Each Tree Has a Story, Part 1

For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by Christmas trees. Whether they’re decorated in restaurants and store windows and displays, part of an outside holiday display, or in someone’s (or my) home, there’s just something almost magical about the beauty of a Christmas tree.

For me, it just seems to evoke all the feelings of the season…peace, joy, beauty, and love. The sparkling lights and the ornaments, whether glass or acrylic, homemade or purchased from stores, or made lovingly by little hands for special family gifts, are beautiful reminders of things and people we love, as well as the beauty of the Christmas season.

When I was growing up, we always had a real tree. Of course back then there were very few artificial trees, and the ones available didn’t really look that great. (And remember those silver aluminum ones with the colored swirling light in front of it that changed color? I think we all had one! What were we thinking?)

I do vaguely remember my father bringing home a tree each year about a week before Christmas so he and my mom could decorate it just in time for Santa. It would sit outside in a pail of water for a few days to keep it fresh until it was time to bring it inside. I didn’t help much, of course, because I was too young. I certainly couldn’t help with the strings of lights, and the ornaments were glass and fragile, and broke easily, and we always had a colorful glass sphere on the top of it. 

I did get to help throw those aluminum icicles on it after everything else was hung. I just loved that finishing touch. And for those of you in my age group, I’m sure you remember the same thing. And weren’t they messy as could be when it was time to take that tree down? I don’t think they’re even made anymore. And if they are I’d never get them again!

But every year, once that tree was decorated, I thought it was the most beautiful tree ever! Those old, now vintage, ornaments were so special.

And because the tree was real, we had to water it every day so it wouldn’t dry out. Plus the old lights weren’t nearly as safe as the ones now, and there were lots of Christmas tree fires back then from overheated or frayed tree lights.

And those needles made a mess when they started dropping, so we had to constantly vacuum around it, but it sure smelled good…just like Christmas!

Even then, I was always a bit sad when Christmas was over and we had to throw the tree out and pack up those shiny ornaments. It just didn’t seem fair for all that beauty to only be around such a short time. And back then, we could only leave it up for about two weeks before it started drying out too much to be safe.

After my father died, my mom and I always went together to get our tree from the Christmas tree lot set up in a vacant lot in town. It always smelled so good there, many times with a small fire burning in a barrel to keep the attendants, and the shoppers, warm. Sometimes they even served hot chocolate. We’d carefully pick out a tree, and they’d tie it on top of our car. 

Because my mom had no one to help her with it, especially after my aunt and uncle moved a couple hours away, a lot of years one of the men who’d been helping at the lot would follow us home and help get the tree set up for us. 

Yes, times were a lot different back then. And being in a small town, everyone tried to help out everyone else. Especially at Christmas.

Unfortunately I don’t have hardly any pictures of our Christmas trees growing up, and none in color, but in my mind’s eye I can still see them, and still see the colors in the ornaments and lights. Yes, they were old fashioned compared to today’s styles, but they were beautiful to us.

Unfortunately over the years most of those precious fragile ornaments have gotten broken. Between various moves and accidentally dropping some of them, which really upset me every time, there are only a few left, most of which are now used in decorative bowls of ornaments set around the house.

I couldn’t ever imagine Christmas without a tree and all those lights and ornaments; without the beauty they brought to our home, especially when I was a child with my father no longer with us.  And I’m sure if it hadn’t been for me, my mother wouldn’t have ever had another Christmas tree after he died.

I guess my love of Christmas trees sort of sprang from those childhood days, and has slowly evolved to the craziness my husband and I have now.

Craziness you ask? Well I’ve been told having a tree in almost every room is a little crazy, but then again, I’ve never claimed to be totally normal. But I like to collect things, so why not Christmas trees? 

Which I’ll tell you more about in a few more days. Watch for “Each Tree Has a Story, Part 2” to be published on December 6.

Making a Gingerbread House

All the pictures make it look so easy. Right?

Mom and the kids sitting around the table, maybe even with Grandmom, and happily frosting/gluing the pieces together, adding the candy, and then a perfect gingerbread house is completed.

May I ask you, have you ever really tried doing one? With or without kids? It’s really not as easy as those pictures show. And it definitely doesn’t always turn out like it looks like on the box. Even for those of us who are usually quite crafty.

How do I know? Well, last year my daughter and I decided to make one with the grandkids. At the time Rachel was 4 and a half; Ryleigh a year and a half. 

I guess I should’ve said my daughter and I decided to make one. While the kids watched. Or played something else. Or waited to eat the candy that went on it.

We’d actually done one the year before. That didn’t turn out well at all. Besides Rachel being a little too young to really be a lot of help, actually putting these together isn’t that easy. The sides and roof pieces that have to be assembled are “glued” with white frosting. The frosting doesn’t work like my hot glue gun! And getting them to stay upright and in place isn’t a piece of cake, or gingerbread, either! 

