Anne Elizabeth on A Southern California Family Christmas!
Part of the Authors at the Holidays Special
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
~ Charles Dickens
The holidays are a very social and memorable time for our family. The journey begins at Thanksgiving with family and friends – a four-day marathon event of cooking, eating, and cleaning – and transitions to community holiday parties sandwiched in between my writing schedule for comic books and novels; the RT Book Reviews column I write on comics, manga, and graphic novels; blogging commitments for a recent releases – right now that’s THE PENDULUM; workshops; and my husband Carl’s teaching schedule. The pace is hectic but, in our opinion, completely worthwhile. Here it goes…a snapshot of our holiday traditions.
#1 Christmas Tree. When we’re finally ready to take the plunge, this is how the Christmas celebration commences. Carl and I head out in the pick-up truck to find the perfect tree. Our favorite choice is always a ‘living’ tree, allowing us to plant it after the festivities. This is a fun excursion involving the dog and laughter and sometimes a little strong language; especially since there’s usually a wrestling match getting the tree into the truck, securing it, and then transporting it home. The unloading comes next and then the placement of the lights and decorations. When it’s all set, we turn off all the lights, sit together, and enjoy the beauty. The smell brings back the past – our childhoods, our teen years, our adult years – and creates a vivid olfactory marker for the present moment as the silence and loveliness binds us closer together.
#2 Wood. Next on our list is the annual gathering of wood for our old-fashioned wood stove: a fuel efficient, romantic, and very necessary way to heat our home. Driving into the woods with a picnic (usually chicken or leftover turkey), we find the optimal spot. Stop, cut and/or stack the wood in the truck until the weight makes our pick-up sag. Then, we have our lunch, enjoying the fresh air. The dog – our crazy yellow English Labrador – runs around us barking and sniffing, delighted by the wonderful smells and new territory. Driving home is a much slower process as we work our
way out of the woods.
“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”
~ Charles Schulz
#3 Care packages to the Troops! We try to do this one as early as possible so it has time to make the trek. Every year, we pick different people or groups. This year it is going to a SEAL Team. Nope, we’re not telling which one, but, we were thrilled to put the package together with a few surprises and a lot of love. This is number three, though we often push it to the beginning for shipping purposes.
#4 Baskets. Each year we put together baskets for individuals who live alone or are shut-ins. Most of the folks on our list are military, since my husband is a retired Navy SEAL. I hand-pick every item and it means a lot to us that there are personal touches to bring a smile.
#5 Christmas Cards are a task that makes my husband roll his eyes but I truly enjoy it. If only I could clone myself so I could send out more of them, I would be happy. I handwrite notes on every card.
“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
~ Bob Hope
#6 Presents for the wee ones. Carl has a large family, so we do little things for his sisters and brothers and then concentrate our efforts on the grandbabies. This year, our grandson is majorly into puzzles and our granddaughter always adores books. We enjoy lavishing love and goodies on them, though their favorite event is playing in the snow. Yes, we actually do receive snow in the mountains above San Diego. At a 4,000 elevation we have all the seasons, and the snow can be as deep as three feet or more.
#7 Seeing the lights. In Ocean Beach, CA, there is a darling neighborhood that turns into a winter wonderland. Several streets band together to decorate their homes and in doing so invite the whole city to visit. When darkness sets in and the lights come on, these seemingly ordinary houses are transformed into magical places that dazzle the eyes and create a sense of excitement. Sighs of beauty and comments of appreciating fall easily from smiling mouths until the scent of hot chocolate reaches our noses and then we must partake of the warm brew with the giant fluffy marshmallows. Afterward, we talk about the exhibits that still tantalize our minds and imaginations.
#8 Sunset hikes. My husband and I like to take our Lab on evening hikes to watch the sunset. Sometimes, we walk around the small corner of our mountain or other times we hike to a peak where we can watch the yellows, oranges, and pinks streak across the sky and fade into the night. I treasure this time together.
#9 Connecticut. I miss my parents fiercely during the holidays. We try to trade off houses and visit, but…there is never enough time together. A favorite reminder of my parents and their home is the Christmas Cactus. When I was a teenager, my mother had one and so did I. We used to wait, with great anticipation, for them to bloom. Mine was red and hers was pink. As buds began to open, we knew Thanksgiving was around the corner, and after that would be Christmas. It was nature’s alarm clock right in our own home. So, before I went to college, we combined our individual plants into one giant planter. Now, it is an explosion of pink and red and has doubled in size. Just gorgeous!
After my husband and I married, I purchased one for our home and this plant surprisingly enough blooms randomly throughout the year. We really enjoy the blossoms though we are baffled as to why it flowers so often. It might not be an alarm clock like the larger planter in Connecticut, but it reminds me of my parents, preparing for the holidays, and family traditions.
“The earth has grown old with its burden of care
But at Christmas it always is young.
The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair
And its soul full of music breaks the air,
When the song of angels is sung.”
~ Bishop Phillips Brooks who wrote ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’.
#10 Catalyst. As my husband is fond of saying, “Christmas is the time of the year when man, at least in this country, really seems to care about other people. They do things for each other – friends, family, strangers, anyone – just because…” I add this as a number on our list because in many ways this Spirit of Christmas is a springboard from our gratitude at Thanksgiving to our gift-giving during the holiday season. Every kindness matters, and the best gifts of all are smiles, hugs, love and laughter. All of these are worth giving, always.
#11 Church. I am the grand-daughter of a minister and one of my earliest holiday memories was being in church on Christmas Eve. All around me people were singing songs and I wiggled my way off my father’s lap and started to bounce along with the music. I watch toddlers do this every year, their eyes wide and excited. They listen, along with the congregation, relishing the story of Mary and Joseph as told through acting roles and others reading the biblical text. Lights flicker as the scent of burning candles fills the room. The hush and subsequent raising of voices is a celebration, a joyful sound of reverence and honoring of faith as it fills the parts of my soul in an indescribably magical way.
#12 Christmas Feast. This is a gathering of family, friends, and sometimes strangers or recent acquaintances to fill the house with laughter and celebration. Though, there are years it might be just Carl and me, and well, the dog, too. However it happens to unfold – from rowdy to quiet – we enjoy this time to honor the birth of Christ and to be thankful for the love and joy in our lives.
Season’s Greetings to All!
From our house to yours, Happy Holidays!
Many blessings for a safe and joyful time!
Hooyah & Hugs! AE