Favorite Christmas Traditions

For the month of December I purposefully chose not to publish many posts on my Blog.  Quite frankly, I figured most everyone had enough to do preparing for Christmas.  With making lists, checking them twice and doing all the multitude of items on these lists before Christmas, who would have time to squeeze in something I wrote?  (By the way, whatever you were thinking as you read that last sentence keep your comments to yourself- I want to think you have missed my weekly posts!)  Anyway, with all the extra time on my hands not devoted to writing I reminisced about Christmases past.  Well, that got me to thinking and wondering about what other people’s favorite childhood traditions of the season were and what they are today as grown-ups.  So, I promptly sent out an email to all the guest authors on the Blog and posed these questions to them with the intention of sharing their responses on the Blog.  For those that had the time to respond, I want to share their answers with you.  Some even sent me pictures as well.

I have to admit I thought this would be a fun thing to do for the Blog.  But, as with most things that happen, I got so much more than interesting info from each person.  I got a wonderful glimpse into their personal lives that not only told me much more about who they are and what makes them tick but, I also got laughs at visualizing some of what they wrote, much to ponder from some of their thought provoking responses and to sum it up – I got a real sense of peace and joy reading their words.  Read for yourself and I hope your heart is filled with joy and laughter as well.

Susan Muehl

Susan and Jane visit Santa

1954, Jane and Susan visit Santa Claus at Santa Claus Land

My favorite childhood holiday memories and what the season now means to me as an adult seem to have blurred lines!  As a child, I thought it was magic!  It was all about our Christmas traditions.  Before Christmas, our mother would take my twin sister and me to Santa Claus Land in Santa Claus, Indiana.  That’s where we got to speak to Santa about what we’d like for Christmas and ride the rides at the park.  Also before Christmas we would get dressed up and go Christmas shopping in downtown Louisville with our mother and while there, we would view the department store windows decorated for the holidays.  The days leading up to Christmas and the few days after were all about going out to visit friends and family, or they came to see us.  My mother shared cookies and fudge she made.  This is also when we would drive around looking at Christmas lights.  Santa had a surprise he always left at our house ~ he would put a special gift on the beds of my sister and me.  We shared a bedroom so whoever woke up first would wake the other and we’d feel around our beds in the dark for the gift which we could unwrap right then.  Now as an adult many of the same traditions remain.  When my daughter was little, Santa also left her a special gift in her bed each Christmas and it thrilled her as much as it did me when I was young.  We established a new tradition in our family and it was choosing a name from the “giving tree” at a local department store and purchasing gifts for that child.  My daughter enjoyed doing that each year ~ she loved trying to find a little girl who seemed a lot like her based on the gift requests.  Nowadays, I still love to look at Christmas lights ~ the more lights the better!  As a photographer, I’ve enjoyed photographing some of my favorite houses over the years and have a special photo album of “the best of the best” which comes out each Christmas.  Spending time with my family and friends at Christmas time is still important to me.  Everybody seems so much busier these days, but when we can take the time to visit, it’s always special.  I enjoy seeing everyone’s homes decorated for the holidays and sharing mine, as well as sharing fudge (from my mother’s recipe) and cookies I have made.  The Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas morning gift opening with my husband, daughter and son-in-law is a special time each year which I always look forward to.  I have never outgrown the magic of Christmas!

Patti Baron Schreiber

Wow!  It’s hard to pick just one favorite holiday memory from my childhood because my family was so steeped in traditions and they all centered on home.  First came the decorating – it was the same decorations every year and they went in the same location but there was such comfort and joy in pulling the little elf out and setting him on the table or seeing the same ornaments nestled in their boxes, waiting to be hung on the tree.  Christmas Eve began with me setting out a plate of homemade cookies and a glass of milk for Santa.  Then came a visit to my Grandma Martha’s house, where all of my Dad’s brothers, sisters (7!), their spouses and children gathered in a very small space with the men drinking Blackberry Brandy and all of us eating Grandma’s homemade bread.  Magically, when we returned home, Santa had arrived!  Piles of presents were under the tree – quickly placed there by Mom before we left for grandma’s house while Dad and I impatiently waited in the car wondering what she could be doing in there.  After the present opening, we were off to Midnight Mass followed by an open house for anyone who wanted to stop by for ham sandwiches, salads and a dessert buffet.