Trust me, our finished product from that year certainly isn’t worthy of being seen on here!

Last year though, was a bit easier. But only just a bit.  It may be because we used a different brand gingerbread house kit. Maybe because the grandkids were a year older. Or maybe we’d just learned from last year what NOT to do.

Our daughter learned what not to do. She learned that she had no patience in putting the sides and roof together. So guess who got the job? The same person who did it the year before. As you can see from the pictures.

And getting the roof on and actually getting it stay is almost an engineering project. But I did it. And when the frosting “glue” dried, it actually stayed together. That was an improvement over last year!

Next was the part our daughter and Rachel were looking forward to. Decorating the house. The kits contain all the candy needed for the houses, and there’s usually some left over. Which makes all the kids, big and little, quite happy.

And our daughter and older granddaughter really enjoyed putting the candy on, even though not all of it went on the house. What did little Ryleigh do? She watched for a few minute, grabbed a bit of the candy, and went back to playing and watching cartoons.

Fortunately the house turned out fairly well. We were all proud of our accomplishment. 

So proud, in fact I actually got another kit for them, and we all put together a gingerbread camper. Which wasn’t quite as difficult. Or else we’d learned a little more about how to do it.

So what do you think about our collection? Are you ready to try and do your own? You don’t even need to have kids or grandkids to try it. But that makes it more fun. 

Or you can do what our daughter did and order an acrylic one to put together. Much easier. And lasts a lot longer. Isn’t it cute? And you knew it had to have a flamingo with it!

Here are the finished products. What do you think?

To show how brave we’ve become after this, we now have four gingerbread kits to make this year. We may or may not write about those, depending on the finished products. But you never know!

And why not send your own gingerbread house pictures in a comment. We’d love to see them!

Happy holiday creating! The fun is just beginning!

A Season of Love?

Today is December 1. There are 24 days until Christmas. It’s the season of love; of hope; an almost magical time when we can actually begin to feel that spirit of anticipation. Of knowing that good things are going to happen.

It’s a time in which we should all begin to focus on what’s really important instead of complaining, griping, and spreading falsehoods and baseless theories about how things have been stolen away. Insulting others and name calling in order to make themselves look, well, I don’t really know what they think it makes them look like, but I think it makes them look small and petty. And even calling for people to rise up against others, many of those neighbors, friends, and even families, just because they don’t agree with you.

Christmas is a time to celebrate when love came into the world in the form of a tiny baby. A baby knows no hatred, bears no animosity to others. A baby looks at the new world around him and sees only wonder and awe. He sees not black and white, but a multitude of colors that fascinate him and cause him to want to explore each and every one.

So why are we so fixated on trying to make the world into something it is clearly not anymore? Why, especially in this season of love, are we so fixated on spreading so much hatred?

This has been a difficult year. Many people are still unemployed. Many are worried that they won’t have enough money to eat and keep a roof over their family’s head, let alone get gifts for their children. Many have lost loved ones, not only to the pandemic, but because their hatred is stronger than their love. And that’s sad.

My husband and I have lost friends this year to Alzheimer’s and cancer. We have also lost friends who do not agree with us, and rather than agreeing to disagree, have insulted us, called us horrible names, and even telling us we cannot be Christians because we disagree with them.

This is not the way to show love to anyone. And it’s certainly not in keeping with the spirit of the Christmas season.

Many people who read this will dismiss my words and say I’m being ridiculous. Many will say they have every right to say what they want when they want and to who they want. Yes, they do, unless they are trying to incite violence.

However, is it the right thing to do? And what does it say about them? Are their hearts that hard?

This is the beginning of the Christmas season. The season of love.

Can we maybe, just for a few weeks even, try to live that way?

So Now What?

The gift giving is over, at least for the most part. Exchanges have been made, and/or returns have been completed. After Christmas sales have been shopped, and items purchased for next year’s festivities.

The tree is still up, still decorated, but in the past few days it seems to have lost its glow, its expectancy. It almost looks tired. It just isn’t shining the way it had been.

And neither are you.

Is that how you seem to feel when Christmas Day is over and done? All the preparations, the last minute gift purchases, the haste to get everything wrapped and under the tree…everything is over and done so quickly…

And instead of being excited about all the fun you had on Christmas Day; about how happy everyone was; and how it was so nice to be around people you loved and cared about…. Instead you’re depressed and sad, and wondering why the day just wasn’t what you thought it would be.

Or you’re wondering…now what!? “I’ve got nothing else to be excited about, because Christmas took all the joy out of me. All the hype about the season…it didn’t do a thing for me. That one day I’m supposed to be happy and in love with everyone…well it didn’t work very well. Life is still the way it was before. Christmas didn’t change a thing.”

And suddenly you just want to cry; you want to just throw that fancy decorated tree out the window so you won’t have to see the reminder of another unhappy holiday.

