Reclaiming Christmas

Inspired to Bring It Back

Many (many) years ago, I wrote a blog post about my nativity set . . . and how I loved to put it up for the holidays.  


A few years ago, I decided to . . . just leave it in its box and not set it up.  (Sometimes you just want to shake things up, y'know?)   And it has stayed in its box ever since.

Until this year.



What happened?  
Why did I bring it back, you ask?

Well.  I was inspired!

When I was in at the Chicago Art Institute earlier this week, we stopped in to see the Neapolitan Crèche currently on display there.  (You can see it for a limited time there each holiday season.)  It is just incredible!


Historically, Naples, Italy is famous for creating unique and intricate crèche scenes -- depicting not only the traditional nativity scenes representing the moment when Mary and Joseph receive the Three Wise Men, the shepherds, and the angels but also the more secular world surrounding the nativity (and suggesting the general depravity of the world, apparently).

This particular Neapolitan Crèche was crafted in the mid-18th century, and features over 200 figures.  Each one is amazingly detailed with intricately detailed features and/or clothing.

There is a tavern scene off to one side (totally reminded me of the "Master of the House" scene in Les Mis . . .) which is just wonderful.


We were transfixed by the crèche, and ended up spending over a half hour just trying to take it all in.  Everywhere you looked, there was something new to discover!  The detail is just remarkable.


There are people doing all kinds of everyday things (there is a mother breastfeeding her infant right up front -- and a drunk sleeping it off in a dark corner, for example).  There are animals of all types and heavenly beings and all manner of food items and . . . well . . . it's just amazing.

As for scale . . . the figures are a bit bigger than Barbie-doll size, I'd say.  Probably in the 15-18 inch range?  The entire display is housed in a Baroque style cabinet.  Here's a photo - including onlookers - for scale.


If you happen to be in Chicago this holiday season, do take the time to seek it out!  It's really worth the time and effort.  (And I know there's an even bigger Neapolitan Crèche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, so there's another option for you.)


Now you can see why I was inspired to come home and set up my own (much smaller!) crèche.


And . . . in case you're wondering if Erin still sets up her own nativity scene each year (you'll have to click in to my post from 2011 - link above - for details) . . . she is!  

Here is Erin's version for this holiday season -- a most inclusive, nerd-friendly crèche.

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Have a great weekend everyone!



A Reminder: Focus on the WHY of It

December is so much a jumble . . . of activities and to-do lists and time-crunching.   Sometimes it just feels like too much, y'know?  


And, really, my Decembers these days . . . are nothing like they were when my kids were still at home!  First, there were those hyped-up, magical years when my kids were so very excited about Santa and what was going on in his workshop at the North Pole.  And, later, when my calendar exploded with concerts and recitals and Winter Formals and hockey games?  My, oh my.  I've got nothing to complain about now!

In fact, my December would actually be pretty low key these days.  Except for one thing.  Tom and I throw big Solstice parties in June and December.  So we've got one coming up again next week.  Big party.  Big guest list.  Big preparations.  Big fun.  And . . . Big stress!

This weekend, though, I ran into a quote that made me just kind of . . . step back and reassess.

"As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth the aggravation and people to whom we are worth the same."
                                                                                                --- Donald Westlake

I have no idea who you are, Donald Westlake, but your words just made me re-think everything!  Yes.  This December stuff is ridiculous and a hassle and sometimes it even wakes me up in the middle of the night.  But . . . aren't I the luckiest person in the world . . . to have people in my life who are WORTH every darn aggravation?

The answer is YES.  Yes, I am.  
And from this moment on, I'm going to focus on that . . . the WHY of it!


Permission Granted

FOMO . . . or the Fear of Missing Out . . . can be a real drag on happiness and personal contentment.

I bet many of you have experienced FOMO.  It's that feeling that sneaks up on us . . . when we're really quite happy with whatever we're doing.  But then . . . Someone Else is doing Something Else that sounds Even Better.  Or More Exciting.  Something, maybe, we SHOULD be doing.  It's not . . . Inspiration.  It's darker.  (Because we're often inspired by others, and that's a fine thing.)  FOMO is more . . . feeling bad about yourself because you're NOT doing it.  Y'know?  There's quite a difference there.


FOMO at the holidays can contribute to stress and overwhelm and feelings of not doing things quite right.  Last year, for example, I decided not to put up a traditional Christmas tree in my house.  I was happy with my decision; relieved, in fact.  But then . . . Everyone Else was putting up trees.  And going on about their trees.  And FOMO crept in.  Just a little, and for a very short time.  I started to think . . . maybe I SHOULD do a tree.  In the end, though, I stuck with my decision.  I ended up quite happy and content with my traditional Christmas tree-less season.

In an attempt to block FOMO - and especially at the holidays - I recommend giving yourself permission to celebrate YOUR way.  To not let yourself be swayed by what Other People are doing. To let things go.  To avoid the "shoulds."  

This year, I created a permission slip for myself.


It's just a simple thing written on a Post-It note that I stuck on the December page of my calendar.  A little reminder that I have already given myself permission to let go of things; a little reminder to myself NOT to succumb to FOMO.

