What Is Your Reason for the Season?

christmas 2007

(Photo credit: paparutzi)

 My weekly newspaper column:

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

 It is hot (as in 40 degrees C) in Australia right now, which could explain why a blog friend of mine has decided to discard Christmas for the time being. But her real reasons are far beyond the discomfort of the heat.  Her husband is in a nursing home with advanced Parkinson’s; her teenage son has back surgery on Tuesday; the same son was in an awful accident not too long ago which put several of his younger cousins in the hospital — he has been charged and must go to court and may face jail—all because he was trying to give them a bit of fun; her stove has stopped working so there is nowhere to cook the turkey; and she just cannot face the added pressure of shopping and decorating and cooking for Christmas. When she broached the subject with her son, he agreed—in light of all that was going on in their lives, Christmas was not a bright light, but a responsibility which overshadowed their joy.

         

English: First Omagh Presbyterian Church - Mid...

Presbyterian Church –  Taken at noon on Christmas Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

   They did make one concession though. They are going to go to church on Christmas. My first reaction when I read of their decision to forego the splash that is Christmas was one of pity, and I could not help but think about what they would miss out on. But are they really missing out? They have made a decision to celebrate what they truly believe Christmas is about—the spirituality, and erase all the extras, except for a visit from the son’s grandma which was his one concession to the season.

            I love the hurly burliness of the Christmas season and even when I have had to face the loss of some of those closest to me at the “happiest” time of the year, I have been able to celebrate, though a bit more sombrely and with a little less sparkle.  I find the Christmas season cheers me up—there is something in the air and it seems merrily contagious.  For the most part people are kinder, they smile more, and they greet friends and family and even strangers a bit more heartily. The lights on our trees and houses and decorations bring a brightness to an otherwise dark time of year.

            I love all the things Christmas—but I understand when the pressure to create a perfect holiday makes it less than merry and bright. Some people find blessings in the spirituality of the season and like my Australian friend this year discard what they think of as the commercialization and crassness of Christmas. I embrace the spirituality of the season, but the others parts of Christmas are close to my heart too. Yes, Christmas has been commercialized, but we can make our choice as to the extent we want that aspect to enter into our celebrations.

          

Cover of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole...

Cover via Amazon

  I think Dr. Seuss had something when he had the Grinch (of How the Grinch Stole Christmas fame) reflect on what Christmas was all about. This excerpt from the book (and movie of the same name) says it all: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

            Humourist Dave Barry puts a little different perspective on the whole question of Christmas, and though skewed for laughs, he covers several bases:“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall’!”

            Only you can answer the question of the meaning of Christmas and only you can decide how to celebrate it.  I am kind of partial to how President Calvin Coolidge defined it on Christmas Day, 1927 in his Presidential address: “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

What does Christmas mean to you?

Let’s get this party started!

1st December 2013, Sunday, Was that a snowflak...

1st December 2013, Sunday (Photo credit: tomylees)

I am providing you with a rare opportunity ~ a sneak peek into this week’s  newspaper column which is not due until tomorrow morning. As this is the first day of December I thought it was apropos. This is not hot off the presses–it is a look at something before it even meets the presses:     

            December really creeps up on us. It is not like we do not know that it is coming. But I am always a bit unprepared for this most magical time of the year. It comes directly after stealthy November, so why am I so surprised that there are now just a few weeks before Christmas instead of months?  I believe that my ability to live in denial gets me through November, but when December skulks out of the shadows and jingles its bells even I cannot deny that I should get in gear.

            So what gets you into the Christmas spirit? I devour Christmas magazines and cookbooks but seldom glean anything of import from them. I am not particularly crafty though for years I pretended—but now I just let the authentic me loose, and authentic me is not all that crafty.  I enjoy a bit of cutting and pasting but that gets old after a while and does not really get one much past making  Christmas cards, paper snowflakes, or the occasional bookmark. I think that my crafting phase has passed and though it was short-lived I did give it the “old college try” and if you happened to be the recipient of my craftiness, rest easy that you will not have to admire my “all thumbs” creations in the future.

          

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  I do have a bit of a decorating bent, but find that I am thinking about the fact that what I gloriously decorate my home with will have to be taken down in about a month—so of late I tend to decorate with statement  pieces rather than all the small things I have collected over the years. The only place I break this rule now is the Christmas tree—mine drips with nostalgic tissue paper bells, popsicle stick sleds, pipe cleaner snowmen, and pinecones decorated with lots and lots of glitter. Sure my kids are in their twenties now—and are no longer producing these little works of art—but I keep them stashed safely away and bring them out every year reliving their childhoods when innocent belief reigned supreme.

