From our household to yours, the happiest of holidays.
I’m taking the week off, friends. See you back here next week.
From our household to yours, the happiest of holidays.
I’m taking the week off, friends. See you back here next week.
I love so many things about this festive season: the traditional decorations and music, the fun of buying gifts for friends and family, the Christmas cards that show up in my mailbox, the reverent preparation of Advent.
I know Christmas is beset by commercialism these days (the sale emails are piling up in my inbox), but I confess I love a festive shop window (or outdoor display). And the streets of Harvard Square, where I work, are bursting with holiday spirit.
The Brattle Square Florist has piles of fresh-smelling greens, which spill out onto the sidewalk:
I love the little birch reindeer.
The barbershop down the street has Linus, Lucy, Frosty the Snowman and the whole gang from the Claymation version of Rudolph. (Yukon Cornelius! Hermey the elf!)
I spotted this deconstructed reindeer outside a landscaper’s office.
The cupcake shop Sweet has gotten into the spirit:
At Black Ink, the display is subtle but festive. (I could spend hundreds of dollars in here.)
And the Anthropologie windows, as always, are sheer magic.
What does this season look like in your neighborhood? Any fun window displays?
We put up our Christmas tree last weekend, while listening to the traditional Christmas music: the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, Elvis’ Blue Christmas, and some a cappella carols by the Robert Shaw Chorale – my husband’s choice. (They take him back to his high school days, singing carols with his show choir while wearing a Dickensian suit and top hat.)
I always love unwrapping our funky, mismatched ornaments and reminiscing about their origins: This ruby slipper came from the Smithsonian gift shop in D.C. Jana gave me this bell when I helped assemble her kids’ teacher gifts one year. These glass balls came from my parents’ first Christmas tree.
Every year, I share a few photos of beloved ornaments and their stories. For the sixth (!) year, here they are:
Last December, when J and I met Shanna for a pre-Christmas lunch in Abilene, she handed us this lovely bird ornament – “because you guys are my songbird friends,” she said. I miss singing with Shanna at church (she used to live here in Boston, but lives in Atlanta now), but the songbird makes me smile.
I ordered a set of three stuffed gingerbread houses from Etsy a few years ago. I gave two of them to my friends Abi and Bethany, and kept this one for myself. We all lived in Abilene at the time; now Bethany is in Nashville and Abi and I are in Boston. I like thinking of these ornaments on each of our trees every year.
A dozen or so of my ornaments came from It’s About Time, a lovely shop in Abilene filled with antiques and housewares and all kinds of beautiful things, run by my friend Pam. This sparkly snowflake-esque one might be my favorite.
For our first Christmas as a married couple, my mom gave us a gift card to buy our Christmas tree and a few dozen ornaments from Hobby Lobby. These silver bells are from that shopping trip, and of course they evoke the Bing Crosby song.
My aunt Charlene – my mother’s best friend, who lives in Ohio – used to send us Christmas ornaments every year. This little tree is one of them – and as the hubs pointed out, it’s so meta. A tree on a tree.
If you celebrate, do you have a color-coordinated tree, or one with assorted ornaments, like mine? (If you have ornament stories, I’d love to hear them.)
On Saturday morning, after Turkeypalooza, J and I went up to the church to decorate for Advent. Our friend Bob had made his annual nursery pilgrimage to pick up the wreaths, pine garland, poinsettias and cyclamen, but it turned out the nursery workers forgot the greenery. So we set out the flowers then, and put the greenery up the next morning, right before service started, as people drank coffee and greeted guests and chased their kids around the back of the church.
I wandered around with flowerpots and a roll of packing tape in my hands, dirt and pine sap on my fingers. We did not start remotely on time (though we never do, if we’re honest). And J was fighting a chest cold as he led singing. But the notes of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” soared through the building, as hopeful and aching as they are every year.
On Monday, I made it to Morning Prayers for the first time in months, slipping into a high-walled box pew in Memorial Church as the choir sang. I recited the Lord’s Prayer with the other congregants, and stumbled through an unfamiliar Advent hymn. As I walked through Harvard Yard on my way to the office, I hummed a different tune: Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free…
I’ve pulled out my Advent book, Watch for the Light, for what I think is the 14th year. It is a little battered by now, and I am not making myself read every single word this year. I am dipping in when it suits me, turning to favorite pieces by Henri Nouwen and Kathleen Norris and Gail Godwin, letting their words wake me up, letting them sink in and rest a while.
We’ve put up our tree (above), hung the stockings and mistletoe, bought our annual supply of mint M&Ms, even wrapped a few gifts. But even so, things still feel hopeful, expectant. We are easing into Advent, trying (always trying) to pay attention, to savor a bit of stillness in these days before the exaltation of Christmas.
I am turning to the words of Isaiah and the Gospels, clinging to their promises as to a solid rock in an unsteady world:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
I have heard those words all my life, and I know I still don’t understand their full meaning. But every Advent, I try to slow down a little, and listen.
This was our fifth Thanksgiving in Boston, our fifth time to sit down with friends in our church basement and enjoy a feast of everyone’s favorite dishes. We are no longer shy newbies: instead, we help organize, plan, set up and make the whole thing happen.