You’re not alone, you know. Others feel the same way. It’s not unusual. There are many reasons. You may feel Christmas was over too quickly, and you didn’t really get to enjoy it because you were trying too hard to make sure everyone else did. Or you feel like there was something more you could’ve done to add just a bit more sparkle to the day; one more gift you should’ve bought for someone.

Or maybe it’s just because after all the excitement, the anticipation, and the frenzy of that one day, suddenly there’s nothing left to look forward to except the same old routine, the same life you feel is just passing you by. You’re lonely and tired of being lonely.

What happened to the magic and the hope of Christmas Day? Have you forgotten it that quickly? Where’s that excitement you felt as a child for the next several days after Christmas, when you were exploring all the toys you’d gotten from Santa?
That little child grew up. And life happened. And it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be. And even the excitement and fun of Christmas, the holiday you always loved the most, just wasn’t magical any more.

But it can be. If you let it. If you stop to remember the reason for Christmas. It’s not about how many or how expensive gifts are, or whether you do traditional wrapping or use gift bags. It’s not about how your Christmas tree looks, or how many lights there are on your front lawn. It’s not about making cookies, or if your child believes in Santa Claus or the Elf on the Shelf.

Christmas is still about the birth of a tiny baby over 2,000 years ago. A baby who was the Son of God. Who came to our world to bring love and salvation. It’s hard to remember sometimes when we’re caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, and all the material aspects. And yes, I’m just as guilty as the next person.

But as the angels said on that long ago night, “we bring you glad tidings of peace and joy and good will to all mankind.” And it wasn’t just for that one night, that one day. It was for forever.

Somehow we’ve let the material trappings of Christmas overshadow the reason for Christmas. That reason should live in our hearts every day.

It should. But it doesn’t always. Because perhaps we’ve forgotten the magic, and what it’s all about.

Instead of being downhearted that Christmas is over, or glad that it is because you were miserable, think about what you can do to make the true spirit of Christmas last all year. An unexpected phone call or visit, a small gift of coffee or cookies, a kind word to a stranger…all the things people talk about doing at Christmas…and then no more. Why not do it all year?
Christmas isn’t just a holiday. It’s a state of mind that’s decorated more at one time of the year than another.

If we can only see it like that. Try it.

“So now what?” becomes “What can I do for someone else now?”

You may be surprised at the results, in both your life and someone else’s.

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Although we realize many of you are having a very difficult time today. Christmas can be a very rough day if you’re hurting.

But let us take the time to share the gifts we’d like to present you with today…gifts from our hearts. Gifts that cannot always be purchased with money; because they’re priceless.

For the woman who’s spending yet another Christmas without someone to love, someone to love her, accept the gift of hope, that that someone you’ve been praying for, and hoping for, will enter your life in the new year, and you will finally find the love you’ve been dreaming of for so long.

For those of you who have been waiting for a reconciliation with your children, or other family members, accept the gift of renewal, that things and circumstances will be made whole again, the past forgotten. May you receive a knock on the door of your heart allowing that reconciliation to take place, and your joy be restored.

For the man struggling with addictions, receive the gift of self-control and strength, that once and for all those addictions will be put behind you and your new life will begin even today as that gift is opened.

For those of you struggling with the first Christmas following death of a loved one, receive the gift of cherished memories that will live forever in the scrapbook of your heart, and the knowledge that the love you had for each other will never die, and that they are waiting for you in heaven.

For the family who’s lost, or about to lose, their home, accept the gift of a new place to live that will be the perfect home, cozy and peaceful, with enough room for everyone.

For the couple who desperately want a child of their own, may you receive the gift of the child you’ve wanted so badly, a child that was meant just for you. Because Christmas is about the birth of a long-awaited child.

For the family struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis, may you receive a gift of financial blessing, a new job, or a salary increase, that will ease your worries and allow you to provide comfortably for your family.

For those who are facing a serious illness… may you receive the gift of healing and the knowledge that the word of the Lord is always true and faithful.

Christmas is a time of hope. A time of renewal of faith and a renewal of the promises we were given over two thousand years ago in a manger in Bethlehem.

On this Christmas Day, be blessed. And may the light of His love shine forth over you as never before.

Merry Christmas to all!!!

The Magic and Miracle of Christmas Eve

This is Christmas Eve. It’s a special day. You can almost feel it. The sense of anticipation, the magic. The sense of knowing something is about to happen.

You can feel it in the air, see it on the faces of children as they visit Santa. You can sense it in the softly lit decorations placed in strategic places in restaurants, storefront windows, in our homes, and yes, in the images we see on line.

You can almost feel the hope, the sense that something miraculous could actually happen. That sense of a peaceful quiet that ushers in something incredibly beautiful…something more special than you’ve ever experienced before.

You can hear it in a favorite Christmas song, the words penetrating your heart and your spirit, bringing a tear to your eye as you realize you truly do believe in Christmas miracles. And you know that one is coming for either you or someone you love. You don’t know what, or how, but you believe it’s coming.