I want to remain happy and content with the way I've decided to celebrate this year; for not doing things the way other people are doing them -- and for not placing guilt on my family or friends, either.  My holiday, my way -- your holiday, your way.

It's time to take some of the overwhelm out of the holidays -- for all of us.  Let's give ourselves permission . . . to be content with our decisions, whatever they may be.


Unraveling Family Traditions

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that on Thanksgiving - after the turkey has been eaten and tucked away in the refrigerator - we make gingerbread houses.  It's been an Annual Thing since my kids were tiny.  Over the years, we've shared this tradition with friends and various family members.  


Last week, I did a quick calculation.  I think that, over the years, I have baked just under 70 gingerbread houses!

But what happens when that family tradition . . . unravels????  As in . . . can a gingerbread house even happen if there is no one around to make it?


I thought long and hard about it.  

At first, I thought about baking the pieces and shipping them (along with candy and the recipe for frosting) out to my kids.  Kind of . . . a gingerbread house in "kit" form.  But then I realized . . . it wasn't my kids going on about what-will-we-do-if-we-can't-make-gingerbread-houses-on-Thanksgiving.  It was me.  So I nixed that idea.  (I don't need to foist MY traditions on them.)

And then, I thought about inviting one of my artsy friends over to make gingerbread houses some afternoon.  We could have a glass of wine and get fired up about our creations.  But I didn't really feel like doing that, either.

I decided to just . . . let this one go.  To realize that, like the Annual Father's Day Croquet Tournament before it, it was time to just let this tradition go.  


But then, I got to thinking about what I would do with the space on the bookshelf where I usually placed my gingerbread house amidst the holiday décor.  

I got to thinking that . . . well . . .it might actually be kind of fun to make one just for myself!

So I did!


While, initially, it made me a teeny tiny bit sad . . . that didn't last long at all!  I thought about all the fun times we'd had with the gingerbread houses over the years.  My kids when they were small.  Erin's friends as she grew older.  My mom.  Introducing the tradition to Keith and then to Lauren.  (Let me tell you -- there are good memories and lots of love baked right into that Pampered Chef gingerbread house mold!)

And then . . . I plugged in to the newest Louise Penny Three Pines mystery . . . and let 'er rip!

Merry and bright, indeed!


Joining Kat and friends today for Unraveled -- even though I'm not unraveling anything fiber-like.  Be sure to stop in over at Kat's to see what everyone else is unraveling!

May Your Days Be . . .

Here we are, late November.  Thanksgiving is behind us.  Christmas lies ahead.  I haven't started doing anything Christmas-related yet.  I haven't decorated.  I haven't started my shopping.  I haven't ordered cards.  I haven't listened to Christmas music.

What I have been doing . . . is a lot of thinking about All of the Christmas Things.  And making plans for doing All of the Christmas Things.  Not in a panic-y way.  Just in a making lists and prioritizing kind of way. 

How do I want to celebrate this season?
What are my priorities during this over-booked time of year?
How do I keep myself on track and not let myself get swept away by the crazier aspects of the holiday?

I decided that what I really want to do this year . . . is to make sure the holiday season is fun -- light and bright and merry.  When the Holiday Overwhelm comes knocking (because you know it will) (I'm talking about you, 10 pounds of Swedish meatballs), I want to remember . . . to make it fun.

So last week, I decided I needed a "theme song" for the holidays -- a phrase from a Christmas song that I can play on endless-loop in my head.  A snippet of a song to keep me on track and remind me of what I want from this very busy time of year. *

I decided on this one . . . 


Part of the last line of that old standby, White Christmas.  May your days be merry and bright . . . 

I figure that my theme song can help me remember my priority this season.  When I'm trying to decide whether (or not) to do One More Thing, or fit some other obligation into my schedule, I can ask myself:  Will it make things merry and bright?  Because I can't do everything.  And I'm tired of trying to do just that.  This year?  It's all about merry and bright!

How about you?  Do you need a theme song this year?

  • Maybe Laughing All the Way . . . if you're trying to keep your sense of humor this holiday season
  • Or All is Calm . . . if you're trying to relax and let things go
  • Deck the Halls . . . if you're focused on the décor this year
  • Or Throw Cares Away . . . if you're usually trying to do too much and end up panicking
  • How about Oh What Fun . . . if you're looking to lighten up
  • Or Comfort and Joy . . . if you're wanting a hygge-holiday

Let's sing our way through the holidays this year -- and get just what we want!

* I had the idea of finding my holiday "theme song" . . . and then I listened to the Happier podcast last week and laughed when Gretchen and Elizabeth started talking about finding a "holiday motto."  Much the same concept (only they're famous)! 


I was running an errand at World Market yesterday when I found that Merry and Bright ornament (in the photo).  Of course, I had to have it -- a lovely visual reminder of my holiday theme song.


"This is the solstice, the still point of the sun, its cusp and midnight, the year's threshold and unlocking, where the past lets go of and becomes the future; the place of caught breath . . ."
                                                                                                    ---Margaret Atwood


Welcome the light!


When I was a little girl, my mom took a ceramics class.  I was thrilled when she made this for me:


A snowman mug . . . with a candy cane handle.