            I remember those days of innocent belief, when I was not the purveyor of all things Christmas but an innocent and receptive beneficiary. As a kid, I could not believe that there could be a thing so wondrous as Christmas. My mother can be blamed in large part for this, as she created the best Christmases ever.  I remember going to my cousin’s house one Christmas and she showed me all the clothes she got and I recall thinking how horrible—mind you she was four years older than I, so at 13 she was very happy to get clothes, but at nine years of age I could not imagine worse presents. I told my mom then that I was really glad that Santa had not left me clothes. Dolls and books, games and toys were more my speed at that age—and Santa always made sure there was plenty to unwrap under our tree.

            At our house, we did not have the tradition of each person unwrapping one present at a time while the others in the family looked on—and though I now think it is a lovely way to celebrate—I liked the way we were each given a present and we all opened them at once. It added to the confusion and chaos of Christmas morning—which is one of its most attractive attributes to me. We were a family of six—mom and dad and two boys and two girls—and the mayhem was all part of the fun.

        

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Shopping

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree  (Photo credit: K!T)

    Christmas past seems to play a large part of Christmas present. We remember old traditions and we keep them even if just in our memories. Some are translated to fit today; and others are kept intact to be celebrated over and over again. I have a rather bedraggled Christmas tree that my kids do not want me to get rid of because it is the one they remember from their childhoods. So every year we get it out and dress it to the nines, and it is transformed from a Charlie Brown Christmas tree to the belle of the Christmas ball. 

            So as this month of December gets started and we embrace it and all that it celebrates, we will enjoy the new season it heralds. Winter is made so much more palatable by the cheer imparted by the holiday season.

            In the immortal words of Pink: (Let’s) “Get this party started right now.”

ARE YOU READY FOR CHRISTMAS?

Make A Plan

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! (Photo credit: Kelvin Servigon)

I have received a lot of advice in my life. Some I ignore. Some I am delighted to receive. And some I have to digest before I use it.

The following four short pieces of advice {which really meld into one} are from one of my favourite foodies, Rachael Ray, and they will stand me in good stead this holiday season if I take the time to heed them.

So (drum roll please), here are her pithy words of advice:

Rachael Ray Mag

Rachael Ray Mag (Photo credit: Bekit)

Less is more

Keep it simple

Invite People

Make a plan.

She was referring to entertaining, but I think these words can be used in so many facets of our lives. The only change I would make is to “Make a plan” then “invite people” but that is just the way I roll.

This holiday season I have to keep in mind what is important. As the days wind down towards the big day I have a plan–I know that making my thumbprint cookies with seedless raspberry jam is more important than making sure every room in my house is spick and span; I know that making some good and  simple food will make my family happy and that creating fancy unfamiliar dishes would only cause stress; I know that wrapping the presents in whatever fashion I can, is more important than making sure everything is perfectly bowed and all corners sharp; I know that  family and friends are more important than my to do lists.

So, as I pare down my expectations, I do not pare down what makes this season merry and bright–good food, good friends, and family as well as something to open, something to drink, something to eat, and something to laugh at. And, oh yeah, better not forget to make the fudge.

What is the one important thing you must do to make your holiday merry?

A Timely Quote

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ~ Cicero

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Broadway in ...

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Broadway  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. Eat, drink and be merry, because the holiday season is upon us.

Published in: on November 22, 2012 at 10:52 am  Comments (18)  
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~Potlucks are not for the faint of heart~

Potlucks. I love them. I was reminded of the impending holiday season yesterday at my Writers’ Group meeting, where we planned our Christmas potluck for December 14th. I am returning to my comfort zone for my contribution to potlucks and bringing a salad. After reading this post from last year, you will understand:

Fruit and berries in a grocery store, Paris, F...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cookbooks are kind of a hobby for me. I love to read about food, about exotic ingredients combined in unusual ways to create magnificence, all the while stirring 1% milk into my macaroni and cheese and warming up meatballs from the frozen section of the grocery store.

I have long made fun of my skills as a cook. I have a friend who calls me on it, saying that she thinks I use my “phantom lack of skills” to ward off any criticism of my cooking. And she is right. I am not a bad cook—my family is not starving, and I can be creative in my own right—but I am not a particularly confident cook. I attended a small get together on Saturday night—a casual dinner party, and having volunteered to bring dessert, I had visions of all kinds of delectables I could make and offer lovingly to my friends. I usually volunteer to make the salad, but in my new quest to “take risks” I offered to bring the grande finale to the dinner instead.

