Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love everything about it: the music, the movies, the decorations, the hustle and bustle, even the bell ringers. I love the spirituality and kindness that spread throughout families and communities as people come together to celebrate and to help each other. I love the traditions and the memories it brings up of holidays past.
In addition to raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, here are a few of my favorite things about the holidays:
Christmas trees — From the time we snowshoe around Four Mile Park to find the perfect Charlie Brown tree to when I grudgingly agree it’s time to take it down sometime in January, the Christmas tree is a focal point in our home. We decorate it together, each ornament reminding us of a special time or trip we enjoyed. Much like the Griswalds, we always end up with a taller tree than intended, and it’s a challenge even for Andy, our long, lanky son, to get the star on the top. Once it involved him hanging from the beams in the living room.
The twinkling lights on the Christmas tree are mesmerizing; I like to turn off all of the rest of the lights in the house and lose myself in the glow after everyone else has gone to bed. The tree sits just between the living room and kitchen, so that we can see it from both rooms, the breakfast table and the front door. The house seems a little empty when it’s gone.
Matching jammies — I’m a bit of a Grinch when it comes to opening presents before Christmas morning. The one exception is that I still buy my kids matching PJs, which they “get” to open on Christmas Eve. I think that at ages 20 and 21, they’re finally starting to appreciate the tradition. (Just kidding. Andy still shakes his head in dismay…but he has given in and actually worn the pants on Christmas morning the past couple of years.)
The cookies — Oh, the cookies. We make sour cream sugar cookies from my Aunt Mandy’s recipe, and they’re one of the few cookies that I liked baked as much as I like the dough. The original recipe, from the late 1800s, called for “lard” and “enough flour to roll.” No measurements! They’re delicious, and I will pretty much eat them nonstop until they’re gone, so I don’t make them very often. Molasses crinkles, which are best when dipped in milk or coffee, are also a tradition. That recipe came from Scott’s Grandma Gauldin and is one of the first ones I learned when we got married.
The music — You know those people who get tired of Christmas music? I’m not one of them. I turn it on the radio as soon as it starts, and it stays on until they stop playing it. My favorite song is “Silent Night,” particularly at the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. It makes me cry every time I hear it performed live. And sometimes when it’s on the radio. The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is another favorite.
The movies — Laughter is what I’m looking for in a Christmas movie, probably because just about everything else this time of year makes me cry. We have two must-see films each year: “Christmas Vacation” and “Elf.” It just doesn’t get much better for me than watching Clark Griswald and Cousin Eddie bungle their way through the holidays, and Buddy the Elf spreading Christmas cheer with his boundless enthusiasm.
Cousin Eddie almost got us kicked out of church on Christmas Eve several years ago. We had just watched the movie, so when our pastor started his sermon with “the gift that keeps on giving,” I started to laugh. Anna joined in. We were able to stay quiet, but every time he said it, we laughed a little harder until we had tears running down our faces and the pew was shaking. Scott and Andy were justifiably mortified, and the folks in front of us were not amused, but laughing when you’re not supposed to makes it all the funnier.
Giving gifts — I love, love, love to give presents. Not just any gifts, but something with meaning for each recipient. Books are always high on my list of great gifts, both to give and receive. This year, since both kids have their own kitchens, I gathered all of their favorite recipes and self-published a cookbook for each of them. This took me the better part of a month, in part because my own recipes aren’t as organized as I’d like and because the software I picked, Booksmart from Blurb, wasn’t as user-friendly as I’d hoped. The final product was a very good quality hardback book, though, so it was worth the effort. I also made photo books for Anna and her boyfriend Dalton using Shutterfly, which is much easier to use.
Spending time with family and friends — This is the best part of the holidays for me, especially since we don’t see the kids as often. This year’s break is short for both, so we’ve stayed close to home and are enjoying family dinners and movie nights. We enjoyed two special outings that were both a lot of fun: a neighborhood hayride and bonfire, complete with roasted marshmallows and champagne, and a Christmas Eve snowshoe trek to the Pine Creek Cookhouse with Dalton’s family. Wouldn’t mind repeating both of these! We missed seeing more of our extended families this year, so hopefully that can play into our plans for next Christmas.
This year, a full nest has been the best gift of all. I’m looking forward to lots of new adventures in 2014, so stay tuned for more Tales from the Empty Nest!
© 2014 Mandy Gauldin