing touches - the "icicle" fringe and binding around the top:During Mom's visit in October we bought the materials and designed Ginger's stocking. I delegated the entire fireplace to her, and she did a super duper job. The name, cookies and milk were me. I feel like I've cheated, using iron-on varsity letters for the name, but I couldn't help it, I just wasn't up for more cursive. Over Thanksgiving we put it all together - thanks so much for your help, Mom!

I know this is the tradition, and I do enjoy designing the scenes for stockings, but I've seen so many beautiful stockings in stores lately that I kind of wish I had an excuse to buy them. Since I don't, I feel it is my duty to inform others there is no excuse for ugly or boring stockings!

In our family, stockings are filled with toothbrushes, lip balm, life saver storybooks, safety pins and other small notions, with a clementine in the toe. This year Hazel and Ginger are getting mittens & tights, I don't know what else. I don't feel obligated to fill them up.

What do you have for stockings and what do you put in them? (I need ideas.)

Tona requested a topic on Christmas books. I hadn't thought of it since it's not a big part of our family culture yet, but I would love her list and anything others have to say on this topic. Last year Mom gave us all The Tall Book of Christmas. This was a book from our childhood that I had forgotten about until seeing it again - a flood of memories rushed in, I love that. I guess it was out of print and then came back. And this year I got Hazel a Christmas book called Christmas Eve: The Joy of Giving. It hasn't arrived yet but the reviews were promising, suggesting it has a smooth incorporation of the Nativity and Santa, with catchy rhyming text and a profound message. Hope so.

"Treasures of Christmas" is a homemade book my Mom created when we were very little - a gold spray-painted 3-ring notebook with cardstock pages containing glued-on pictures from Christmas cards and handwritten text of the Christmas story at a young child's level. It was inspired because it has become one of the most beloved Younce Christmas traditions. The original is cherished because the pictures are from 60's and 70's Christmas cards and are so fun to look at. Mom has since made one for all of us, with the same text and gold notebook, but of course different pictures. At the end of the book is our family's Christmas card pictures from every year - those are so great to look at each year and add to.

What are your Christmas book traditions or discoveries?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Making Christmas: Decorations

Our holiday music usually gets us in the right mood to break out the trimmings. This is a topic of great interest to me. Certain decoration memories are the first to pop into mind at the thought of Christmas. My parents didn't deck the halls with everything Christmas, but a few festive pieces made the month memorable for me. First, the jewel tree - a framed, velvet-backed tree made from old brooches, earrings and other jewelry. It also had red lights poking through. Hard to describe. Maybe I can get a picture of it. But I loved it. Also that German tiered, candled carousel thing - please, family, help me out here. The Christmas tree advent calendar - how I loved pinning a new ornament on it each day. And perhaps my favorite was when we went to Grandma's house. She wrapped her stair banisters & railings with thick pine boughs and white lights. A totally simple decoration but convivial beyond description.

This is our seventh Christmas together, and we have always spent it with one or the other of our families. Somehow not spending Christmas at home has also meant not really decorating for it. Our first Christmas married my Mom sent us a full-size tree skirt she had made. We had no tree so I went over to McGuckins and bought a 2-ft artificial tree with lights in it. Every year since then, we pull out the pathetic little guy, on which ornaments are disproportionately huge, wrap the tree skirt around twice, and top with a lopsided star. That same first Christmas my mother-in-law gave us a white porcelain nativity set. Since then we got a sign from my Mom that says, "Dear Santa, define good," and another nativity set I fell in love with last year. This year I searched on ebay for a hanging advent calendar, thinking Hazel is old enough to enjoy counting the days that way. I was looking for a tree like my Mom's but ended up unable to resist this Santa.

It's not much but it's a start. This year we are spending Christmas with the Hickmans in Colorado, but starting next year we will do Christmas in our own home. I want to make it meaningful, memorable, and - an ultimate goal I always seem to fall short of - classy, even though I lack a natural gift for decorating. We'll get a real normal-sized tree, and ornament it. Maybe hang lights and make popcorn cranberry strings. A holiday centerpiece.

When we were in VA for Thanksgiving I snuck out one night for a solo trip to Target. I got a few things on my list, then wandered slowly through the aisles, savoring the luxury of browsing. I spent a long, long time in the holiday aisles, admiring the modern decorative pieces, from stocking holders to swags to trees, daydreaming about a home decked out holiday-style. I did go to our Target here for some things today, and with this post on my mind, I spontaneously sprung for a wreath kind of like this one, but more berries & less green. It's pretty, and hanging on our door to greet us whenever we come home. I've also taken note of pieces and ornaments I've seen that I like, and plan to check back at the stores and websites after Christmas to see if I can take advantage of post-holiday sales. After all, things get expensive, and I don't need anything else for this year anyway.

