(the last halloween pumpkin got carved for Christmastime)
(I got a shelf over the kitchen sink for Christmas~ something I've been wanting for a long time)
(etch-a-sketch lessons from papa)
(my booty~ I also received a very nice GPS watch for running)
(found this typewriter for her at Goodwill weeks ago, and very happily purchased it as a Christmas gift. she has been steadily plucking away at it and we are very much enjoying the 'tap-tippety-tap-BING!' sounds coming from the corner of the office where she is busily 'doing her work'. LOVE.)
As this Christmas season comes to a close, we have yet another opportunity to reflect on which traditions, outings, and recipes (and such) we'd like to keep in the mix for this little family of ours. Without a doubt, each year there are things I intend to bring into the mix, others I'm sure I'll let go of, and plenty of recipes and crafty little tutorials I long to try. And without a doubt, each year I remember (or rather, I am starkly reminded) that there's only so much one needs to do to make the time special and memorable. Very little, really.
Thinking about what works for us and reflecting back on Christmases past I am warmed to realize that we indeed already have our own little tune that we march to. We've had time enough together to have forged some lasting traditions that we'd surely notice were they not played out. And so, for us, Christmas (and the days leading up to it and after it) looks a lot like this:
* her simple paper advent calendar is hung and thoroughly enjoyed. 95% of the time there are not treats, but ideas/suggestions for activities that we can do together and/or good deeds to carry out. things like bike rides to the library, enjoying hot cocoa and a movie, shopping for food and then delivering it to the local food pantry, inviting a friend over, etc. we talk a lot about how this time of year is mostly about doing good things for others and helping each other out. emphasizing that through her advent calendar (instead of it being solely a countdown to presents) seems to have really made a big impact on her own desires and expectations surrounding Christmas morning.
* we do a simple celebration in honor of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. we leave her shoes out to be filled with a few simple treats, talk about St. Nicholas and his good deeds and how he lived long ago but was the inspiration for Santa Claus and how we remember and honor him on this day. I found a lot of useful information, including coloring sheets, here.
* since she was just a couple months shy of two years old, we've gone every year to see the Asheville Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker. this year was my favorite one yet.
* early in December we start making swags and wreaths from evergreen branches, holly berries, bittersweet berries…. anything hardy, really. this year we threw in some eucalyptus and lavender.
* early in the month we (well, I) also start up with the pandora holiday stations. long time favorites are the Billie Holiday and She & Him holiday stations. newer favorites are the Elizabeth Mitchell Holiday and Celtic Christmas stations.
* also in the 'early in the month' category…. I keep the often-needed small saucepan occupied for weeks as the official oranges-cinnamon-apples-cloves simmering pan. because, you know- it isn't Christmastime without that smell. or so my strong sense of childhood-olfactory-nostalgia tells me. this year, on Christmas morning, Mike looked at the stove and said "oh! that's the other thing I wanted to get you- your own special pot for that stuff!" I have noted that it is not convenient, this pan-stealing of mine. as such , I am now officially on the lookout at the thrift stores.
* we make cards (well, this year she made them all). not many, but enough to send out to immediate family, grandparents, great-grandparents, and a few good friends who live afar. and her little buddies around here, too. each year I briefly consider making some of those hip looking photo cards. you know- the matte ones with rounded edges. maybe a few black and white or very tasteful color photos of the three of us sprinkled in here and there amongst some sparsely but very purposefully placed Scandinavian designs. but I never get around to it. maybe next year.
* there's the tree, of course. we've been getting our Christmas trees from the same organization that has a tree lot here in town for the last 5 years. they are good people, doing good things. I feel good giving them my money in exchange for a tree, and this year they even threw in the little 3 foot tree that Claire so adored for free. I will say that I spend a little time each year (much like my brief window of waffling over the cards) considering going to a farm and very carefully choosing our tree together. the three of us, (matching plaid flannel perhaps) sawdust floating in the mountain air as we cut it down, sounds of laughing children in the distance, mugs of hot cider or cocoa in pretty matching red buffalo plaid thermos cups (we don't actually own those, but I feel it goes with the overall picture). sleigh bells, warm lovely horse breath. all of it. (see how I idealize things in my mind? of course that isn't really how it'd be- we would be in whatever we were wearing, Claire likely in one of her garish but lovely outfits she puts together. if we were lucky I'd have enough water in my water bottle for at least one of us and maybe an old apple. probably no bells and sweet-smelling horses. more likely the sound of families bickering over which tree to get and dads saying 'holy s&$@! this tree costs a hundred and fourteen dollars?!' in place of the choral laughter floating on the wind. but still.) so yeah. the tree. I'm a tree lot fan, through and through. maybe another childhood nostalgia thing. but maybe one of these years I'll pack some hot cocoa to take to the lot.
