Posts tagged ‘traditions’

36 and 1st

T and I had a great weekend, where I got spoiled silly.  Saturday was my birthday, and Monday was our first wedding anniversary, but because our schedules would keep us from seeing each other on Monday, we decided to celebrate a little early.

On Saturday morning, T took me out for breakfast, so that I could get my favorite, eggs benedict.  Then we went shopping for a birthday present for me, a nice tote that I could carry my teaching materials in.  After hitting every store that sold luggage in the mall, I decided on the cheapest and best-looking one of the bunch, one we had seen at Burlington Coat Factory, and we headed home.

We got a gift certificate as a wedding present that we decided to use on Saturday night. I was thinking of it as an early anniversary celebration, but I think T still considered it part of my birthday.  So after leaving the dogs in the capable hands of T’s dispatcher’s son, we headed up Provo Canyon to the Sundance Resort on Saturday evening.  On the way, we stopped and had dinner at Carrabba’s Grill in Provo, which was the restaurant we chose for our rehearsal dinner.  They always have amazing Italian seafood dishes and great service, and we even tried their limoncello bread pudding for dessert.  Yum!

After dinner, we continued up to the resort, where we checked into our “room,” which was the bottom half of a little cabin in the woods.  I tried taking a photo, but my cell phone was out of battery, so visiting their website’s photo gallery will have to do if you want an idea of how beautiful it is.  There were flowers blooming all over the place — purple spikes of lupine, cobalt batchelor’s buttons, and at least 6 different colors of columbine.  Our cabin had a fireplace, a tiny kitchenette, a big flat-screen TV and a nice deck to sit on.  We relaxed, read on the deck, listened to the birds in the trees, and got thoroughly scolded by a young red squirrel as he ran up and down the trees around us.  The room had lots of nice rustic touches, like Native American tourist arts pieces and photographs, and board-and-batten panelling on the walls.  The bed was half pillows, and was very comfortable.  We had a wonderful night.

The next morning we got up and went down to the Foundry restaurant for their Sunday brunch.  There was a wide variety of excellent gourmet food — asparagus, lamb, made-on-demand omelettes, potatoes, pastries, fruit salad, bagels with lox and shmear, and a whole table of desserts, including banana split cheesecake made with fresh strawberries and banana chips.  The tab was a little steeper than your average breakfast buffet, but it was definitely worth it, and we got to sit outside on the patio, which was lovely.

We headed home in early afternoon, waved goodbye as we passed our dogsitter on his way out, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at home.  T and I collaborated on a yummy dinner of marinated pork loin, pasta, and shredded cabbage.  Then for dessert, we unwrapped and thawed our wedding cake topper.  I was afraid that it was going to be dry and terrible tasting, so I decided to make some blackberry ice cream (more on that later), in the hopes that at least part of our dessert would be tasty.  I got impatient waiting for the cake to thaw, so I cut two wide slices, found the center was still icy, and then popped them into the microwave.  I was also being impatient about letting the ice cream set up, so we had soft-serve with our cake.  As it turned out, the ice cream was tasty, but the cake was still moist and absolutely delicious!  It was lemon cake with strawberry filling and royal icing, and while the icing was falling off the cake, it was amazing!  Cakes by Dawna definitely did an amazing job on this cake. (The two layers of cling wrap and about 10 layers of tinfoil probably didn’t hurt, either.  *smile*)

(we didn't feed each other this time around)


Santa Claus is Coming to Town

WARNING: For those of you who are sensitive about this topic, I am going to be discussing the true nature of Santa Claus.  So read further at your own peril.


As I mentioned in a previous post, I celebrated every Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house.  This meant that my family and I were in Rhode Island on Christmas Day every year, while our house, our tree, and — most importantly — our chimney were all in upstate New York, 365 miles away.  So I didn’t grow up with the experience of waking my parents before dawn on December 25th to see what Santa had left under our tree.  We had to wait until we got home.  We would usually stay in Rhode Island through the New Year, and then drive the 8 hours home along I-90.  When we got home, no matter what time of day or night it was, the Christmas tree lights would be lit, the stockings would be full, and presents would fill the space beneath our tree.  It was an extra layer of Christmas magic that could not be easily explained, since our parents were in the car with us the whole way home.

One year, I distinctly remember Santa coming early so that we could have Christmas before we drove to my grandparents’.  My mom, sister and I had gone out to buy some last-minute gifts, and when we got home, the tree that we had left off was lit in the middle of the day.  My mom first noticed this and pointed it out when we were in the driveway.  When we got inside, Santa had come early, just for us!  I immediately ran back outside, thinking that I would be able to see the reindeer’s tracks in the fresh snow on our roof — and they were there.  A single line of tracks, to be sure, and roughly squirrel-sized, but the poem says tiny reindeer, right?  It was proof enough for me.


