Christmas Traditions

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A few years ago, we made a decision as a family to each make one gift for each of the others (small family of 4).  For some, the creative, artsy ones, this was not that hard.  For others, they had a plan going in and also found it not so hard – time consuming, maybe, but not hard.  And the last family member? He found it difficult.  He googled, he cajoled, he asked around at the office, he looked for loopholes in the agreement that would allow him to buy something, like, maybe something from a craft fair – that would be home made, right?  But not by him. We made him stick to the rules.

On Christmas Day we were all presented with beautifully arranged mason jar kits to bake cookies or brownies or soup.  The youngest, 13 at the time, had knitted for each of us (mine was a dishcloth).  The eldest, then 16, had made something different for each of us – mine was a cardboard frame for a picture, decorated with beach glass.  I had typed up my trip journal and made a copy for each member of the family from our Europe trip that summer, and added photos of each of them in their copies.  The forethought and effort to think of something the other person would like, that our skills could manage, was far, far more challenging than paying cash for something from the store.  We had plenty of that too, under the tree, but the exercise of just one present for three other people was exhausting – but pleasantly so when we saw their pleasure in receiving it.

So much so, that we did it again the following year.  And the next.  We don’t have an official policy anymore, it’s just if someone wants to do it, and sometimes we don’t – time is a factor for the working stiffs among us, and for the students too.  But there’s always special baked goodies for each of us now, and sometimes something crafted from wood or wool.  Maybe a photo montage.  Last year, the younger one did special little things for each of us in her metal jewellery shop class – mine was a cat shaped pen holder (it’s tail is corkscrewed to hold the pen).

The inspiration for this tradition came originally from reading Bill McKibben’s “Hundred Dollar Holiday”, one of his older books.  But it’s one of those ideas that seems to surface in different places and at different times.  Here in Canada, on our public radio station (CBC Radio) we have a storytelling show called The Vinyl Cafe, hosted by Stuart McLean.  His stories revolve around Dave and Morley and their kids Stephanie and Sam.  The story that resonates with me just now is called The Christmas Gift.  If you have time in the next few days, and need something to doze off to after eating all the leftovers, give it a listen.

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Merry Christmas from all of us at Sailors Small Farm.

Bruce the Spruce

Many commented very kindly last week about the lovely green decorations that the resident teenagers created for our porch, and after I had tried to assure one commentator that not all of our decorating is up to that standard, she basically challenged me to show her the goods.  So, Union Homestead – this is for you:

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This charming decoration has been a family tradition for about 14 years.  Bruce sings Jingle Bells at a fast pace in a tinny sort of Dean Martin voice.  He is motion activated and in the beginning the girls took great delight in ambushing anyone – parents, the cat, the dog, visitors, etc by placing Bruce in strategic locations around the house.  That all stopped when I used the same tactic to ambush any nighttime/early morning visitors to the Christmas stockings. I am told those flashing eyes are “freaky” when in a pitch dark room.  Frankly, I find the whole idea of a singing flashing Christmas tree with a name a little freaky, but that’s just me.

I just found out this year about the Elf on a Shelf fad going on these days, and I’m thankful at least that we created our own tradition without help from a DVD, a website, or a game, and that even though it involves a freaky flashing fir, it does not require me to buy any other “stuff” to make the tradition work.  To be fair, some people have been very creative in how they make the whole Elf thing work. Our 16 yr old babysat for a household recently where a visiting youngster had accidentally left a toy behind.  The family gave the toy to their elf upon going to bed, in the hopes that it would be communing with the elf residing in their little friend’s house, and lo and behold, the next day at school it transpired that yes indeed, the child had her toy back, thanks to the busy little elves.  I mean, that’s pretty creative stuff.  I would have just packed it in my daughter’s backpack to take to school the next day, but there you go – our creativity clearly peaked with the arrival of Bruce in our home more than a decade ago.

It might be unfair to sneer at the Elf thing.  Advent calendars were once all the rage, from my childhood ones depicting a sunny sandy looking Bethlehem with windows opening onto a paper background with a little picture of a candy cane or a candle, to the Spiderman and Dora chocolate calendars currently popular.

Then there’s the Pickle tradition I only learned about last week.

For lots of people this time of year is being marked by Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Christmas, or maybe some other cultural celebration I’ve not heard of.  Though I’m Christian, and therefore for me, this is the time to celebrate the birth of Christ, for many, it’s simply a time to gather family together, to feast and have some fun.  That’s awesome.  But regardless of the why for celebration, it seems to me that we should be a little choosier about what we decide to make a tradition.  I mean, a pickle??? And doesn’t anyone else find this elf concept a little close to spying?   And while we’re on the topic, why DO I have those lights up on the outside of the house?  What possible tie in to Christmas made us all buy into that tradition?  I think I should maybe not do them next year, and save myself hours of ladder work, not to mention sanity…maybe I’ll leave a note for a Christmas elf to find asking him(are there female elves?) to hang pickles from my eaves next year, thereby starting a new tradition.

Christmas Decorating

Family tradition decrees that we don’t start our decorating here until Advent begins (4 Sundays before Christmas.  If things go according to plan, we decorate a little at a time – well, that’s my plan anyway – hubby is more of an all or nothing kind of decorator.  At this point in the calendar however, we’re still on my schedule.

Today, the 16 yr old put together a lovely centrepiece for the advent wreath.  There is no way I can safely light even my tallest candles with this arrangement, lovely though it is, so I think I will use separate candle holders placed well away from the greenery – most of our meals would not benefit from the flambee treatment.

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Earlier in the week, the 19 yr old decorated the hand rail of the porch – lovely don’t you think?

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Last Sunday, the younger one made the door wreath for me – gorgeous.

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And then there’s my effort… Mine is the exterior Christmas lights on our house.  10 strings, each 25 ft long of LED lights secured along the eaves of the house on two sides, the road and driveway sides.  I realize you only see a very small portion of the total length in this picture, but how many bulbs do you see shining there?

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I can confirm that yes indeed, the single red light you see there is the ONLY light that comes on when I turn on the outside lights.   I spent three hours battling with these lights last Sunday and I was not in a very Christmassy mood by the time I finally gave up, having convinced 4 of the 10 strings to come on.

I moaned about this to hubby over dinner, he who used to be responsible for this particular aspect of Christmas decorating until this year, who said brightly “oh, you know what, that happened last year too – they don’t work well when it’s cold”.

Wait, what did you say – they don’t work when it’s cold?  THIS IS CANADA!!!! Are you kidding me?  Christmas is cold in Canada.  Always.  Even here, in the warmest corner of the country in the winter, our night temperature is typically hovering around 0 C this time of year.  Last week, when i was up and down the ladder a million times tweaking and adjusting and replugging and swearing…the night temperature was -3.

But sure enough, as long as the temperature is above 0 C, they seem to work OK.  Not right away – it takes a couple of hours for the rest of the strings to come on, but if you wait all night, you might get to see both sides of our house lit up by midnight.  If only I could stay awake that long, I’d see them too.