By now, we’ve learned a few things: for example, a Google doc sign-up sheet saves the day. Related: there will still be a hurried conference at church on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to make sure we’ve got all the traditional dishes covered. And lots and lots of lists. (Abi’s is on the left, mine on the right.)
Every year on Thanksgiving morning, we head over to Nate and Abi’s to eat breakfast and watch some Thanksgiving episodes of Friends.
They are in a different apartment this year, and it was just the four of us, plus Nate’s attention was diverted by having two turkeys to baste (one in their oven, one in the neighbors’ oven) and gravy to make. But we ate blueberry scones and peppery bacon, and laughed as Rachel made her disastrous trifle and the Friends gang reminisced about Thanksgivings past. (“In this life, Phoebe!”)
Every year, Abi goes to the church ahead of time to set out tablecloths and candles, and string twinkle lights. Every year we wonder if we’ll have enough food, enough paper napkins, enough glass goblets to make the table sparkle. (Every year, somehow, there are enough – even if “somehow” includes a last-minute run to Target.)
The weather might be sunny and mid-50s or frigid and snowy. Either way, my husband will tuck a Frisbee or a football into the car among the casseroles. The oven will be crowded with foil-covered dishes, reheating; the two food tables will be jammed with tempting dishes, and everyone will go home with leftovers.
Every year, we say we’ll eat around one o’clock, but it really means we might all sit down by two. There is always a mix of old friends and new faces; this year there was a birthday cake for Adam, age 2. (Nate, whose birthday is the day before Adam’s, helped him blow out the candles.)
Every year, there is laughter and mulled apple cider and so much pie. There are roasted vegetables and five kinds of potatoes and Abi’s peanut butter balls. There are people from half a dozen countries and native New Englanders and American transplants to Boston, like us. There are family favorites and brand-new recipes and so much love.
I miss my family on Thanksgiving every year – especially this year when my sister and baby nephew have been ill. (They’re home now, and improving.) But I am grateful to gather, every year, with this group of friends, to break bread and give thanks and enjoy being together.
If you celebrated last week, I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful. (And happy December!)
I love the “around here” posts that pop up periodically throughout the blogosphere. It’s always a true pleasure to get a glimpse into others’ everyday lives, and I like looking back at my own (sporadic) posts of this type – they are wonderful snapshots of certain moments in my life.
Life is full and busy and rich (and sometimes stressful) these days, and I want to remember how it feels, in all its particularity. Right now – as of late November 2014 – I am:
What are you up to right now?
Every December, my husband and I pack our big suitcases with clothes and Christmas presents, trade our down coats for lighter wool ones, and hop a plane to Texas. We live and work two thousand miles away from our families and many of our dearest friends, but once a year, we get to spend about 10 days driving up and down I-20, seeing as many of our loved ones as we can.
We started in Dallas, opening presents and eating at our favorite restaurants with my husband’s family. We saw a magical (if tearjerking) movie, and we drove out to East Texas to spend the day with J’s aunt and uncle, whom we hadn’t seen in five years. Despite four (yes, four) instances of the fire alarm going off at our hotel, we enjoyed having our own space – especially the free wi-fi and the cozy reading chair.
J’s niece, Annalynn (17 months), entertained us all. She’s a sweetie:
The day before Christmas Eve, we headed west to my hometown, stopping in Abilene for a long lunch with Shanna. My nephew, Ryder, was waiting for us when we arrived:
This kid is so much fun. At 19 months, he’s a bundle of energy, and we all spent large portions of the next few days chasing him around. He wasn’t sure about J at first, but bonded with him pretty quickly:
(Throwing golf balls in the backyard is apparently big fun.)
We made, and ate, all our Christmas favorites: sweet potato casserole topped with pecans and brown sugar, fluffy mashed potatoes, hot rolls, whole cranberries in Jell-O, green bean casserole. We grilled ribs one night, steak another night, and toasted each other on Christmas Eve with eggnog. Even the boys (my husband and brother-in-law) got more than enough to eat:
We went to my parents’ church for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, one of my favorite evenings in the whole year. Our beloved music minister, George, is receiving treatment for cancer, but he was onstage leading the carols, his voice as strong as ever. We sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Mom’s favorite, and ended with Dad’s favorite, “Silent Night.”
This was the year of the camel, since my dad is obsessed with the Geico hump day commercial. My sister even bought him a T-shirt:
And we must have watched the commercial 15 times. The best part was watching him laugh:
Ryder’s favorite gift was a tractor he can ride (closely followed by a pair of socks with tractors on them):
His legs don’t quite reach the pedals yet, so we all took turns pushing him around.
Mostly, we just had so much fun hanging out with my family.
(That’s my mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen – where we spent a lot of time.)
We ended our trip with three days in Abilene, where we lived for eight years (including our undergraduate years, J’s time in graduate school and our first two years of marriage). I never take many photos there because we’re too busy hugging everyone we know and talking as hard as we can, trying to catch up on all the news. But I did snap this photo of J playing dominoes with our hosts:
So that was our Christmas. Merry, bright, magical, and full of hugs and Tex-Mex food. Pretty wonderful.
How were your holidays? (And happy belated New Year!)