I have continued many of these same traditions with my own children when they were young and now that they are teenagers; it’s fun to see which traditions are important to them.  Decorating and cookie making are at the top of the list.  This year we can hardly wait to make our special frosted cutout cookies, as we didn’t get to eat any of the time and labor intensive treats last year.  After making the dough, cutting them out, baking and decorating them (a two day affair), my oldest child decided her siblings were hogging the cookies so she hid the plastic bin in the oven.  A short time later, flames erupted in the oven, smoke poured from the vents and the plastic had melted all over the oven and the cookies.  I’m still missing the bottom oven rack which is covered in molded plastic but there’s no doubt in my mind the memory of THAT moment will live on in our minds and give us some good laughs in the coming years.

Jennie Stockslager

When I think of Christmas as a child, I keenly remember making gifts (cigar boxes encrusted with elbow macaroni sprayed gold), wrapping gifts (proud that my mom trusted me) and making millions of cookies – all fun, all exciting.  But I remember, too that at some point during my high school years, I was grateful that the fun and excitement were sustained much longer than usual in our home, all because two little brothers, Rich and Bill, were born when I was 11 and 14, respectively.  The tinsel would have lost its shine for the three older siblings- myself, Chuck and Connie – but because we had two little ones in the house, we were swept into their vortex of believing, which was the best gift ever – and not to be repeated until I had children of my own.

As an adult, I can find myself so overwhelmed with the holidays that if I’m not careful, I start to think of all the decorating, buying, wrapping and addressing cards as a “part-time” job.  At times like this, I recognize that I need to get “real”.  “Real” means getting quiet with myself for as little as five minutes – meditating, journaling, listening to Christmas music, sipping on a cup of chai tea, looking at the snow falling on the twinkle-lighted trees in our yard – anything that helps me remember the truth: I don’t “have” to do anything; I “get” to do the things I choose.  This reality brings me back to the present moment; it slows my mind down…and helps me once again see life as a child.  All possibility.  All magic.  All a gift.

Lindsay Torry

Awaiting His Birth

Awaiting His Birth

Having been given the task of sharing my favorite holiday memory, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks racking my brain, going through them all mentally and changing my mind over and over again about which to share. I mean, there are just SO MANY! However, the answer came to me today as I was watching my children decorate gingerbread houses at my grandparents. My youngest daughter is only two years old, so we are in the really fun stage of exploring every aspect of the holiday season: introducing her to the decorations, lights, music, and that odd, robust old man in the red suit. Today at my grandparents’ house I made a point of showing her one of my favorite Christmas decorations, an antique ceramic nativity set. Now I realize that just about every Christian household has at least one nativity set of some sort, but this one was special. Even as a small child I recognized its delicate beauty, with its soft warm colors and fragile elegance. But the thing that made this nativity unique was the baby Jesus. He wasn’t fixed in the manger like in most modern nativities. No, this baby Jesus didn’t make his presence known until Christmas morning! Every time we went to visit, I would go almost immediately to check his status, anxiously awaiting him in his absence, and always making sure he was there if Christmas had come already. I truly anticipated his arrival! Now, even as an adult, every year I go to admire the nativity and note his absence or presence.

He is born

He is born

Today was no different as I pointed out all of the figures of the set to my daughter. It occurred to me just how very cool this idea is: withholding the baby Jesus from the manger until the morning of his birthday celebration. What a fun way to anticipate his arrival and keep the focus on the true reason for the holiday season! As an adult, each year it has disgusted me a little more how ridiculously commercialized and really off base our society has allowed Christmas to become. It’s more than a little ironic that a season originally about the spirit of giving has become more about getting the best deal and the biggest gifts. Today I was listening to a local radio station that plays all Christmas music during this time of year, and it dawned on me that of the 10 or so songs I had heard, not a single one mentioned Jesus. Sometimes it feels as though he’s been lost in the hustle bustle, that so many people like to take advantage of the decorating, partying, and gift getting, yet don’t ever get to the heart of the matter. Needless to say, after today’s realization I will be searching out a nativity set with a removable baby Jesus for my own home! And I will look forward to sharing in the excitement of Jesus’ arrival year after year with my own children and hopefully, one day, grandchildren!

