Tag Archives: Christmas


I have always loved soft lighting, the kind that comes from candles and Christmas lights and a fireplace.  I always feel so comfortable, cozy, and safe when the glaring lamps are turned off and the only light in our house comes from twinkling Christmas lights and candles.  Perhaps it’s because the bright lamps make me think of my migraines and how much bright light hurts when a migraine is harassing me.

It feels most like Christmas when it’s dark outside, and our house softly glows with countless twinkling Christmas lights and candles.  Sometimes, more darkness can be a good thing.

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Kidney for Christmas

A few years ago, we learned that my cousin, Robin, had only one kidney, and it was failing.  Robin is only a few years older than me, so you can imagine the reaction.  We learned in July of 2007 that no one in Mom’s family matched Robin’s blood type, so there were no donors.  Her family had been reaching out to everyone:  churches, co-workers, anyone who would listen.  We learned that July that my Dad and Robin shared a blood type.

Dad, after learning this, quietly began the process of applying to be a donor, making trips to Chicago for tests and evaluations.  Only Mama, my siblings, and I knew he was doing this; we didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up in case it didn’t work out.  Finally, near the end of November, he was declared a match and the operation was scheduled for December 10.  Robin knew she had a donor; she didn’t know who it was.  My parents figured they had to tell their secret, since Dad and Robin would be in the same area of the same hospital in Chicago, and they’d both be quite obviously recovering from major surgery when we were all together at Christmas.  They made the trek north one night to tell Robin’s parents and the rest of Mom’s side of the family and, as you can imagine, it was extremely emotional.

On December 10, one of Dad’s kidneys was removed and given to Robin.  The surgeon was amazed at the immediate production of the kidney:  the surgery was a success.  Soon after she awakened, Robin insisted on going to see Dad, so she slowly hauled herself and all of her gear down to Dad’s room, where he was making a much slower recovery.  They just held hands and looked at each other and everyone cried and cried.  Robin has since made an incredible recovery and is living a full life, as is my dad.

The best part?  Dad had Robin’s name in the family Christmas gift exchange.  Just like a Hallmark movie.

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Just Hear Those…

Christmas carols.  Some of our local radio stations began playing only Christmas music before people had even purchased a Thanksgiving turkey.  Why?!

About half of the Christmas songs played drive me nuts:  Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Sleigh Ride, Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas (if the song doesn’t make you shoot yourself first), Blue Christmas (really?!), O Christmas Tree (“how lovely are your branches”?!  weird!).  Who wrote those anyway?!

Look, I have nothing against Christmas music.  I adore Christmas and even have some favorite carols:  O Come, O Come Emanuel, Silent Night, White Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (really, one of the saddest songs ever).  However, enough with stores selling Christmas un-necessaries before Halloween, and enough with radio stations blasting Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

Christmas is in December, where it belongs, as do the carols.  Let’s show some love to the other holidays already.

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It’s a good thing Christmas comes at the end of the year.  It’s usually when everything appears the most dire, when people are worried about making ends meet, and when everyone prepares his or her New Year’s resolutions, probably soon to be broken.  Right now, I don’t have a job, or a car, or my own place to live.  I don’t have dental insurance or prescription coverage.  I have student loans and bills to pay.  Things appear quite dire.

However, though frequently pessimistic, I am a person who believes in hope.  I think one of the reasons people are so happy during the Christmas season is because of the anticipation, the hope that things are going to get better.  I am one who has a great hope that next year will be better.  We continue to celebrate Christmas and uphold traditions, even if we have to cut back due to loss and a poor economy.

Hope is a foundation of faith.  Without it, we could never muddle through war, death, poverty, hunger, and loneliness.  If no one lived with hope, no one would waste time doing anything good.  Things are difficult for many people right now, but I have hope that things will come back around.  That’s the only way I can survive in a fallen world.

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I’m one of those people who enjoys giving gifts far more than receiving them.  I love the excitement of finding something perfect for a special someone’s personality.  I love the process of wrapping and creating bows and, as an artist, finding unique color combinations.

The best gifts I have ever received are the ones that surprise me.  I may be shopping with someone or looking at a magazine or surfing online and I’ll suddenly find something that makes my eyes light up.  Come Christmas, I will have forgotten about it, but someone will remember my reaction from months ago and will have purchased that thing I had forgotten about.  Those gifts are the best.

My favorite gift story of all time belongs to my grandpa.  Raised in a family of working immigrants, birthdays and Christmas were celebrated to a small degree, if at all.  My grandpa doesn’t remember receiving gifts growing up, but he does remember his first:  as he entered the Navy during World War II, his older brother, Tom, gave him a coat.  It was something so simple, yet it had the most profound impact on my grandpa.  Tom died while my grandpa was away at war, and my grandpa still talks about receiving that coat.

Those are the gifts I love:  the ones that are remembered.