So every year, my sister and I went through the toy section of the thick department store catalogues that were sent to the house (anyone else old enough to remember this?), made out our Christmas lists, and then sent them off to Santa.  As my sister and I got older, belief in most of the pantheon of magical beings went by the wayside.  (I actually remember going to the principal of my elementary school with a few other kids in 2nd or 3rd grade to complain about a book in our classroom that debunked the Tooth Fairy myth.  We were trying to be morally outraged.  He was surprisingly unsympathetic.)  But we could never quite explain away Santa.

We took a crack at it one year.  My mom promised to tell the truth, if we guessed right.  Did my parents put the gifts under the tree while we were waiting for them in the car?  No, there clearly wasn’t enough time for that.  Did they hide the gifts with our neighbor Elaine, who always took care of our cats while we were gone, and have her put them under the tree?  No, they didn’t do that either.  Several minutes of questioning left us stumped.  There was no other explanation: Santa was real.


I remember walking home from school with my best friend Stacey at age 12, with the two of us comparing all of the evidence we had for the existence of Santa.  We compared traditions, told stories of the year we got a letter, or an ornament direct from Santa, complete with our names on them.  We were proving to ourselves that he could be real, willingly suspending a belief that most kids have grown out of by the time they get to that age.

So that year, or maybe even the next, my family came home from Rhode Island, and walked into a house that was cold and dark.  The stockings were empty.  The floor under the tree was bare.  I was shocked to see the house looking so desolate.  I turned to my mother and burst into tears.  She was surprised, and hugged me with a somewhat bewildered look on her face.  And then she reminded us that, years ago, she had told us Santa would stop coming to our house when we stopped believing in him.  I’m pretty sure I wailed something along the lines of, “I do believe in him!”  But she pointed out the simple fact that I had missed: this was the first year that neither my sister or I had made out a list for Santa.  And I realized that she was right, I deserved nothing under the tree, because for the first time I had forgotten about Santa.


We went upstairs, gathered up all the wrapped presents, brought them downstairs, and filled the stockings.  It was a fine Christmas, once I got over the initial shock.  And I got used to walking into a dark house every year, and then bringing down the presents one at a time to put under the tree.  But I think there was a grain of truth hidden in what my mother said.  Santa only stops coming if you stop believing.  And I decided at a young age to believe. 

Because now, every year, I am excited to make and give gifts from my heart to the people I love, and to see the surprise and excitement on their faces when I manage to find exactly the right gift.  That’s my inner Santa at work.  And as long as you learn how to go from waiting for Santa, to being Santa, you know that he will be there every year, bringing the magic and the surprise of Christmas into your home.  At least, that’s what I believe.

The Kid’s Table

As I mentioned in my last post (if you bothered to read the whole thing — I know it was long), we have a very large family gathering every year on Christmas Eve.  My extended family is fairly large (for non-Mormons), and due to a significant age difference between my mom and her two sisters, the generations are kind of staggered.  Add in my cousins’ spouses and then children over the years, and now those children’s significant others, and we’re talking almost 20 people.  There are never enough seats at the main table.

I distinctly remember being pretty small and getting to eat at the coffe table in my grandmother’s parlor with my little sister and two or three of our older cousins.  I was thrilled at the specialness of the occasion, because it meant 1) eating in the parlor, which was usually off limits, and 2) no adult supervision during dinner, which was a big deal for me at the time.  But I am sure those cousins were in their mid- to late-teens, and were probably sick and tired of being stuck at the kids table.  I think I even remember grumblings along those lines as we ate dinner.

Right now, the youngest of my cousins’ children are in high school, and there is even going to be a cousin’s brand-new grandchild at the table this year, but I am sure that, depite the fact that no one is a little kid anymore, there will have to be a kids table.  Even with my sister and I unable to make it home for Christmas this year.  I’m sure there are people in your family, too who have complained about being “stuck” at the kids’ table year after year, well past the point when they were truly kids.

Thinking about my younger cousins’ plight, I remembered the first year that my sister and I both made it to the grown-up table.  We were both in high school, I think I was a junior and she was a freshman.  We were so shocked to fit everyone at a single table, my sister blurted out the question, “Who died?” without thinking first.

The answer was, my aunt J.  She had passed away the previous year from a brain tumor, on December 23rd, and she was on everyone’s minds that year.  My sister immediately felt awful for what she had said.  But my mom smoothed things over, pointing out that our cousin S was in Maine now with his wife and kids, and L and her husband were in Kansas, and our grandmother had also passed away a few years before (and my other aunt might not have been speaking to the rest of the family that year).  For all those reasons, it was a small Christmas, small enough that we all fit at the one table. 

So this year, thinking about how my sister and I made it to the adult table has really changed how I think about the whole idea of a kids table. Now I hope there’s a kids table every year.  It’s not a punishment to sit there, it’s a privilege.  Because it means that you are surrounded by family — even if they are all eating at the grownup table in the other room.