Sammi Blake

After having thought about this for several weeks, it is still hard to zero in on what my favorite holiday memory is of when I was a child.  And, as an adult thinking back, I realize that my favorite holiday traditions as a child are the same ones I have now.  I still hold near and dear to my heart the traditions I had as a child.  Four of them stick out in my mind though.  I loved baking Christmas cookies, the annual punch-out chocolate Advent calendar, decorating the tree and riding around on Christmas Eve to see the luminaries.

Each year growing up we spent two solid days making and baking cookies.  We made at least eight- dozen.  I remember my mom and I both wearing our aprons.  Every single year my mom would say the same thing to me and I learned to look forward to it.  She would say, “You are the messiest baker I have ever known”.  Once we baked all the cookies we would wrap them up and give them as gifts to our neighbors and friends.

Our yearly Advent calendar took careful planning to figure out the days each of us kids got to pop a chocolate.  As an adult, I still like getting one for my stepchildren to enjoy.

And, oh the Christmas tree!  Every year our Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments we had made ourselves.  The rest of the ornaments were from my mom’s childhood.  It was the most wonderful feeling pulling all the ornaments out of their boxes one by one.  Each one we would stop and talk about.  I can still hear the tingle of the old rusty bell that was my mother’s when she was a child.  Decorating the tree was wonderful and I remember we took such time and care into placing the ornaments on the tree.  Now as an adult, I take the same joy, love and care in decorating our tree.

The luminaries were lit in neighborhoods near where we lived every Christmas Eve.  After church and dinner we used to ride around as a family to see the lights.  We would always turn Christmas music on the radio and we usually drove around in silence so that we could each reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  I especially loved going up and down the hills, as the brilliance from all the luminaries was truly majestic.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year and I look forward to all that it brings.

Crystal Balzer

Ryleigh and Blake with Buddy Rudolph

Ryleigh and Blake with Buddy Rudolph

The Christmas Season as a child and even now as an adult brings me much joy!  I love the smells, the decorations and even the shopping!  Although now as a mother I must admit- my favorite part is creating memories and traditions for my children.  Some of my favorite Christmas memories from my childhood would have to be spending Christmas Eve with my dad (my parents are divorced so this was a special time) and always opening my stocking last (I have carried this tradition on with my own children, after all, the stocking is the best part with each treasure wrapped- it is amazing what you can stuff inside a stocking).  Now with a family of my own we have added a couple more traditions.  We make reindeer food and spread it across the lawn on Christmas Eve so the reindeer know what house to stop at.  We also have an Elf on the Shelf.  The children named our elf, “Buddy Rudolph”.  He arrives each year on December 1st.  He flies to Santa each night telling him how the kids have behaved and when he returns he hides in a different location.  The children rush around in the morning to see who can find him first.  I also have each child pick a gift and we donate it to the Toys For Tots Program.  It is a joy to watch them choose a gift so carefully, each considering what another child their age would like.  It is my hope that when they grow up they will remember the fun, simple traditions we have as a family and even carry them on in their own.

Making reindeer food

Making reindeer food

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you have enjoyed these glimpses into Christmas memories and traditions.  Now I wish for all of you the true peace and joy that comes with Christmas.  See you next year!

My Materialistic Holiday Gift Wish List For You

First let me say that I really don’t enjoy the commercial side of Christmas.  I never have and I never will.  For me, the holiday is more about the smells and feelings the season evokes than what I want for myself and what I want to give others.  Spending time with family and friends and opening cards that come in the mail from people I may not hear from but once a year make for a perfect holiday season.  Oh, snow helps!