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Egg Nog

My grandpa has a special holiday recipe for egg nog:  rum, brandy and bourbon.  In fact, the actual egg nog barely makes an appearance.  It’s more of a cocktail stinger with the potential to kill you, yet my cousins (mostly male) look forward to Christmas with my Nana & Papa because Papa always mixes his liquored-up egg nog.  My sister, a pint-sized, 100 lb. fireball loves the egg nog and drinks it with little effect on her personality; as for me, one sip makes my organs burn.

Egg nog is a dying Christmas tradition; very few people serve it anymore, what with the fear of salmonella.  In my mother’s family, it’s a necessity,, even if it is because a person gets only a shot of egg nog in a glass of liquor.

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Decorating for the holidays is an ordeal within my family.  My dad’s side is simple but particular when it comes to how everything looks.  My mom’s side is completely out of control, both indoors and outdoors.  Every available surface is covered.  We always spend a portion of the few days after Thanksgiving transforming Nana & Papa’s house into a Christmas wonderland that includes a large outdoor nativity, a tiny indoor nativity, a Dickens’ Christmas Carol village, a land of Snow Babies, two Christmas trees, and countless statues, lights, ornaments, and garlands placed and hung everywhere.  Then there’s THE WREATH.  It is this massive, heavy beast that requires both of my aunts, my parents, my siblings, and a few cousins to install on the chimney.  I always find a way to get out of it.

We return home, where my immediate family proceeds to transform my parents’ house.  My mom has inherited her parents’ taste for opening the attic door and allowing Christmas to spill out into every nook and cranny.  However, she and my dad have blended their Christmas upbringings into a beautiful marriage of tastes.  Yes, we have three Christmas trees, a nativity, a snow village, Santa statues, teddy bears, a small sleigh, an advent wreath, a holiday wreath, and countless other Christmas items in addition to our house being covered in white lights.  The difference is that instead of it being insane like my mother’s parents house, our house resembles more of an elegant Christmas shoppe (it’s “shoppe” instead of “shop” to emphasize the elegance).  My siblings and I adore being home during the Christmas season because my parents always put so much care into the decorating details.

Yes, decorating can be a terrifying, stressful ordeal, but it has also allowed for my brother, sister and I to develop beautifully fond memories of Christmas, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

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For most of my childhood and beyond, one Friday or Saturday in December has been set aside for Christmas cookie baking.  Sometimes Nana and Papa would drive down and join us, but it was always Mama and my younger siblings, baking from mid-morning until mid-afternoon.  We always make far more than necessary, far more than anyone will eat.  Dad and I prefer the gingerbreads, my brother cares for only the M&Ms cookies (the only candy the boy eats is M&Ms), my sister’s favorite is called Snowy Mountain Tops, and Mama just likes dessert in general.

Snowy Mountain Tops, while the least popular to eat due to their richness, are the most fun to make:  chocolate dough, mixed from scratch is refrigerated.  Spoonfuls are then rolled quickly into a ball and flattened into an even disc.  A Hershey kiss is nestled into the center and the edges of the dough are gathered around, encasing the kiss, creating a mountain peak.  After baking and cooling, the tips of the mountains are dipped on confectioner’s sugar, creating “snowy” mountain tops.  One year, while baking in the oven, all the Snowy Mountain Tops shifted on the baking sheet into two rigid mountain ranges, leading from one corner of the baking sheet to the other.  It was both bizarre and awesome.

I think my love for the tedious baking-from-scratch was ignited and nurtured through this tradition of Christmas cookie baking.  Even if you throw out most of the cookies in the end, try baking them from scratch this year.  You may find it quite fulfilling.

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What would the holidays be without bells?

Bells are a big part of the holiday season, which I haven’t really figured out.  Salvation Army collectors ring them in front of stores and on street corners, we hang tiny ones on trees and churches release giant bells on Christmas Day.  Many of us have seen Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which little Zuzu declares:  “every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”  The human race provides a ridiculous number of wings each holiday season.

When I hear the ting of tiny bells on Christmas trees, I cannot help but fondly remember our old family dog, Sparky.  She was a mutt, as loyal as a dog comes, who lived for 16 solid years.  No matter how  much space there was, she had a habit of walking right along the Christmas tree.  Her tail wagging, she would send ornaments flying and bells ringing as if her life depended on it.  I wonder exactly how many angels received wings from my dog?

Ring a bell:  make an angel fly.

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Angel Tree

Since I first began working in high school, one of my favorite things about the Christmas season has been Angel Tree, a ministry that buys Christmas gifts for the children of prison inmates.  We always had an Angel Tree set up at my church, and I would carefully read each angel card until one connected with me.  I would then go out and spend way too much money fulfilling the simple gift requests of the child and the convicted parent.  I never met any of the children, but I imagined their surprise and joy to see a package at Christmas that was from their incarcerated parent, a parent who thought of them often and wanted them to know how loved they were at the holidays.

For the first time, I have not plucked an angel from the tree.  My hours at work have been repeatedly cut until, finally, I was laid off on Monday.  There are not many job options here right now; there haven’t been for months.  I’m not sure when my next paycheck will come, so I did not take an angel.  That has been bothering me for days, so although the rest of my spending must come to an end, I will still pick an angel and buy that child Christmas gifts.

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