Category Archives: Just for Fun

Eight Favorite Thanksgiving/Christmas Traditions

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.

Garth-Williams5. 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?

What’s Saving Your Life These Days?


Guarding, keeping, saving…


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:

  • A weekend away with members of Tiny Church for our third annual retreat at the lake. We had a great time. I wish it had been longer, but it was long enough to experience some transcendent moments: Margaret’s silhouette against the sparkling water as she went kayaking for the first time. James’s smile as he flew across the yard on the zip line. Getting sucked into a jigsaw puzzle and feeling that satisfying snap of the right piece locking into place. Playing some simple songs on guitar with one of our members who is learning the banjo. More guitar music and singing around the campfire. The smell of the campfire—one of my favorite smells in the world—that remained even the next morning. The relaxed way we all recounted these moments (and so many others) during worship by the lake yesterday. Not to mention the inaugural presentation of the Tiny Church iPhone Handbell Choir! They pulled off a lovely version of Joyful Joyful courtesy of this app.
  • Despicable Me 2. Fun and surprisingly touching.
  • The end of the swim team season. I love the sport of swimming, and I could watch my girls swim all day long—it brings me great pleasure. But it’s an intense schedule; with practices every morning, meets on Wednesday evenings and every Saturday (and one Sunday), it sorta robs us of our summer. And summer is important. Charles Simic knows what I’m talking about.
  • Voice lessons… reminders to breathe. Last spring I won four weeks of voice lessons through a silent auction. Finally cashing them in, and wow—unexpectedly profound. I took voice for a semester in college (in addition to singing in some ensembles), but this is on a whole different level. Let’s just say the woman has a copy of Gray’s Anatomy on the shelf of her studio, and last week I spent 30 minutes just learning how to stand properly. My homework was to drink water and practice breathing after every 8-10 words I speak. (I failed to remember this homework and will get chided for it, I’m sure.)
  • Vacation anticipation. And this is a big one; we get on a plane for Iona (by way of Dublin) three weeks from today. Can’t wait to be on that island… though I’m not sure I’m ready for the way that place works on me.
  • Spicy Buttermilk Coffee Cake. We usually make it Christmas Eve morning, but it tastes righteously good in July too. Go figure! Here’s the recipe.
  • Jillian Michaels. This heat and humidity have been brutal on my running schedule. Thankfully the marathon training doesn’t begin until fall. In the meantime, the 30-Day Shred has been a great challenge. Strength, cardio and abs, put together in a 20 minute workout plus warmup and cooldown. Perfect.
  • Book of Mormon. So funny. So profane. So profound.
  • Highlights. Y’all, this writing life is a privilege, but it’s also a solitary slog sometimes. The other day I stumbled across a webpage that shows what people have highlighted in the Kindle edition of my book. What a surprise and a joy to see what the ideas that touch people the most.
  • Dinner with friends last Friday night.
  • The to-don’t list.

What’s saving your life?

photo credit: Justin Gaurav Murgai via photopin cc