Growing up in a household of six kids, the gift rule was to ask Santa for three gifts each.  I have no idea why three was the chosen number.  Rarely though did I actually get the things on my list.  I can remember asking for an Easy Bake Oven that Santa didn’t bring.  I’m 55 years young with way too much gray hair (OK, so I color it) but, by golly I am dying to make brownies in an Easy Bake Oven.  You can bet Ansley, aka “God’s Littlest Angel” (my granddaughter) will get one from me in a few years – whether she wants to or not, we are going to bake brownies together!  Do they make organic mixes for the Easy Bake Oven?   In the early 1960’s when most girls were getting as their first Barbie, the puffy-haired blonde, I got the redhead.  Go figure.  Or the year white Go-Go boots were the rage- I got boots yes, but they weren’t the ones that were the ones to have.  I can still remember going back to school after the holiday and of course, Jenny Terry sat at her desk, legs crossed, wearing her brand new to die for white Go-Go boots.  She also got to have long hair.  It flipped ever so perfectly on the ends just at her shoulders, too. I, on the other hand had a pixie cut.  Or the year signet rings were the gift to get for Christmas.  Yep, sterling silver signet rings.  I got a gold one instead – in an unusual style and unusual font.  Jenny Terry got the real thing…

Now don’t get me wrong- I haven’t had to spend years in therapy getting over Christmases past. What I think actually happened was I learned to be unique and not follow the trends.  And, I will say my mother made the most wonderful clothes for our Barbies’ that no store bought Barbie outfit could compete with.   By the way, I still have my Barbie, the case and most of the clothes my mother made.  What love and care she took making those clothes.  Not to mention the time!

Looking back on all those years I am thankful that I didn’t get what every other girl my age was getting.  In other words, I like to think the gifts I got were not ordinary but extraordinary.  Not part of commercialism but, standing for creativity instead.

As a young mother I kept to the rule of three gifts for each of my kids.   I also tried to give extraordinary and not ordinary.  But, I guess you would have to ask my kids what they thought of their gifts.  Now that’s a story for another day, right?  Or maybe a therapy session?

With all that said, the holiday season does in fact promote materialistic gift giving.  Therefore, in the spirit of giving I have three things that IF I could buy them for you I would.  And, IF you asked me suggestions of what to give to someone else, these three things would be my suggestions.  Here they are:

A Nebulizer ~ Absolutely, positively the smell of your home is the most important thing to be aware of.  Using a nebulizer with 100% organic essential oils will send wonderful aromas through your space and at the same time, the oils will actually alter and affect the energy of your space.  Read my recent post, “Aromatherapy In Your Home” to learn more.

Wyndmere nebulizer

My nebulizer

Cast Iron Cookware ~ What better way to cook?  What better way to be environmentally friendly at the same time?  Start with an iron skillet and add other cast iron cookware at other gift giving/receiving times of the year.  Read my recent post, “A Cast Iron Skillet – The Only Must Have For Your Kitchen” to learn more about cooking with cast iron.

A well-seasoned iron skillet

A well-seasoned iron skillet

A Living Plant ~  Nothing like literally going green!  Your homespace (and airspace) will thank you for bringing nature inside.  A plant, a terrarium or even a teacup fairy garden will create a healthy environment for you and add immeasurably to your décor.  Read Becky Balzer’s recent post, “Top Twelve Best Indoor Plants For Purifying The Air” and Jennie Stockslager’s post, “The Magic Of Fairy Gardening” as guides to what to buy.

Becky Balzer’s Terrarium creation

Becky Balzer’s Terrarium creation

So, there you have it.  My materialistic holiday gift wish list for you.  If you are still out there shopping, throw in one or heck, all three of these items for yourself or someone on your list.  And, while you are out there in the hustle-bustle of the holiday season, hum the tune from the old Coke commercial, circa 1971 called, “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” and think about living in perfect harmony.  It was actually this song that somehow came to my mind while walking in nature one day and  inspired me to create “Living in Perfect Harmony”.  Back in December of 2006 a chance encounter on an airplane woke me up to the realization that life is all about spreading kindness and caring while at the same time accepting the past.  From that chance encounter I decided that for the rest of my life I wanted to strive to live in perfect harmony with not just myself but all of humanity as well.  And guess what, everything begins in the home.  How we live in our homes, what we surround ourselves with in our homes, how we treat others and ourselves in our homes – all this sets the stage for what we do in the outside world.   So if I  can, I will teach the world, one person at a time to live in perfect harmony.  And as the words from another song ,”Let There Be Peace On Earth” play in my head right now, I do wish for peace on Earth.  Let it begin with me.

