Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Admit it; when you hear the word, you automatically see a bunch of men in yarmulkes dancing and singing. It could just be me. But seriously (sort of), I have been contemplating lately just what it is that makes this season of the year so special. If your views of the Christmas season in any way coincide with the views of Ebeneezer Scrooge (pre-three ghostly visitations), or the Grinch (pre-triple heart enlargement), you may want to stop reading now. I get positively giddy around this time of year. Actually, as my husband will tell you with a roll of his eyes, I become giddy about three months before, when I turn on the Christmas tunes and begin my shopping. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. But why? As a practicing Christian, I consider it a wonderful time of year first and foremost because it is the time of year we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world, and consequently, the birth of Hope. But I have many friends who are not Christian, who anticipate this time of year just as much as I do. I think this is because of tradition. No matter what our personal or religious beliefs, this time of year, for most, is a time of cherished traditions with family and friends. Most of us put up a tree, hang stockings, maybe watch Ralphy shooting his eye out, or Charlie Brown decorating the world's scrawniest Christmas tree. Some of us light a menorah. Many of these traditions are so time-honored, that we may not even know exactly how they first began. There is a comedian who talks about Christmas traditions being invented by a drunk man. Who else would think to cut down a pine tree, bring it in the house and decorate it, or hang socks over the fireplace and fill them with candy? Strange traditions indeed when you really think about them. And yet, these are two traditions that most of us look forward to all year. It also seems that at this time of year, despite the mass chaos that inevitably ensues at shopping malls and department stores nationwide, there is also more kindness, more acceptance, more awareness of those around us. "Peace on earth, good will toward men" seems to resonate within us, and suddenly we aren't quite so irritated by the driver who cuts us off on the highway; we are more patient with the woman in front of us in the check out aisle who has 50 coupons at 9:00 at night. We are more aware of the widow down the road or the 10 year old girl who doesn't have a pair of shoes to wear to church. This is probably my favorite aspect of the Christmas season. It seems to be the time of year when kindness and compassion reign supreme. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge learned to do , I wish we could all learn to truly keep Christmas all year round. I doubt any of us want a pine tree sitting in our living room in the middle of June; but if we could keep the spirit of Christmas; the spirit of thinking of others before our selves; the spirit of giving those around us the benefit of the doubt; how much better this world could be!
Yes, there are many traditions we all share this time of year, which is perhaps what brings us together. We forget our differences and for a short time focus on what we all have in common. But I think it is the personal traditions which we practice individually or with close friends and family that make this holiday season most meaningful to each of us. As with more widely held traditions, some of our family traditions may have fuzzy origins. There are some things that we do, just because they are the things we always do. One of my favorite Christmas Eve traditions is eating dinner with my family. Sounds like a pretty vague tradition, I know, but I will expound. One year ( I don't remember exactly which year), when my family lived in Virginia, something went wrong with Christmas Eve dinner. I don't remember what (these are the fuzzy origins I was referring to). Maybe it burned. Maybe my mom was just too tired to cook. Whatever the reason was, there was no way we were going to eat dinner at home that night. So, we hopped in the old Toyota minivan and drove around the Richmond area looking for anything that was open on Christmas Eve. By the time we finally saw the open light in the Wendy's window, it may as well have been the star that guided the wise men, we were so relieved. We perused the menu. It somehow just didn't seem right to eat a cheeseburger and fries on Christmas Eve. We finally decided on chili and Ceaser side salads. We enjoyed our meal in peace and quiet (as we were the only ones in the restaurant), and returned home to enjoy the rest of our typical Christmas Eve traditions. That is how one of my most cherished traditions began. For years, we returned to Wendy's on Christmas Eve for our chili and Ceaser salad. The first year we celebrated Christmas Eve after moving back to Idaho, we were distressed to discover that Wendy's was closed! We made do that night, and the next year, my mom was prepared, with a recipe for Kentucky Bourbon chili that knocked our socks off (literally- it was a little spicy) and an updated Ceaser salad which included hard-boiled eggs, real bacon bits, and freshly grated Parmesan. Now every year, I still eagerly anticipate our chili and Ceaser salad. Though the quality of the food is admittedly better, and the atmosphere more welcoming than the fluorescent glow of a fast food restaurant at night, I know I would still look forward to it just as much if Wendy's was still our destination of choice. The people I love the most would still be there. And after all, isn't that what makes holidays so special? There is one tradition I am afraid I may never take part in- that is the Christmas Letter. If you enjoy this tradition, more power to you, but it's not for me. So, consider this my Christmas letter- I hope all of you who are reading this find yourselves surrounded by the people you love most this Christmas season as you deck your halls, trim your trees, or eat at your favorite local fast food joint. Merry Christmas to you and yours!