Mention of ornaments brings us to the final subtopic here - the tree. I had an interesting discussion with Dave & Michelle last year about decorating it. Like my family growing up, they have a hodge-podge, eclectic ornament collection and Dave felt it looked too messy so he bought some ornament sets to bring a little cohesiveness to the look. I agree that a tree looks beautiful with coordinated pieces, but if it's too coordinated it doesn't look homey. Every year my Mom sends us an ornament-of-the-year of her own choosing, so I figure we can use those for the variety, and buy some sets for some aesthetic harmony.

What I hope to eventually achieve is a merry but peaceful atmosphere with all holiday decorating, a place that feels special for a special time of year. I look around and see I have a long way to go.

How do you decorate your home? What have you seen in other homes or stores that you like? How do you decorate your tree? What have you seen that you liked?
Have you seen the most awesome ornaments anywhere this year (that I should look into?)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Making Christmas

Happy December!
I've been thinking about Christmas. It's a holiday rich in traditions and celebration, and like most other people I love it. I love the music. I love to plan, select, make, wrap and give gifts. I love the smells of gingerbread and pine. And I love to quietly stare at a nativity scene in the glow of Christmas tree lights and imagine the miraculous night the Savior was born. This leads to considering His divine mission and life, and how He truly was the greatest gift ever given.

And now that I'm the Mom around here I've been thinking about how I want to lead my family in celebrating Christmas - what traditions should we continue or begin? How can we enjoy the magic of the season while keeping our thoughts on Christ? I've already decided my kids will always know Santa isn't real. We can still enjoy the legend but there's another, more important, real person who loves children that I prefer to focus on. Beyond that, I'm still thinking about how we want to celebrate it as a family.

So in December there will be a "Making Christmas" series here on DMTotW, touching on different aspects of seasonal celebration. I beg you to chime in, sharing your own thoughts, ideas, activities and hopes on each topic. I'm curious what other people do, and looking for ideas to steal. So please, if you read, post.

Making Christmas: Music

Christmas is a multisensory experience. It's the combinations of sensory input that make it so enjoyable for most of us. "Silent Night" plus hot cocoa? Nice. How about "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" in candlelight outside in the cold?

My favorite lite rock station in Denver plays continuous Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas, and amazingly I don't get sick of it (though there are a few songs that make me change stations, like Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree!) It made my commute so fun for that month. When we lived in Boulder I used to go to Barnes & Noble and listen to lots and lots of holiday CD's, choosing one each year to add to my collection. Christmas is the one time I really badly wish I had a 5-disc CD player. I get tired of each cd fast, but if they were all on shuffle it would be a festive acoustic delight. A few years ago I downloaded a bunch of good holiday songs from iTunes and made a Christmas mix of my favorites. Since then I revise the mix each year, keeping the best and adding new ones.

Here are the Christmas CD's I have:

A New Age Christmas - Carol of the Drums
A Windham Hill Collection - A Celtic Christmas
Harry Connick, Jr. - When My Heart Finds Christmas
Jake White - Christmas
James Taylor - At Christmas
Jim Brickman - Peace
Loreena McKennett - A Winter Garden
Maybe This Christmas (compilation)
Rankin Sisters - Do You Hear...
The Chieftans - The Bells of Dublin
The Roches - We Three Kings
Voice Male - Jingles 2

And here are the songs on my mix this year:

Deck the Halls - Aly & AJ
Who Comes this Night - James Taylor
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Jack Johnson
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan
I Pray on Christmas - Harry Connick, Jr.
Go Tell it On the Mountain - James Taylor
The First Noel - Leigh Nash
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Jim Brickman
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring - BYU Men's Chorus
Wassail Song - Liz Story
Baby, It's Cold Outside - James Taylor & Natalie Cole
For Unto Us a Child is Born - The Roches
Carol of the Bells - Voice Male
Do You Hear What I Hear - Rankin Sisters
Joy to the World - Aly & AJ
O Holy Night - Tracy Chapman
Song for a Winter's Night - Sarah McLachlan

My favorite Christmas hymn in the church hymnbook is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." (Though the version on the church website could stand a little jazzing up.) I love the tune's rise and fall but even more is that I love how the words are in first person. It's a personal internal journey in 5 short verses. And I've always loved the phrase, "A voice, a chime, a chant sublime..." in the last verse. I just love it.

So, what are your favorite holiday CD's and songs? What do you recommend I add to my collection this year? Any other thoughts about holiday music? (Like, Caroling: is it still done?)
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