Taking down Christmas

Today, we observe Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the magi. It’s also a family tradition to take down our Christmas tree today. Often, B does most of that work, although I think T and I will help today. It’s always a bit sad to take down the tree, although this is longest time we have ever had a tree up as we got it early in order to have it to celebrate St. Nicholas Day in advance of E and ABC’s holiday trip to London. I was afraid the tree would not last all these weeks, but it has held up well, only shedding a few needles. LEDs help to keep the needles from drying out, as they sometimes did with the old incandescent light strings.

Our tree this year wound up being decorated with mostly non-breakable ornaments. There are a few fragile ones in the top third, safely out of ABC’s reach. She was very interested in the ornaments as they were put up, carrying them around and sometimes taking them back off the tree, but once it was all decorated, she (mostly) left them up.

It is probably just as well that she is still in the UK. When she comes back mid-month, the living room will be back to normal, except with a few new toys and books to strew across the braided rug.
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a new ornament for the tree

We decorated our Christmas tree today. While many people put their trees up right after Thanksgiving here in the United States, we usually wait until closer to Christmas and keep it up until Epiphany. This year, knowing that daughter E and granddaughter ABC will be heading to the UK mid-month for the holidays, we decided to decorate early in order to observe St. Nicholas Day on December sixth for exchanging gifts and opening stockings.

At almost eighteen months, we weren’t sure how ABC would react to tree trimming. We went through our considerable cache of ornaments and chose all the indestructible and child-safe ones for the bottom half of the tree. ABC was delighted with all the rocking horses, bells, animals, musical instruments, angels, etc. and ran back and forth with them. She wanted them on the tree and then wanted them back off to play with them, but, eventually, we got the whole tree decorated. We are sure there will be lots of opportunities to re-hang ornaments after she decides to play with them again!

I love our Christmas ornament collection, which includes ones that came to us from our families, handmade ones, and many that we have collected while travelling. One special one that we added this year is a handmade downy woodpecker, which we bought to commemorate the one that our daughters tried to rescue.
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The woodpecker’s new bear friend is one that we have had for decades.

And two of ABC’s words are “bear” and “bird”, even if they do sound a lot alike when she says them.

I admit that, with so much going on this past year, I am having trouble feeling in the Christmas spirit, but ABC’s delighted squeals with each new ornament certainly helped.

Ending Christmas

Much of the energy expended this weekend has been spent taking down Christmas decorations.

Yesterday, we concentrated on helping Grandma, which is a huge task as she likes to decorate every room.

Today, we packed things here at our house. I’m happy to report that everything is safely stowed in the basement, waiting for December 2016 to roll around. Well, not everything. The tree is out on the curb, waiting for the special collection that will turn the trees into mulch for the parks.

With Christmas things put away, there are few clues as to it being winter. We have had a major rainstorm with temperatures in the 40s F. (mid-single digits C.) We are expecting some seasonably cold temperatures tomorrow. At least we will know it is mid-January without referring to the calendar.
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A different Christmas/Eve

This Christmas does not look like others at our house. There are far fewer decorations. There is a wreath on the door only because I ordered one many weeks ago through a Garden Ministry fundraiser at church. We do have a fir lovingly decorated with decades-worth of special ornaments, including one we bought this year that was crafted by an artisan on the BIg Island of Hawai’i, but only because my spouse B and daughter T did the stringing of lights and hanging of ornaments.

My angel cardholder is full of Christmas greetings from friends and family.

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And that is about it. No creche on the mantel. No carol singers in the dining room. No Christmas-theme magnets on the refrigerator. No needlework nutcracker hanging from the doorknob.

As those who know me personally or who always read my blog or Facebook posts know, this December has been challenging for me. Assisting my mother-in-law through health issues, including a five-day hospital stay, following on several months of prior difficulties, was time-consuming, so I had already pared down my to-do list for the holidays. Then, last week, I developed shingles and the list got pared down some more with most of the tasks getting allocated to B and T.

The one major task that I retained was sending holiday greetings to friends and family. There are a number of people with whom I only connect at Christmastime – faraway friends who I have not seen in years but who still hold a special place in my heart, family that I used to see on a regular basis, but who are now living in different states, friends whom I have known for decades – and others that I still see on a regular basis but want to greet and reminisce with for the holidays. I prefer to choose individual cards, signed by hand, with small handwritten notes or longer printed personalized letters enclosed, sealed with a Christmas Seal and posted with a holiday stamp appropriate to the recipient. I accepted early in December that this was not going to be an ideal year, so I settled on writing a letter that would go to nearly everyone on my list sans card.