To living in perfect harmony…

Simple And Natural Holiday Décor

Ever since I can remember the Christmas season was a wonderful time for decorating.  As a child, I can remember watching my mother decorate and then as I got older I enjoyed helping.  Our yard was the source for most of our holiday decorating.  We had a huge Magnolia tree in our backyard that my mother and I used to clip beautiful branches from.  We also had numerous pine trees (we had six planted in the front yard alone – one for each of us siblings) and Holly bushes laden with red berries.  With all of these items collected, we would spend hours decorating the fireplace mantle, the front doors and the dining room table.  I loved all these found things from our yard and I also enjoyed the collecting and decorating we did with them.  But, I viewed this part of  holiday decorating as a quick, simple and inexpensive plan – after all we only needed to step outside to collect natural elements for free!  Once I had my own home I realized that the most beautiful holiday decorating comes from natural and found things.  You sure can’t smell artificial greenery!

Carrying on the tradition

So, throughout the years my home has traditionally been decorated with much of the same things that I grew up with.   Greenery comes either from the yard, leftover trimmings from the tree or from the woods.

When my children were young we used to love to sit in the evenings together watching Christmas specials and movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” while we strung popcorn to use as garland on the tree.  Talk about memory making – a slow, relaxed evening stringing popcorn as a family can’t be beat!  And, who cares how much popcorn you eat along the way!

Year after year my three children traditionally hunted (yes, Sammi did, too) during Turkey and Deer Season.   No holiday season was complete without them returning home with mistletoe they had shot down from the trees for me to hang.  It was a wonderful holiday tradition they enjoyed.  What memories we all have of them bringing the mistletoe home to me and then hanging it in the foyer as a symbol of love in our home.

As you can see, using elements of nature in my holiday décor is important to me.  This makes my home beautiful in a non-commercial way!  And, I love the smells, the freshness and the feelings natural decorating gives to my homespace.  Why not incorporate some natural decorating in your own home this year?

Ways to go natural

Here are some simple suggestions that you can use either decorating alone or making it a family affair for building memories and traditions:

  • Use fresh greenery from outdoors to grace your front door, staircase, mantle, dining table or coffee table.
  • Gather found things in nature like dried pods, dried wildflowers, dried hydrangeas, pinecones and twigs to artfully arrange in baskets or as part of your garlands and centerpieces.
  • String popcorn and cranberries and use as garland to hang on the Christmas tree or as part of your fireplace garland.
  • Decorate lanterns with nuts or cranberries nestled around a large candle.
  • Surround a grouping of candles with fresh greenery with red berries or other found treasures of nature artfully arranged throughout the greenery.  A grouping of candles looks beautiful on a console table, mantle, coffee table or any other space you can safely allow candles to be placed.
  • Make a centerpiece for an occasional table with a small log.  Cut the log in two.  (Plan to use the cut side on the table with the uncut side facing up.) Using a circular saw cut three holes in the uncut side of the log and place small candles or votives in the holes.  Nestle the log on a bed of fresh greenery.
  • Artfully stud oranges with cloves and place in a wooden bowl as a centerpiece for your kitchen table, coffee table or hearth.
  • Hang Mistletoe in doorways or from your foyer chandelier.

Whatever style home you live in, whatever décor you enjoy- you can incorporate nature in your holiday decorating.  Go outside today and pick from nature’s bounty wonderful things to grace your home with.  And while you are there, breathe in the glorious fresh air!

Happy decorating…

Be sure to check out Living in Perfect Harmony’s Facebook Fanpage each day of December from Dec. 1- 24 for daily decorating tips and helpful hints for the holiday.  Enjoy the season!