The bridge at Hidden Pond Nature Center, on the day after Thanksgiving. Known in some places as Black Friday… but not here.
These days Pinterest is all a-flutter with pins listing favorite holiday traditions. (That, and chalk fonts. What’s up with that?)
Some of these tradition posts state the obvious, like “going to see Christmas lights.” You don’t say! Whereas others have offered novel ideas for Christmas fun. Bring on the crazy dinner!
It got me reflecting on favorite traditions from our family over the years. Here are just a few, maybe familiar, maybe not, that might spark your own thinking:
1. Hundred Dollar Holiday. This one was inspired by Bill McKibben (no relation, sadly) and his little book of the same name. The idea is simple: to downshift the consumerism of the celebration of Jesus’ birth by limiting one’s holiday spending to $100, or whatever amount you set.
For the first several years of marriage—back when we had more time than money—Robert and I did the hundred-dollar holiday. One year we wrote a cookbook with favorite recipes, photos and reflections. Another year we made candles. We frequently baked a slew of homemade treats for folks.
Now our celebrations are more traditionally, um, American; there are plenty of store-bought goodies under the tree. But the hundred-dollar Christmas has influenced the way we think about the celebration, whether that means incorporating homemade gifts as well, or not stressing over weird notions about gift parity and spending “enough.”
2. National Day of Listening. This is StoryCorps’s initiative to encourage families and friends to share stories with one another on the day after Christmas. Check it out.
At this point Robert is reading this and going “huh?” OK, we did it once. And I have no idea where the sound recordings are. But I’m getting an itch to do it again, especially now that the kids are older.
3. Christmas Eve Dinner at the Church. This is especially for you pastors and church professionals. The church I used to serve had four Christmas Eve services, with very little time between them. As the associate pastor, my duties were much lighter than the pastor or the music director. So Robert and I would bring dinner (usually soup and bread) for anyone who needed a little nourishment, especially between the 5:00 and the 7:30 services. I loved it.
4. Hot Cider Christmas Eve. The previous tradition has given way to a new one, now that I’m serving a different church with a single Christmas Eve service. Two years ago I ran my first race, the Hot Chocolate 5K. A few days later Robert said, “I woke up this morning thinking about a “Hot Cider Christmas Eve.” And just like that, a tradition was born. Our family bakes cookies and heats up cider for people to enjoy following Tiny Church’s 7:30 service. (Join us!) The first year, I wondered if people would grab and go, but sure enough, people stuck around and chatted, not the least bit hurried to get home. How wonderful.
5. Little Christmas on the Prairie. I honestly can’t remember where I got this idea, but it’s become a favorite tradition: to read the Christmas chapters of each of the Little House on the Prairie books to the girls (and now, to James). Oh, the chapter in Big Woods in which Laura gets her doll is so cozy and gay! And the Plum Creek Christmas, in which Pa gets trapped in a snowbank during a blizzard and must eat the Christmas candy to survive, is truly harrowing.
6. Holiday Recipe. Most people have one of these—a special holiday food that they do not make any other time of year. Ours are the pralines. Which is strange, because there’s nothing overtly Christmasy about them. But they are a culinary trigger just the same. It’s not the Advent/Christmas season without them, and if we’re eating them, then the season has arrived.
7. Festival of Lessons and Carols Broadcast. This is the most steadfast of the holiday traditions, aside from the pralines. Every Christmas Eve morning we listen to the public radio broadcast of Kings College (Cambridge)’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. We have a special coffee cake we always bake (see #6), and even the kids know to hush when the chorister begins to sing “Once in Royal David’s City.”
8. Fundraiser for the Homeless. Last year the girls wanted to do something to help people who are homeless, so we launched an idea for them to give away copies of their music and art in exchange for different levels of donation. In the end they raised more than $1100 for Homestretch, which blew us away. You can read about it here.
Let me state the obvious and say, this was a lot of work. I’m not sure we are feeling called to it this year, though some friends have already asked. If we do, you’ll be among the first to know.
Sprinkled in the midst of this is a bunch of stuff we don’t do, namely Christmas cards and outdoor decorating. It’s also OK to let some traditions wax and wane (see #2).
What are your favorite Thanksgiving, Advent and/or Christmas practices?
Barbara Brown Taylor likes to ask the question, “What’s saving your life right now?” The question is open-ended enough that people can offer responses both profound (the support of my family) and superficial (Oreo Mint Cremes). Here is my partial list:
What’s saving your life?
Despite being one of the proud founding matriarchs of the RevGalBlogPals, and one of the Friday Five hosts for a long time, I haven’t done one of these in ages. But today’s spoke to me for some reason… so here we go:
Whoosh! My calendar is packed. And June is almost gone! There’s the old saying, “Bad luck comes in threes” but I’ve decided that “Busy-ness comes in fives!” So this week we’ll take things five-at-a-time. Tell me:
1. Five flowers you’d like in a bouquet or in your garden:
I’m a terrible gardener. With five people and an aging cat, we’re keeping everything alive that we possibly can. But if someone would tend them for me, I’d pick hydrangeas, any kind of orchid, roses, tulips and something carnivorous, because awesome.
2. Five books you want to read (or re-read):
I have 125 books on my Goodreads to-read list, but here are five that jump out at me today:
Endurance, by Frank Arthur Worsley
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss
The Lifeboat: Charlotte Rogan
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
Lizz Free Or Die, Lizz Winstead
3. Five places you want to visit:
Iona, again. We’re going in August and I. Can’t. Wait.
Cinque Terre, Italy
New Zealand, because Lord of the Rings.
4. Five people you’d invite for tea/coffee/beer and pizza:
5. FIve chores or tasks you’d gladly give to someone else:
Bills/expenses/tracking tax stuff
Picking up socks and shoes. OMG, I am so sick of this.
BONUS: A five ingredient recipe! (This is harder than it sounds!)
I got this from O Magazine and haven’t had the nerve, nor the Nutella, to try this yet.
Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies
1 13 oz jar Nutella
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8 inch pan with foil.
In a large bowl, whisk together Nutella, eggs, and water. Stir in flour and salt and transfer to prepared pan. Bake until just set around the edges, 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely.
Remove brownies using foil. Cut and serve, discarding foil. Makes 9.
Remember this map at Tiny Church?
We’re continuing our journey around the world through our running, walking, biking and swimming. We have been plotting our course to Democratic Republic of Congo, where we will hear from a woman in our church who works for USAID. She will talk about her work and a ministry she interfaces with in the DRC. The service will have a special focus on that region of the world.
Jesus is on the move!
You may know Flat Stanley, the guy from the children’s books who shows up all over the world as people take pictures of him in various locales.
Well, First Presbyterian—and Tiny Church—are adapting this practice as Flat Jesus:
This Sunday in the Upper Room we will have the kids decorate this image, printed on a bunch of cardstock. Following the service we will hand him out and encourage people to photograph him on their vacations and business trips. These photos will go up on our map.
Why? Because it’s fun. Because it’s summer and people are traveling.
And because God is everywhere.