Christmas Funk

For some reason, I am not at all in the Christmas spirit this year.  Maybe it’s the lack of snow, since the foot of snow we got around Thanksgiving has long since melted away.  Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from dealing with Cara’s injuries.  Maybe it’s the monetary stress added by her vet bills.  Maybe it’s simply the fact that T and I will be celebrating by ourselves in our new home, instead of joining the Christmas hullabaloo that is generated by my family in Rhode Island.  All I know is, I am not feeling Christmassy this year.

We don’t have a tree yet.  I haven’t decorated the house in any way, shape, or form.  I couldn’t even come up with a good Christmas list this year.  And I just did all of my Christmas shopping online, today, during my lunch break.  It was quick and dirty, and I’m not very excited about the gifts I got for my family.

I am happy with the gift we got for my dad, relatively satisfied with what we got for my sister, feeling like I didn’t do enough for my mom, and still thinking about T’s present.  I have made gifts for my aunts and all my cousins, as is my tradition, but they are small and, I fear, unimpressive this year, even if they are useful.  I did knit a few gifts on request, and I hope that they will go over well.  But I won’t see anyone’s faces when they open my presents, and that is the best part, really.

I have one more gift to knit, and then I can pop everything homemade into prepaid shipping boxes and send them on their way.


I can tell you exactly what will happen to my gifts as Christmas Eve nears.  They will join the pile under and around the Christmas tree in the house that was my grandparents’, where my cousin D now lives.  It is an artificial tree, set on top of milk crates to make lots of room below, tied to the ceiling so it doesn’t tip over, with spotlights on it so that its glory can be seen by any and all passers-by through the front window.  The pile underneath it will start building on the 22nd or 23rd, eventually being topped off on the evening of 24th.

There’s a good chance, since everyone knows I make the same gift for the whole family, that my presents will actually end up on the shelf above the couch.  From there, they will have a good view of the long table in the center of the room, set for at least 12 people, and they might even be able to peek into the kitchen to see the extra 5-7 seats there, along with the buffet spread out around the perimeter of the room.  They will see my parents, my aunt, and all my cousins as they begin to gather for a feast of ham, pork pie, pasta with my grandmother’s meat sauce, and all the trimmings, including the requisite relish trays filled with pickles and olives that run down the center of the table.  They will see someone turn the heat down or off as so many bodies and voices fill and heat the room.  My gifts won’t be able to hear themselves think over the din, but they can sit back and listen to any of a half-dozen conversations criss-crossing over the tables.

After dinner is complete, the table will be pushed back so that the far end is against the kitchen wall, making more room in front of the tree.  Some people will have come for dinner in their pajamas, while some will change into them now.  Everyone will take their traditional seats on the couches to either side of the tree, at the table, on chairs, and on the floor.  My dad will go around the room and take bets on the total number of presents under the tree, just like my grandfather used to, and he will keep track on the very same blotter that has been used for almost 20 years, reminding everyone of last years’ total so they can gauge their guess this year.

One person, probably my cousin N, will play Santa, passing out gifts to everyone in turn, and calling out who it is to and from, along with the cry “One more, Uncle J-!” to my father each time.  Each gift will be opened and admired by the whole group before the next one is passed out.  Someone, usually a young male cousin, will be stuck with a trash bag for wrapping paper, which will be lobbed in crinkled balls at his head throughout the night.

Throughout it all, conversations will continue to flow.  At some point, as everyone’s attention starts to wane, my mother will come out of the kitchen with dessert.  There is always monkey bread, and cream sandwiches, made from puff pastry filled with homemade whipped cream and either chocolate pudding or raspberry jam.  After everyone has had the opportunity to eat and stretch, it’s back to your places to finish opening presents.

Throughout the night there will be phone calls, from cousins in Maine and Colorado, my sister in North Carolina and me in Utah, with the phone passed around to say Merry Christmas to everyone.  As the crates supporting the tree become visible and the presents start to run out, someone will reach up onto the shelf and N will pass all my gifts out at once, giving my father a total count to add to his tally.  I hope, for my gifts’ sake, there will be some oohs and aahs when they are opened.  The final few gifts are stashed in the tree itself, and my cousins’ youngest children get to hunt through the branches to find them.

Once the last gift has been passed out, the total number is announced, and the person whose guess came the closest without going over gets a crisp $5 bill.  Then there is more nibbling of cookies and desserts, chatting and laughing, the packing up of gifts into boxes and bags to be carried out to cars, accompanied by the grandfather clock striking 10 pm, 11, maybe even midnight.  And then our family Christmas is over, and the little ones go home to bed, knowing that Santa will come with even more gifts the next day.

That is the Christmas that I am missing this year.  I know that T and I will be making Christmas traditions of our own, and maybe that is what I need to focus on to get my Christmas groove back.  Family is what makes Christmas special, and the two of us are all the family we need for it to be magic.