Writing the letter proved to be difficult as it involved re-living some very emotional times of the past year. It was lucky that I drafted it when I did, as the bulk of the work was done before my mother-in-law’s hospital stay. When I came down with shingles, I still had not had a chance to print the letters and address the envelopes, so, as B and T took over everything else, I sat and folded, addressed, sealed, and stamped, so that nearly all of them went into the mail on Saturday. Most will arrive in time for Christmas or the end of Hanukkah, while some that have a longer journey may not arrive until closer to New Year’s Eve, but I feel warm-hearted, knowing that I have sent part of myself out to friends and family at this special time of year. (Full disclosure:  There are several shameless plugs for Top of JC’s Mind in the letter. We’ll see if anyone actually visits because of it. 😉 )

We have already completed an important part of our Christmas celebration. My sisters and families came for a couple of days to see us and my parents. In recent years, we have exchanged meals rather than gifts, with their meals being in area restaurants and ours a traditional meal at our home. We make a rolled beef-rib roast, prepared on the 50+ year old rotisserie that belonged to my parents before they moved to an apartment. For dessert, we always make pies. This year it was apple, apple blackberry, and maple-and-brown-sugar pecan.
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B got extra fancy with the crust for the pecan with tiny Christmas tree cutouts along the edge!
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I was too tired from the shingles to be much help in the kitchen, although I did peel and slice most of the apples for the pies. It was odd not to be (wildly) orchestrating everything and everyone in the kitchen, but I and everyone else enjoyed the meal immensely. I had to absent myself from some of the activities while my sisters were here in order to rest, but I was grateful to be well enough to enjoy their visit. Anti-viral meds are wonderful!

T and I attended Christmas vigil Mass tonight at 6, with T’s former handbell choir and the instrumental ensemble and choir providing music. During the intercessions, we prayed for Sister Rose Margaret Noonan, csj, whom I consider one of my spiritual mothers. She passed away last night. She lived a life of service to God and people as a Sister of Saint Joseph of Carondelet for many decades – she was in her upper 90s – and lived the priestly life to which she was called to the extent possible within the current structure of the Catholic Church. While I’m sad that she is not here any longer, I rejoice knowing that she lives in the joy of God’s presence in heaven.

B has baked date and cranberry breads for Christmas breakfast. There will be stockings and presents to open, although that will be relatively quick as not much Christmas shopping transpired. No one is very fussed about there being many fewer than usual Christmas presents this year. Anything we really need will get purchased in the days and weeks ahead. There is a brunch reservation up at Good Shepherd Village dining room for us to eat with the three resident grand/parents. There will be time for gift exchange with them and then it may be naptime. While I am lucky that my case of shingles is not very severe, there is still some pain and fatigue, so I am trying to be reasonable and plan some down time.

I wish a very merry Christmas to all who celebrate it and gifts of peace, joy, and harmony to all!

Joanne C.

putting away Christmas

In my faith tradition, this weekend marks the end of the Christmas season, so it is time to pack away the rest of the decorations. We had already taken down our tree last weekend, after the celebration of Epiphany, a tradition we share with several friends.

While putting up the tree is more festive, taking it down is more meditative. We place all the ornaments on the dining room table before we pack them into their boxes, so, at a glance, I can appreciate their diversity, and, focusing in, can celebrate their uniqueness and the memories each holds.

Ornaments from our trees growing up – my favorite silver ball with handpainted pink roses – the horn from my husband’s tree that actually makes a sound if you blow into it…the rocking horses and unicorns that I made from a kit when we were newlyweds that became the bottom-of-the-tree ornaments when our daughters were small, due to their cute and colorful, yet indestructible, nature…the circus animal ornaments from my friend Angie, who passed away eight, almost nine, years ago…Hawaiian ornaments from my daughter and son-in-law, who live in Honolulu…ornaments made by my artist-friend Yvonne…the cedar ornament that became a teether for my older daughter’s first Christmas…the set of small wooden angel-musicians and all the other music-themed instruments which commemorate the many years of church music-making in our family…the felt horse heads -a pair made by my husband as a child, another pair made by his mom when she was helping her third-graders make an art project/gift for their parents – that transform into hobby horses with the insertion of a candy cane…a Florentine-paper origami bird, folded by our younger daughter…the nature-themed ornaments, made by Latin-American artisans using native gourds…gifts from friends and relatives over the years…ornaments we have bought in our travels – a painted ceramic ball from my first and only European trip to Sicily – a carved wooden house from Deerfield – cloth ornaments from Skaneateles – enameled ornaments from Winterthur…

Though the ornaments are packed and stored away, the memories linger and warm our hearts, so the peace and joy of the season last a little longer.