After all, it’s Christmas Eve.

Because on that very first Christmas something miraculous did indeed happen. The world received the gift of salvation, hope, and everlasting love. In the form of a tiny baby.

So take heart. And be of good cheer, as the angels said to the shepherds a little over 2,000 years ago. Because there are still Christmas miracles to come this year.

They come in many forms. A kind or loving word from a stranger to someone who’s hurting. A surprise phone call from a loved one far away. A stranger unexpectedly buying your coffee as you struggle to find your wallet at the checkout register An anonymous gift left on your doorstep, or in your mailbox, and it’s something you really needed.

Or you may be the one who causes a Christmas miracle without even realizing it. A smile to someone in a store who feels totally lost and alone. A “thank you” to someone who isn’t expecting it. Holding a door open for a young mother struggling with a baby stroller and arms full of packages. Giving a gift to a stranger from an angel tree or Christmas shoebox sent overseas.

Yes, miracles still abound, and it seems we’re more aware of them at the Christmas season than at any other time of year, because we need them more at this season than at any other time. It’s the season of love…and loneliness. The season of giving…and sadness because you think you have nothing to give. It’s the season of hope…and wondering when you’ll ever have any again.

But somewhere out there your miracle is coming. In a way you least expect and may not even recognize, even when it happens.

The magic of Christmas is also the miracle of Christmas. It’s not the gifts, or lack of gifts, under the tree. It’s how you feel in your heart, how your feelings toward others suddenly change, and how you see the world around you in a new way, even if only for a few days.

Let’s all enjoy the magic…and the miracle…of Christmas this year. And let’s share it with as many people as possible.

A smile. A kind word. A loving gesture. A handwritten note to say “I love you.” A prayer for those who are hurting.

The miracle of Christmas is within each of us, if we only let it come forth.

It’s Christmas Eve. And it’s time…..

A Message from Santa Claus

You know, it’s not easy being me. It truly isn’t. Like a lot of you out there, I’ve always got too much to do, and not enough time to do it.

You see, there are a lot of children out there in this world. And it’s my job to make them happy on Christmas Day. That is, if they believe, and if their parents cooperate. More about that later.

Throughout so many decades past, I’ve delighted the kids who believe in me with gifts under their Christmas tree every Christmas morning. Sometimes they’re beautifully wrapped, and sometimes they’re not. Their parents tell me what they want, you know.

All year long I’m working behind the scenes at the North Pole, putting together lists for each child that believes in me, and collecting all the toys that each kid wants. The elves very seldom make them anymore; they’re just too complicated. Instead they go to the stores, the factories, and the warehouses to fill the orders.

That’s not an easy task either. Plus, we have to have huge warehouses to store them, with each child having his or her own compartment for their gifts. Can’t have them confused, you know; that would really upset the kids!

Even working hard all year to make just that one night special doesn’t mean we don’t get rushed. Right now things have really heated up, and we’re working almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We’ll sleep on Christmas Day, after everything is delivered.

The reindeer are getting ready, too, exercising to make sure they’re in great shape to pull that sleigh. It’s not easy, you know, because with all those toys, and me, well, it’s quite heavy to start out with.

Now I’m asked a lot of times about how in the world all those toys for all the world’s children, can possibly fit in one sleigh. It’s big, but not that big, you know. It’s really quite easy, but unfortunately I can’t tell you. You see, Santa has to have a few secrets that no one knows about, and that’s one of them. Most of the elves know; they have to, because they pack up the sleigh. But every year we have a few new ones, and until I can totally trust them with such a huge secret, they do other jobs rather than packing my sleigh.

I’m also asked a lot about how the reindeer are actually able to fly through the sky, let alone pull a heavy sleigh behind them. That’s one of those secrets I keep to myself as well. I will say this, they are very special reindeer, specially trained, and very trustworthy.

I’m also asked a lot how I can be in so many places at the same time. At the malls, department stores, in Christmas parades…in all honesty, I’m really not. Not personally anyway. But each and every one of those Santas carry a little piece of me with them. A piece of my heart, and a piece of my love for each and every one of the children who believe in me. And all of those pieces come back to me and settle into my heart as the children tell Santa their secrets and their Christmas wishes. But please don’t tell the kids. That’s between us.

Some of the children are really concerned that I can’t get in their house to deliver their toys because they don’t have a fireplace for me to come down. Actually that’s one of the easier problems to solve. Because Santa has a very special key, made just for me, that will unlock any door. But only on Christmas Eve; no other time of year. And it only works in Santa’s hand, so if it were to ever get lost, no one else could use it.

Those cookies and milk are certainly appreciated, too. I have a hard job that night, and although it’s a lot of fun, it certainly works up the appetite! And my favorites are butter cookies with sprinkles, chocolate chip, and some of those fluffy meringue cookies with chocolate chips. And a bit of egg nog here and there would be good in the place of milk. You know, just varying the selection a bit. Just don’t leave a slice of fruitcake! The reindeer don’t even like that!