I told my sister of this unusual offer to make dessert and she promptly emailed me an easy and foolproof recipe fora dessert that she was sure would be a hit. She is aware of my skills, so sent something that had very few ingredients, and even fewer steps. I think that part of my problem is that I am a languid (synonym for lazy) cook, as well as a little unsure when it comes to feeding anyone outside my family.

I was determined to try the recipe. I made a list of the ingredients and was all set to buy them and “compose” a homemade dessert. Then I got cold feet. I perused the bakery section of a local grocery store and found a sinful dessert that would be sure to please. I considered putting the caramel chocolate mousse cake {with artistic chocolate curls} on a plate from home to “make it seem” as if I had baked it. But I decided instead to be honest, knowing they would see through my ruse anyway. I presented the cake unapologetically in its original packaging. These were good friends—they would understand. And they did. But they did not know the angst that went into “buying” dessert.

I never judge when people bring “prepared” food to a potluck, as I understand their trepidation. I suffer from it too. To those of you out there who either do not care what people think about your cooking (good for you) or are such good cooks that you have great confidence from years of success, I honour your commitment to “homemade” and enjoy it immensely. There is also a faction out there who is unabashedly unapologetic—as they should be. They bring offerings that may not be “from their hands but from their hearts” and I honour you too. We are all talented in different ways and being made to feel guilty because you do not make your offerings from scratch is just not hospitable.

So, this holiday season, as we all venture out to our potlucks, go with what makes your season bright and not stressful. If “homemade” is not your forte, that is what grocery stores and specialty shops are for.

Salad with Thousand Island Dressing

Salad with Thousand Island Dressing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A note: my salads are not of the iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing thrown over them ilk (though this is good and has its place). I go all out with fancy greens, nuts, dried fruit, seeds, cheese, and even, on occasion, have been known to make my own dressing. I take my commitment to bring the salad very seriously.

What do you bring to potlucks? Are you brave–or do you have tried and true recipes?

~ We Gather Together ~ and Stuff Ourselves ~

English: Bow Bridge over The Lake in Central P...

English: Bow Bridge on Thanksgiving Day 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

~ we gather, we give thanks, and we eat ~

This is an edited version of my weekly newspaper column and though it is early it will serve to whet your appetite for the coming weekend if you are Canadian. I know that many of my readers are not Canadian but I think you may find a few things you can relate to:

“We gather together” are the introductory words of the first verse of a hymn sung traditionally at Thanksgiving. And it very aptly sums up one of the best attributes of Thanksgiving—it brings us together at a table heavily laden with harvest food.

A Canadian living in the United States wrote an article in the October edition of Chatelaine magazine comparing Canadian Thanksgiving with American Thanksgiving. Samantha See’s article, “Turkey Takedown” concluded that: “…we gather. And we dine. And we make a huge mess. But mostly we hang out and talk over each other and laugh and argue and fall asleep on the couch zoned out on tryptophan.”

The big difference between our Thanksgiving and our neighbour to the south, says See, is that we are the “first out of the gate” in that we celebrate in October and not November. Even though we cannot lay claim to the Pilgrims we “celebrate all the same, and Give Thanks and have Family Feasts, and all those good things.” That to me is Thanksgiving in a wonderful nutshell. On both sides of the border.

Sure the Americans throw in some parades and their Thanksgiving seems to be the harbinger of the holiday season, but if we look at in another way—our holiday season is even longer, because we start sooner. The point See makes is that “as long as you celebrate, haul that whole family together, and break bread in some way”, Thanksgiving has been appropriately commemorated.

She also makes the very salient point that Thanksgiving is the beginning of the “eating season”—a time of year when she bakes herself “into a woman-sized shortbread cocoon” and spends “two and a half months eating (her) way out.”

I think that the majority of us love Thanksgiving with all the fixings. I would love Thanksgiving even more if I were not the one in charge of fixing it, but over the years I have learned a number of ways to make that part of the equation easier. At the advice of a friend, I now buy a turkey that needs neither days of thawing nor the stuffing of its interior. No handling an unwieldy bird for me (but now I have to find something new to complain about).

Thanksgiving is important for so many reasons—the food, the giving of thanks, the camaraderie, but most important is the first three words of that hymn written originally in 1597: “WE GATHER TOGETHER”.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good appetite.

Thanksgiving Day Greetings

Thanksgiving Day Greetings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)