Monday, December 22, 2008

These are the moments we'll remember, Christmas edition

A week has passed since my last post, and I'm pleased to say, I've got my holiday mojo back. How can I not be bubbling over with Christmas cheer, with a 3-and-a-half-year-old running around the house singing Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and We "Miss" You a Merry Christmas? Christmas with a child is like nothing I'd ever imagined -- as is everything, really. The world just looks better when you look through your child's eyes, period. (And let me tell you, I am squeezing my son even tighter this week.)

There's a great little commentary piece in this week's Time magazine -- which happens to be the Person of the Year issue, and one of my favorite reads every year -- about the importance of traditions, old and new. The word tradition typically means rites or rituals that families carry out year after year for generations. Traditions are anchors -- they keep us grounded and fill our memory banks. But sometimes traditions get stale -- or worse, we feel sad when we cannot carry them out. I learned this years ago when my mom died and our family changed rapidly -- sometimes holding on to old traditions is more painful than positive. I'm a firm believer in knowing when to let go of a tradition, and when to start a new one.

Of course this is a prime-time tradition-starting year for me and my family. We have a little guy who's just starting to understand Christmas and Baby Jesus and Santa and all the things that December holds. I carry many traditions from childhood, and so does Big Daddy, and I like to think we've melded them rather nicely into our own home -- and we've started some really great new traditions (not the least of which is the annual tree-and-Pizza-Hut evening!). In the last couple years, especially, thanks to Sweet Boy, Big Daddy, and my dear friends, I've discovered some new traditions that I hope to carry forward:

1) Baking cookies -- You've never experienced kitchen fun until you've given a 3-year-old a hand mixer and said "Hold on tight!" then watched the flour fly. This past month we've measured and dumped, we've gasped, we've giggled, we've mixed 'til our arms ached -- and we've "tested" a lot of dough. And Sweet Boy has been especially proud to give away the treats we baked to teachers and neighbors and friends and relatives. (We even baked a special batch of oatmeal cookies for Aunt Kathie and a special batch of chocolate chip cookies for Big Daddy for Christmas morning.)

The past few years I've gotten together with my two best girlfriends, too -- my sister-friends, whom I've known now for 2/3 of my life. We devote an entire Saturday each December to baking cookies...and drinking wine. Again, we measure, we giggle, we mix til our arms ache, and we drink til our heads ache. We come away with some yummy cookies, but even better, we come away with the love and support that gets us through the blech parts of the season.

2) Decorating the tree...for a week -- Little boys have little attention spans. So decorating an entire tree and home in one evening doesn't go so well. Instead of getting frustrated this year, though, we embraced this short attention span thing and stretched out the tree trimming over the course of a week. It happened by accident, really, but we had such a fun time adding ornaments to the tree each evening that I think we'll do this every year.

3) Creating an advent wreath -- When I was a kid, we had a lovely advent wreath. It was a wooden circle with a mirrored base, and I've been searching for something similar for years. However, this year a friend gave me a great idea: Make a wreath with found treasures and natural elements. How perfect! Sweet Boy and I went treasure hunting in the woods behind our house and collected pine boughs, holly branches, pine cones, dried hydrangea, and "monster's fur" (aka, pine needles), and we arranged it on a tray in the center of our dining table. We've lit a candle at dinner time each Sunday, and we will light the Christ candle Christmas Eve (while we eat our first annual homemade Christmas Eve stromboli!). Every week, as I sat at the table with my boys, I have felt the same calm that I remember feeling as a child when we lit each candle. In the midst of such a hectic season, the candles bring me back to center.

4) Power shopping with a friend -- I am not really a mall person. I don't really like to shop, especially as Christmas day gets closer and the stores and roads get harrier. But there are two shopping days that I really enjoy: Black Friday with my sister in law, when we hit the Cherry Hill Mall in the afternoon, after all the crazies have gone home to nap; and the evening I go with my friend CT a week or so before Christmas. Hitting the mall with a friend makes the crowds seem less grouchy, the stress level slightly lower, and the deals somehow even better.

5) Building a gingerbread house -- A friend gave me a gingerbread house kit last week, and Sweet Boy and I had a blast assembling and decorating it. I've never seen him get so excited about a crafty type thing, and I've never seen him work with such concentration and diligence. And he's so proud of his house! (Truth be told, I'm really proud of it too...I'm no great crafter, but this turned out not bad at all for our first attempt!)

6) Enjoying a date day -- Big Daddy and I took vacation time for the next two weeks. Can you believe it? Two full weeks together? We haven't had this much time together, I'm thinking, since our honeymoon in May 2000 -- and we will surely drive each other bonkers before January 5th rolls around. But we decided to start it out right by devoting the entire first day to one another: We dropped Sweet Boy off at school at 8:30 this morning, then went to breakfast, finished our shopping, caught a movie, did a little more shopping, then relaxed at a coffee shop until it was time to pick up the boy. It was one of the best days we've had together, ever. (So good, in fact, that we're planning another date day next Monday, too!)

Traditions -- sharing old, creating new -- are the best part of Christmas. These are the moments we will remember forever, and tonight, as I gear up for the mania that will overtake us these next few days (wrapping gifts, last-minute errands, cooking, loading everything into the car for trips to Philadelphia and New Jersey, chasing a rambunctious, sugar-loaded child around relatives' homes), I'm happy. I'm really happy, in fact, and I'm storing away all these good little Christmasy moments in my heart.

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