And those letters the children send me? Yes, I read them. Fortunately I’m a speed reader, so it’s not as hard as you might think. And I’m probably the world’s best multitasker, because I not only read them as I’m doing other things, I dictate my responses as well, and the elves handle the rest.

The Naughty or Nice List? Yes, I do have those. Unfortunately. But just so you’ll know, in order to not get at least one gift from ol’ Santa, you have to be really, really naughty. You see, I love kids so much, I never want any of them to go without gifts from me at Christmas time. I always try to find something they’ve done right enough to be able to qualify for a gift!!

And by the way…that Elf on the Shelf? He’s NOT one of mine. Not at all. I don’t know where he came from or why he’s trying to horn in on my territory, but he really needs to stop. Santa doesn’t participate in that one, and he’s certainly never reported back to me! I think he’s around just to cause a bit of disruption and to irritate me!

Which leads me to my comment concerning parents cooperating with me. This is a tough one. And it really hurts my feelings.

You see, there are parents out there who refuse to tell their kids about me. Or they tell them I don’t exist. That I’m just made up, and that every kid who believes in me, is just totally wrong and should be set straight as soon as possible. There are even adults out there who aren’t parents who spread those same words and thoughts around without even thinking about it. Without even stopping to think what they’re doing…what they’re destroying.

And those children don’t get the pleasure of Santa delivering gifts on Christmas Eve because I’m not welcome in their homes. And I don’t go where I’m not welcome.

Just because you don’t see the real me doesn’t mean I don’t exist. I’ve been around for a long time, doing the things I do for a long time, and making millions of children happy every year. The smiles on their faces and their screams of surprise and delight make it worthwhile. And as I said, their parents do help, because I couldn’t possibly do it all on my own. They are an important part of the magic of Santa Claus at Christmas time.

Those who say Santa isn’t real don’t understand the reality of Santa. They don’t understand I live in the hearts and imagination of children, who pass on the mystery and the wonder of Santa to their own children. And that causes me to continue to live on and on.

Others say I keep kids from focusing on the real meaning of Christmas, so they won’t let their children believe about me. Rubbish!! Let me say this. Over half of the homes I deliver toys to have a nativity scene in their homes, or ornaments on their tree depicting that first Christmas. Obviously they know the real story of Christmas. And they still let me in.

As I said in the beginning, it’s not easy being me. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of late nights. But the happiness I bring every Christmas Eve, the smiles I see on so many faces on Christmas morning (yes, I do see them, you know – just don’t asked me to explain how) make it all worthwhile.

You still don’t believe I’m real? All I can say to that is, I’m really sorry. Because you’re missing out on so very much….

And now….back to work! Christmas Eve is almost here!

A Simpler Christmas

I was reviewing my “to do” list today; you know, the one with all the items on it that still need doing with Christmas less than two weeks away….

At this rate I probably won’t be ready for this Christmas until next year.

How in the world did it all get so complicated? So rushed? So last minute?

When I was younger Christmas seemed to take forever to arrive. I don’t remember taking weeks to shop, weeks to decorate. Making batches and batches of all kinds of cookies to give away as gifts and take to work. Buying an angel tree gift. Putting change in the Salvation Army kettle. Making sure you have all the latest gadgets and goodies for the kids and grandkids. Spending a fortune on Santa photos at the mall. Going to craft shows and open houses and concerts…. Oh, and then there are those gifts still to wrap…thank goodness for gift bags!

No wonder we feel rushed. And stressed. And exhausted.

And wonder why we just don’t seem to enjoy the Christmas season the way we used to. Why it seems like more of a hassle than anything else.

Maybe that’s how we’re making it these days. We’re so busy trying to put together a perfect holiday, a perfectly decorated home, and perfectly wrapped perfect gifts, we forget to stop and just enjoy the beauty of the season.

We stop looking at it through the eyes of a child, who sees nothing but wonder and amazement and excitement with all the festivities. Who can’t wait to visit Santa Claus and tell him what he or she wants for Christmas. Who counts the days, and sometimes the hours until the magic happens on Christmas morning.

While we’re too busy thinking how glad we are that it’s almost over, and we can get back to life as it normally is.

When I was growing up we didn’t spend days and days shopping for gifts. We didn’t spend a fortune on wrapping paper and gift bags (which in my case didn’t even exist at the time).

We didn’t spend days or weeks decorating the house. We only had one tree in my mother’s house; now I have six. And ask myself “why?” every year. We very seldom decorated with outside lights, and if we did there were just a few. Now neighbors sometimes spend weeks putting up their outside decorations, trying to outdo their neighbors, or see just how many lights and inflatables they can put in their front yards. (And don’t those inflatables look awful in the daylight when they’re deflated?)