* peppermint bark happens. typically there are sugar cookies as well, though not this year. Claire and I each had our own cookie exchanges to attend and we came home with a variety of sweets that essentially deemed an additional sugar cookie baking event unnecessary. plenty of hot cocoa consumed in santa mugs. although, to be honest, that happens several times
throughout the year.
*I can't believe I left out our Solstice celebrations when I first posted this! here is a little glimpse at our Solstice happenings this year. trees decorated with treats for the birds, a hike, candlelit dinner, and a solstice fire. sometimes we work in a solstice spiral as well, but not this year. instead we worked a makeshift menorah into the solstice wreath and sang merrily with good friends. good times.
* for the last few years there has been a Christmas caroling party at my neighbors' house sometime the week before Christmas. this year was the first time Mike came, perhaps because it wasn't as easy for him to get out of it since we had friends in town and they were game to come along. fun music, wine, snacks, good people. thanks for hosting the fun yet again, Penny and JD! (I also got a recipe for delicious orange peel and brandy infused Greek sugar cookies- YUM)
* also for the last few years, Claire and I have been going to the children's Christmas pageant service at the Episcopal church in town. this year, good friends of ours and my dad joined in. growing up it was always midnight mass with loads of candles and heavy, heady incense, the organ piping gorgeous tunes through the church. looking out the window for santa on the way home around 1am or so. up until the year I was pregnant with Claire, I still went with my dad more often than not, but it has been tricky trying to make it works in the years since. I do miss it, though. this is another place where I'll say 'perhaps next year'. while we are not a religious household, I've no lack of reverence and spirituality. and with Claire's love of nativity scenes and questions about that sweet little babe, well, I am happy to tell her the stories as best I can and of course include them in our Christmas celebrations. after all, how could we not?
* after mass then, Christmas Eve dinner. typically we try to incorporate some sort of traditional Polish dish in honor of my dad's family (growing up, my paternal grandparents always hosted us for Christmas Eve dinner, complete with pierogies, mushroom soup, sometimes stuffed cabbage, always the sharing of holy wafers among family members, wishing each other a healthy and blessed year ahead). Sometimes we do pierogies, sometimes a completely non-Polish meal. this year I tried out the Galumpkis Pie recipe from Ashley's A Year of Pies cookbook. it was delicious, although admittedly the absence of canned campbell's tomato soup and fried cubes of salt pork made it a bit different from the stuffed cabbage of my childhood.
* after dinner it looks like what I imagine many folk's Christmas Eve looks like- we start the cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, enjoy a Skype reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' with nana, and then turn in. (although this year papa and I also squeezed in two episodes of Downton Abbey and didn't hit the sack until nearly 2am)
* Christmas morning~ first, cinnamon rolls and coffee (and/or hot cocoa). stockings by the fire, gifts. and then a nice lazy, lazy day with a few visitors popping in here and there. this year papa worked Christmas day (though he was able to be home until 10:30am) and we had good friends, my brother and his girlfriend, and my dad over for dinner. good times.
My dad brought Claire an enormous teddy bear, which she promptly named Bear-bo. Although I think that has since changed to Emma and then to Aloe. She is a fickle namer, I think. And goodness just what will we do with this dear bear? I stayed very close to the goal I had of getting her just 4 gifts- "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read." The want: the typewriter, the need: a new lunchbox, sandwich wrap, and thermos (can that count as one?) to wear: new pjs and a fleecy red bathrobe, to read: a book about birds and one about chameleons. There were also some art supplies and stocking goodies, a renewed Nature Center pass. Of course there are (and will be) other gifts from relatives, but overall the aim was to keep it low-key and not just about presents. So far, so good.
This is one of the first years since I was pregnant that we aren't traveling up north this week between Christmas and New Year's. And while I admit I miss the opportunity to enjoy the company of extended family and watch Claire light up with joy in the company of her aunts, uncle, cousins, and great-aunts and great-uncles, there is another part of me that is so very happy to just. stay. put. I look at this week as a big exhale- a lazy, peaceful week of and reflecting and recharging before the new year. And so I am thankful to be able to fully relax into the week this year. Of course, it helps that nana and pipop (and possibly others) are coming to us~
Happy happy 'exhale week' to you and yours!