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?


kat said...

hey man -

as kids, we made gingerbread houses every year. (i have a good stiff frosting recipe if you want it.) each kid got to make their own. my mom was a nut! but such a blast. i'm not ready to do gingerbread houses with katie yet, but you know we'll be doing sugar cookies. i've already made 4 batches of toffee and 4 of peanut brittle, and even did my first solo run on making 'chews' - carmel/nougat deliciousness. i am ready to try some new fillings, now that i'm an expert after making them once!

funny that most of my traditions are with food, eh? i am also training katie to spot and LOVE 'christmas houses' - houses with lights up, and i have started a wee collection of christmas books to get us off on the right literary foot as well!

Disco Mom said...

hey man -
post your christmas book titles in the stocking/book section so I have them all in one place and can start a collection mooching off everyone's ideas. after all, that's the whole point of this series. FOOD will be another post but of course it overlaps with this one. email me the frosting recipe and it will save me 5 minutes on the internet i could spend doing something else like eating ice cream or dreaming of your toffee. that reminds me i should put a candy thermometer on my wishlist so i won't have any more excuses to not make it myself. and that reminds me, i want a picture of your tree/ornament advent calendar. i may end up making one for next year (year-long project.)

Maren said...

Well, we haven't been into the activities much until we moved here. The kids just weren't old enough to enjoy it. I have always been inspired/felt inadequate by Tona's clothespins. I'll let her tell you about them.

Anyway, I decided that I could at least do something each day- it didn't need to be big. So, as part of the advent ornament calendar, each pocket has something to do. Some are small things like "watch a Christmas show" (like Mr. Kreuger's Christmas or Joy to the World) or sing 2 hymns or read a story or set out the nativity. Some are bigger like visit the local gingerbread house competition or go to the First Presidency Devotional or go to a caroling concert on campus. Some are "make treats" followed by "deliver treats", etc.

This year was the first time at the Nutcracker for me, and it was awesome, but I don't think I'll make it a tradition to go every year. As I mentioned before, we do a little ceremony outlined in the cute book "Night Tree" where we read the book, then go outside to the fir tree, decorate it with critter food, sing carols and drink hot cocoa.

tona said...

First of all, frosting: use powdered egg whites.

1 1/2 tablespoons powdered egg white
1/4 cup warm water
Pinch cream of tartar
2 cups (1/2 pound) confectioners' sugar

This dries fast so make it soon before you want it and keep it covered when you're not using it. Turns to total cement. Martha Stewart's recipe is even simpler, on her website, no cream of tartar needed.

Maren don't be intimidated by the envelopes. They're just to mark the days, just a 3D "X" on a calendar. As I said in another comment, a lot of them are empty or just have the day's regular events on them (piano lesson, Mutual, etc). I am also using them this year to jot down what happened once that day is over, rather than what was planned. One year we did have a scripture per day or singing a carol, but this year we are just not around every night to do something together. We keep an occasional FHE journal, and we are trying, a couple of times a week, to pass it around at the dinner table and everyone writes something down about how they feel the Lord has blessed them that day (a la Henry Eyring's most recent conference talk) as a "gift of the season." I don't have a spiritual or festive activity planned for each day of the month, though. K, I'll post a picture of the string of envelopes on the family website, but it's nothing fancy. They are just coin envelopes from the stationary store with the numbers drawn in crayon on little squares of scrapbooking paper. I decorated the wooden clothespins with some holiday wooden embellishments stuck on with card-making foam double-sided stickies (forget what those are called, but you know what I mean).

Among our favorites include:
--a concert of the church choirs in the town where our congregation is located. First Saturday of December.
--usually, watching the first presidency broadcast from Salt Lake, first Sunday in December.
--going to a movie together
--I like seeing the Nutcracker but the boys couldn't care less
--baking cookies and delivering them on some random December night, to the police station and the fire station. They are always surprised and delighted.
--visiting a nursing home. Last year we went on Christmas to a home for retired French Canadian sisters of St Chretien (D has treated many of them) and they sang to us in French and loved to have us there. Here's the sad thing - a whole home of beautiful and devoted old Catholic ladies and our family were their ONLY visitors on Christmas day!
--take the kids to a store and let them spend some $ (about 5 each) on gifts for their siblings. They run around hiding their baskets from each other and the secrecy is part of the fun. Some years we have gone to the local 5&10, but I think this year we are going to an outdoor sports store.
--two holiday parties for Don's work. The kids get to do something fun while we're gone, like unpack the nutcrackers or watch a movie.
--last couple of years we have taken the kids shopping for a Toys for Tots gift.
--we usually make and then deliver something for the neighbors - as Maren said that can take 2-3 nights of successive effort.
--we usually watch the Christmas Story dvd sometime during the month. I would also like to watch Charlie Brown Christmas but need our own copy or one from Netflix because I can't stand the commercials.
--Christmas Eve (is that its own post?) we take a pretend pilgrimage to Bethlehem in our yard. It's like 5 minutes long, not a big deal, but we dress like shepherds & wise men. One quick Christmas carol per station: one station for shepherds, one for wise men and then we end up in the barn with the manger. Luminarias light the path between stations. Our dinner that night is something like what shepherds would have eaten.

Things we don't do...
--go to the mall in December. Ever. Don't go see Santa either. He does come to our ward Christmas party, which annoys me.

One book I have found helpful was Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season by Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli. I read it a lot and then lent it to someone and can't remember who so I don't have it any more, but it helped a lot. It has a Christmas "pledge" which I like:

Believing in the true spirit of Christmas, I commit myself to:

Remember those people who truly need my gifts

Express my love in more direct ways than gifts

Examine my holiday activities in the light of my deepest values

Be a peacemaker within my circle of family and friends

Rededicate myself to my spiritual growth

Maren said...

That's awesome.

tona said...

I forgot to mention our newest tradition, celebrating st Lucia Day (today!) with a crown & outfit for Halle and an early breakfast on Dec 13. I have thought about transferring the Santa stuff to St Nicholas day on Dec 6 and having the kids put out their shoes that night, but we've never done that. There's also a French Pere Noel day, I think around the 10th? If you have certain European heritage there is usually a fun celebration from that country that you can re-adopt.

kat said...

hey younce -

if you put a damp towel over the frosting it will last a little longer before it turns to cement.

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