Santa photos were taken with our own cameras, and we had to wait a week or so to get them developed, and then hope they turned out. When the Polaroid cameras came out we were thrilled to leave Santa’s chair with a picture in our hands to put by our beds to remember that special time!

We didn’t rush out to start our Christmas shopping as soon as Thanksgiving dinner was over to make sure we got a head start on the sales. Or spend the cold night in a line outside an electronics store just to be one of the first to get the best deals when the store opened the next morning.

Our Christmas stockings were filled with fruit, candy, candy canes, crayons…inexpensive items we used every day and really appreciated. Santa didn’t fill our living room with gifts; we got maybe 7-8 presents (if that) and thought we were blessed beyond measure. And we appreciated each and every one of those gifts, taking our time to open them to make the fun last longer. We played with those gifts exclusively for probably a week until we put them away when we took the tree down.

Now we can’t wait to rush out early the day after Christmas to take advantage of those after-Christmas sales to get all the things we know we’ll need for next year, and buy things we really wanted but didn’t get. And we start the madness all over again.

We’re all guilty. We’re all doing it now. Every year I say I’m going to cut back. Only do one tree, not bake all those cookies, not go crazy with gifts, and sit back and just enjoy the beauty and joy of the season. But the house looked unfinished with only one tree, so I gave in and put them all up. I haven’t made cookies yet, but I’m seriously planning to

make no more than six kinds. Yes, seriously.

I’ve tried to resist getting that one extra gift for several people, and really hope I can stick to that plan, but when I say I don’t need gifts for Christmas I do mean it. I just want everyone else to be happy, and save their money for things they need, not buy things for me because they think they’re supposed to.

I really do wish for a simpler Christmas. Obviously it’s not going to happen this year. I’ve already overdecorated. I’ll probably end up making too many cookies again. I’ll probably overspend on stocking stuffers as well. And I’ll probably cook way too much for Christmas dinner like I do every year.

So maybe next year, I can start earlier, do less, and actually sit down and enjoy the Christmas season.

Maybe?

How about you?

When Holidays make us Remember

For me, it happens just about every year around this time. Thanksgiving is done, and leftovers are being enjoyed. Black Friday shopping is thankfully over. And now it’s on to the next task of the holiday season, if you haven’t done it yet.

Decorating for Christmas. Getting out the tree. Or trees, in our case. And that’s when it starts. As I unwrap certain ornaments I can’t help but remember where I got them, and the story behind them. I remember the ones that were my grandmother’s, and my mother’s. The ones my mother bought for us, and ones she’d given us for her granddaughter, especially the baby’s first Christmas series. And my eyes almost always get a little damp….

I really think I’m over the loss, the emptiness of my mom being gone; of our traditions being over, or, I guess I should say, carried on in new ways. But then I realize I will never be totally over it, because you never are. The loss, and the memories, are always there.

It’s not just her empty place at our table; her not being around for our traditional Black Friday shopping; her name no longer on our gift list. Not being able to go to her house during the holidays. Her not being with us Christmas morning to watch presents being opened. She’s certainly with us in spirit, and always will be.

It’s the knowing she won’t be here ever again to share the joys of the holidays with us in our new ways. Her precious granddaughter Ashley is now married, with a beautiful daughter of her own. She never got to meet our Chris, or their little girl Rachel. My mother would have been over the moon in love with our little girl, and I’m sure she would delight in everything our granddaughter (her great-granddaughter) did, every gift she opened, just like she did with our daughter every Christmas. She’d have sat and played with her all day, while the rest of us prepared dinner.

And she’d be absolutely ecstatic knowing that next Christmas little Rachel will have a new sister that my mother would also totally adore. I can even picture the three of them playing together in the stack of new toys Santa delivered for both girls, with so much laughter and so much joy. She’d act like a little kid, right along with them.

My mom never laughed or smiled a lot after my dad died, but at Christmas time, when she had her granddaughter Ashley with her, that’s all we saw. Smiles and happiness. Laughter. Even when our toddler daughter was having a temper tantrum while shopping, or doing something else that wouldn’t necessarily put her on Santa’s “good list”, my mother just smiled and said, “She’ll be fine. Just let her be.” And she was.

I so miss those days. And I think of them even more often now that we have a granddaughter who is so much like her mother. I just can’t help wishing “if only my mother could be here….”

But the past is the past, and as much as we wish, and dream, we can’t change it. We can’t bring our loved ones back, as much as we’d like to. We can only imagine how things would be, picture them in our minds, and treasure them in our hearts.

No matter how old I get, no matter how many years will have passed, I will still have these feelings. They’re part of me; part of who I am. No matter how many years have passed I will still picture my mother the way she looked during her last years. Except her face will have softened, the lines disappeared, and that beautiful smile she had whenever she was with our daughter will be lighting up her entire being.

