Before I got married, I read a book called “The Anti-Bride Guide”. It told me all the rules I could break when planning my wedding. It let me know I didn’t have to put on a big show. It let me know I certainly didn’t have to spend the equivalent of a car loan for an event where the main part of it takes ten minutes. Why start off your married life in debt? I’ve never been one for spending a lot of money when there is nothing to show for it, so this seemed right up my alley.
The basic idea was to strip it all down to the essentials and add from there – if desired. What do you need to make you feel married? Do you need bridesmaids? Do you need a fancy hall? Do you need tulle, really?
So now that I’m reassessing Christmas, I’m doing the same. I’ve not found and “Anti-Christmas Guide” so I’m making my own. It is a work in progress.
What do I need to make it feel like Christmas? What distinguishes this time of year from all other times that are just as cold and dark?
The sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating part of getting married is that you have to figure out how you are going to celebrate the holidays. Even if you are both of the same religion, this can be tricky. I can only guess how complicated it is if you are of different traditions.
There are plenty of things that we have decided on, it turns out. Here are some.
Rankin-Bass Christmas videos. You know, those claymation videos from the 80s. Titles like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus” are mandatory. I usually don’t like musicals, but I sing along to every song on these.
Stockings. I love Christmas stockings. I love stocking stuffers. Scott and I made our own stockings our first year together and we still use them. Why we made them of wide wale purple corduroy is beyond me, but we like them, and it was important to me that we made them ourselves. Remembering the stocking was one of my favorite parts of Christmas when I was growing up. It was like a second Christmas. We’d usually forget about them until an hour or so after all the presents were open. One of us would glance at the fireplace and see them and everything would stop. The stockings always had an orange in the toe. There wasn’t anything special about an orange – it just fit well in the toe.
Christmas presents have to be something you want- not something you need. Christmas is not a time to buy a new string trimmer.
We went without a tree for many years. I have come to realize I need something, just not a large something. We tried a rosemary bush for a while. I made little ornaments out of beads and earring hooks. It had the right shape and a good smell, but I am not very good at plant maintenance, so it died. We tried the next year with another one and had the same results. I felt that it was sad to kill a Christmas tree, even if it was just a rosemary bush, every year. It wasn’t its fault that I’m terrible at house plants. We went without a tree and I’ve found I need it. Scott constructed a small artificial one for me and it does us just fine. I have a candle that smells like a real tree, so that helps with the illusion.
I had some ornaments that meant a lot to me when I moved here. They were from my family and there were a lot of good memories attached to them. Some were handmade, some were antique. When I first came to Nashville I lived in an apartment and there was no room for a tree. I had some friends who let me store the ornaments at their house. They have since moved and lost the ornaments. I’m still very sad over this. I can buy new ornaments but I can’t replace those memories.
A nativity set. I had one that was hand carved out of olive wood from Jerusalem. Again, lost. Perhaps it was in with the ornaments. I found a new set at Goodwill made of pressed glass. It was cheap and it does the job.
I like to play the interactive nativity set game. My husband looks at me funny. The Magi move a little closer every day, and don’t get really near until Epiphany – twelve days after Christmas. I keep baby Jesus out of the scene until Christmas Day. It looks a little odd with Mary and Joseph staring down at nothing for a month.
Advent calendar. Scott comes from the Catholic tradition and I come from the Episcopal tradition. Advent calendars are part of both. I found one a few years back that is amazing. Brace yourself – Lego. Star Wars. Advent calendar. Too much awesome all together. It has a new minifigure to assemble every day for a month.
To visit family or not? These days, not. It is, as I like to say too much, and yet not enough, all at the same time.
There are reasons that police and nurses dislike working on Christmas. There are a lot of domestic disturbance calls those days. There is nothing about “peace on earth” that guarantees peace in your family. If you all can’t get along during regular days, then it might be best to stay home for the holidays. Domestic unhappiness and alcohol are a bad mix.
Sometimes we decorate the outside of the house. Sometimes not. We appreciate the bright lights this time of year and feel it is good to do our part. It isn’t much, but it is cheery.
Christmas cards. I like getting them, so I send them. We divide up the list, his and hers. Both of us write them up together. I always get Three Wise Men cards, and often some basic “happy holidays” ones for our non-religious friends. I’m considering sending cards to offices and restaurants we like to visit. It hasn’t happened yet. We’ll see.
We make cookies on Christmas eve. We leave the best ones out for Santa along with a glass of milk, along with a note. He always eats them. We even bought a special plate and cup for this. It has a penguin motif.
Midnight mass. Usually a good idea. This year, it probably won’t happen. I like the idea of staying up late to celebrate the first moments of Christmas Day. I love singing Silent Night in a darkened church, lit only by candles. But, it has been six months since our old church and I parted ways, and we haven’t been to a replacement yet.
Last but not least – I donate money to the first Salvation Army bell-ringer I see/hear.
So Christmas is what you make of it. It is kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. I keep moving the pieces around to see what looks good. It certainly isn’t about buying lots of presents and dealing with stress. It has a lot to do with being willing to invite Jesus into every moment, and for that you don’t need a special time of the year at all.