Oh, man.  I remember that milk tasted so much BETTER out of this mug!  (And hot chocolate with marshmallows?  Oh, yeah.  The BEST.)

Of course, my mom made one for my sister, too.  And, being a wise, thinking-ahead kind of mother, she painted our initials in the candy cane handle, so we could make sure which mug belonged to which sister.


This year, I dug my mug out of the back of my cupboard.  I stuck a bunch of candy canes in it -- and I put it on my desk.  Right there - where I can see it every day.  It reminds me of the excitement and magic I felt as a child at Christmastime.

We're in the countdown week now; the Big Day is almost here.  I hope you all have a chance to slow down, take a deep breath, and remember the special-ness of the season.  Cheers!

A Different Kind of Christmas

For me, this could easily be one of those sad, blue Christmases.  You know . . . the ones they sing about in holiday country songs?

After all, this will be the first Christmas without my mom.  AND - for the first year ever, neither of my kids will be home for the holiday.  It's just sort of . . . layer upon layer of Christmas bummer.

But I decided . . . NO.  It will not be a sad, blue Christmas!

It will be hard.  

It will certainly be different.  

But it will NOT be a bah-humbug kind of season.


Over the years, I have gotten pretty attached to (entrenched in?) the ways we celebrate Christmas.  Traditions we all enjoy, sure.  But traditions that are hard to change --- even when the only reason we're still doing them ... is because we've always done them.

So.  This year provided me with . . . the reason, the space, and - yes - the permission to evaluate and re-think HOW I celebrate Christmas.

I've cut back on pretty much everything.  Decorating.  Gifting.  Shopping.  Wrapping.  Going.  For the first year in . . . well, decades . . . I have empty space and time in my December calendar.  I don't have a tree -- and I don't miss it a bit.  I'm not constantly on-the-go -- and it feels great.


In this year that I could easily NOT have any Christmas spirit at all, I'm finding that I actually have more than I ever expected.

It's hard, there's no denying it.  I nearly broke down the other day when I found the perfect gift for my mom . . . and then remembered I didn't need to shop for my mom this year.

But I'm enjoying the lights and the music and the decorations - and my memories.  I'm looking forward to what's next -- and how we can create a "new" way to celebrate this year. 


Christmas?  Yeah.  It's going to be different.

But it's going to be okay.


Today's post is part of Think Write Thursday.  Read what other bloggers have to say today here.  And sign up here to receive the weekly prompts.



A Christmas Tradition. Since 1992.

Back in 1992, a friend invited me to a Pampered Chef party.  And, well, you know how it is . . . you feel obligated to go.  And obligated to buy something.

I bought this . . . 

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a gingerbread mold.

It'll be fun . . . I thought.

The kids and I can make gingerbread houses . . .  I imagined.

Maybe it'll even become an annual tradition . . . I mused.

And, y'know?  I was RIGHT!


It was fun -- and it TOTALLY became an annual tradition!

In the early years, I always baked two houses worth of gingerbread, and my mom and I teamed up with my kids to decorate houses on a weekend before Christmas.  It was lots of fun - and something we all enjoyed doing together.  (Although Brian usually lost interest once the houses were assembled; he hardly ever stuck around for the finished product.)


While Brian's interest waned, Erin became the Queen of Gingerbread.  She started hosting an annual gingerbread decorating party for her friends.  Here they are in 5th grade (Erin, the hostess-with-the mostest, is in the very back of this photo; I can't remember which finished house was hers, though.) . . . 


(You'll notice I gave up on the mold when it came to Erin's parties.  We just went with graham-crackers-on-milk-cartons.)  (Works GREAT, by the way.)

Erin's annual parties continued even in high school.  She invited fewer friends -- and baked the gingerbread (in the mold) on her own.  (Just as an aside . . . one of Erin's high school friends used to decorate these incredible houses every year.  Intricate and gorgeous.  Really amazing.  She ended up becoming a pastry chef and decorator extraordinaire as an adult!  We knew her when. . . )

Once Erin finished college and moved to Pittsburgh, we started doing gingerbread houses on Thanksgiving evening after the meal.  We continued the tradition this year.  It was really hard without my mom . . . but we were thrilled to add my sister to the mix!  (She has never taken part in this particular activity with me before, although she is a veteran gingerbread house decorator.)


This year, my sister and I got our inspiration from Pinterest.  Like . . . maybe too much inspiration.  We got really excited about . . . thatched roofs and stone fireplaces.

My sister's kind of worked . . . 


But mine?  Not so much. . . The "stones" are falling off in little piles around the base of my house!


(There will be no "stones" left by Christmas. . . )

But, you know.  That's how it goes!  Some years, our gingerbread houses turn out GREAT.  And some years . . . well, they just don't.  

But it doesn't matter at all.  

Because it's really not about the finished product!  Like most beloved family holiday traditions, it's ALL about the being together, having fun --  and creating memories.

I'm really blessed . . . to have some great memories coming out of that silly Pampered Chef party.  These houses really just . . . warm my heart.  Every single year.


This post is part of Think Write Thursday.  To read more contributions, click here.  And to sign up to receive the weekly prompts, click here.