I wonder if some day our daughter, and our granddaughters, will have these thoughts, these feelings. Especially, many years from now, as they pull out the Christmas ornaments that used to be mine, and place them on their Christmas trees. Will they remember? Will they long for those “old days” as I still do?

The holidays are not only a time of joy and excitement. It’s also a time for dreams; for family; and for memories that we’ll treasure forever.

What memories do you treasure most from Christmases past? What are the things you’d most like to be able to re-live? And what memories do you hope your children and grandchildren will most remember about you?

De-ornamenting the Trees

I think I just invented a new word. Maybe. But it sure says what I’m feeling right now!

De-ornamenting. Better known as taking down the Christmas trees and other holiday decorations. Returning to whatever state of normalcy we live in the rest of the year.

We actually have 6 Christmas trees every year. Well, if you want to be technical there’s actually 8, but the skinny white flamingo tree in the Florida room stays up all year with its clear mini lights and huge assortment of the various flamingo decorations we’ve collected over the years. Then there’s the lighted palm tree in the far corner of our family room, with its clear lights and eclectic collection of beach and a few extra flamingo ornaments that wouldn’t fit on the other tree.

And yes, putting up all those trees is a lot of work, along with hanging the stockings, setting out the silk poinsettias, and decorating the foyer ledge in a holiday theme. It takes several days, and this year the help of a couple of good friends, to get everything done and ready for the holiday season. But it was worth it. And it’s worth it every year.

Because there’s just something special about the beauty of Christmas decorations. The sparkling lights, the candles, the shiny ornaments on the trees, and the magnificent sight of so many homes lit up with colorful and imaginative lighted displays in front yards. It just gives each home a touch of brand new elegance, and when the only light in your living room or family room comes from that Christmas tree, it just feels different. Almost magical, with an air of expectancy. The perfect room for enjoying time with family and friends.

And then in all too short a time, it’s all over. It’s time to take everything down, pack it carefully away, and wait another year to bring it back and create those feelings all over again.

Many people say they’re done with it all the day after Christmas Day, and can’t wait to pull everything down and put things back the way they were. Before the decorating…before the transformation began…before the magical beauty entered their home and took over, just for an all too brief time. Maybe they just don’t feel that special sense of magic that some of us do.

I’m just the opposite. I dread taking down all the decorations. Not because of all the work involved, because my husband and I do it together as a team. But because I just don’t like giving up the sparkle…the glow…and the special feelings that all the decorations bring, not only to our home, but to our lives. There’s a special feeling in our home when all those trees are decorated and lighted that just appears for that one all-too-short time. I really can’t describe the feeling. But I know there are more of you out there that feel the same way.

A few of our friends have actually left their trees up and just changed the theme. One friend re-did hers as a winter tree with icicles, silver ornaments, and snowmen. (How appropriate with the blizzard we just experienced!) Another friend re-did hers in a Mardi Gras theme. Well, I do keep our flamingo tree up year round, so i guess I’m right there with them.

Spending the snowy weekend removing and carefully packing up ornaments was not fun. And it wasn’t just all the tedious work involved in doing it. It was thinking about all the memories so many of those ornaments evoked. My grandmother’s glass birds that have survived over 100 Christmases still intact. The ornaments that graced my mother’s tree when she still put one up. The special ornaments memorializing my husband’s and my first Christmas together…our daughter’s first Christmas. And the latest special one…our granddaughter’s first Christmas ornament.

Now there are empty spots in our rooms where the trees were. No, not literally, because the furniture we moved to make room for our Christmas trees is now back in place. But it still doesn’t look right, at least not yet. But it will. In a few weeks or so. And we’ll forget about all the beauty and “specialness” of those Christmas decorations until about ten months later until it’s time to start thinking about it again.

But then the cycle starts again as the next Christmas season approaches and we once again get to experience that special excitement, that magical feeling as the trees once again are dressed in their familiar splendor with, of course, a few new ornaments that we traditionally add every year.

Am I looking ahead already? Of course! Because I’m already looking forward to that special magic that starts to happen when we start putting it all back together again. Who knows? I may not wait til after Thanksgiving this year to start decorating.

Or maybe even Christmas in July? Maybe I can start a new trend with a beach themed masterpiece. Decorated shells and starfish…clear ornaments with sea glass and sand inside of them…some kind of beachy garland…maybe on a blue Christmas tree? What do you think? Who wants to help join in the fun?

And Now What?

The gift giving is over, at least for the most part. Exchanges have been made, and/or returns have been completed. After Christmas sales have been shopped, and items purchased for next year’s festivities.

The tree is still up, still decorated, but in the past few days it seems to have lost its glow, its expectancy. It almost looks tired. It just isn’t shining the way it had been.

And neither are you.

Is that how you seem to feel when Christmas Day is over and done? All the preparations, the last minute gift purchases, the haste to get everything wrapped and under the tree…everything is over and done so quickly…

And instead of being excited about all the fun you had on Christmas Day; about how happy everyone was; and how it was so nice to be around people you loved and cared about…. Instead you’re depressed and sad, and wondering why the day just wasn’t what you thought it would be.

Or you’re wondering…now what!? “I’ve got nothing else to be excited about, because Christmas took all the joy out of me. All the hype about the season…it didn’t do a thing for me. That one day I’m supposed to be happy and in love with everyone…well it didn’t work very well. Life is still the way it was before. Christmas didn’t change a thing.”

And suddenly you just want to cry; you want to just throw that fancy decorated tree out the window so you won’t have to see the reminder of another unhappy holiday.

You’re not alone, you know. Others feel the same way. It’s not unusual. There are many reasons. You may feel Christmas was over too quickly, and you didn’t really get to enjoy it because you were trying too hard to make sure everyone else did. Or you feel like there was something more you could’ve done to add just a bit more sparkle to the day; one more gift you should’ve bought for someone. Or maybe it’s just because after all the excitement, the anticipation, and the frenzy of that one day, suddenly there’s nothing left to look forward to except the same old routine, the same life you feel is just passing you by. You’re lonely and tired of being lonely.

What happened to the magic and the hope of Christmas Day? Have you forgotten it that quickly? Where’s that excitement you felt as a child for the next several days after Christmas, when you were exploring all the toys you’d gotten from Santa?

That little child grew up. And life happened. And it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be. And even the excitement and fun of Christmas, the holiday you always loved the most, just wasn’t magical any more.

But it can be. If you let it. If you stop to remember the reason for Christmas. It’s not about how many or how expensive gifts are, or whether you do traditional wrapping or use gift bags. It’s not about how your Christmas tree looks, or how many lights there are on your front lawn. It’s not about making cookies, or if your child believes in Santa Claus or the Elf on the Shelf.

Christmas is still about the birth of a tiny baby over 2,000 years ago. A baby who was the Son of God. Who came to our world to bring love and salvation. It’s hard to remember sometimes when we’re caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, and all the material aspects. And yes, I’m just as guilty as the next person.

But as the angels said on that long ago night, “we bring you glad tidings of peace and joy and good will to all mankind.” And it wasn’t just for that one night, that one day. It was for forever.
Somehow we’ve let the material trappings of Christmas overshadow the reason for Christmas. That reason should live in our hearts every day.

It should. But it doesn’t always. Because perhaps we’ve forgotten the magic, and what it’s all about.

Instead of being downhearted that Christmas is over, or glad that it is because you were miserable, think about what you can do to make the true spirit of Christmas last all year. An unexpected phone call or visit, a small gift of coffee or cookies, a kind word to a stranger…all the things people talk about doing at Christmas…and then no more. Why not do it all year?

Christmas isn’t just a holiday. It’s a state of mind that’s decorated more at one time of the year than another.

If we can only see it like that. Try it. “So now what?” becomes “What can I do for someone else now?” You may be surprised at the results, in both your life and someone else’s.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas…

Although we realize many of you are having a very difficult time today. Christmas can be a very rough day if you’re hurting.

But let us take the time to share the gifts we’d like to present you with today…gifts from our hearts. Gifts that cannot always be purchased with money; because they’re priceless.

For the woman who’s spending yet another Christmas without someone to love, someone to love her, accept the gift of hope, that that someone you’ve been praying for, and hoping for, will enter your life in the new year, and you will finally find the love you’ve been dreaming of for so long.

For those of you who have been waiting for a reconciliation with your children, or other family members, accept the gift of renewal, that things and circumstances will be made whole again, the past forgotten. May you receive a knock on the door of your heart allowing that reconciliation to take place, and your joy be restored.

For the man struggling with addictions, receive the gift of self-control and strength, that once and for all those addictions will be put behind you and your new life will begin even today as that gift is opened.

For those of you struggling with the first Christmas following death of a loved one, receive the gift of cherished memories that will live forever in the scrapbook of your heart, and the knowledge that the love you had for each other will never die, and that they are waiting for you in heaven.

For the family who’s lost, or about to lose, their home, accept the gift of a new place to live that will be the perfect home, cozy and peaceful, with enough room for everyone.

For the couple who desperately want a child of their own, may you receive the gift of the child you’ve wanted so badly, a child that was meant just for you. Because Christmas is about the birth of a long-awaited child.

For the family struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis, may you receive a gift of financial blessing, a new job, or a salary increase, that will ease your worries and allow you to provide comfortably for your family.

For those who are facing a serious illness… may you receive the gift of healing and the knowledge that the word of the Lord is always true and faithful.

Christmas is a time of hope. A time of renewal of faith and a renewal of the promises we were given over two thousand years ago in a manger in Bethlehem.

On this Christmas Day, be blessed. And may the light of His love shine forth over you as never before.

Merry Christmas to all!!!