Home for the Holidays
Be it townhouse, mansion or even the White House, there's no place like home for the holidays. This year, more than ever, we need to create a peaceful and comforting environment for our families and ourselves. If it seems harder to get in the mood for the holidays this year, you are not alone. Being in the midst of a war and a bad economy can squelch any holiday spirit and make "peace on earth" and "joy to the world" seem very distant. But if you read the following stories and take the advice of our contributors, you will be able to create a cheerful holiday in no time. It's never too late to have a happy home for the holidays!
Make a holiday a holy day
The word holiday means Holy Day. This was a day so holy and special that our ancestors set aside work to celebrate with their families and communities. It was a time of singing, of joyful feasting, a day to honor the sacred and the creator.
Sue, a young Bostonian, makes her holidays holy by attending midnight Mass in a large downtown cathedral every Christmas Eve. "There is something very sacred about the fragrance of the burning incense, the soft carols being sung by a choir and the people packed into every corner to worship Jesus' birth. Being part of a ceremony thousands of years old, I feel a special connection to a larger community. I think everyone would be happier if they could be part of a spiritually uplifting holiday service."
Deck the halls
Create a festive atmosphere by decorating with bright colors and lights of the season. Spruce up your home with reminders of winter. Buy or make a fresh wreath for your front door and breathe in the evergreen scent. Set up your Christmas tree early this year and decorate it with your family or friends. Place luminaries on your front porch or down your driveway and decorate the trees and bushes outside to welcome visitors. Simmer cinnamon, cloves and orange peel in a pot of water for a natural holiday fragrance in your home.
Jean spends the beginning of December gathering mistletoe and holly on her family's farm in rural Oregon. She makes "kissing balls" of the mistletoe tied with colorful ribbons to hang around her house. "I always make plenty to give to friends as well." Jean says. "On the day I give them out, we all gather to celebrate "The Hanging of the Greens". We sing Deck the Halls and drink eggnog while we decorate a live fir tree. We always hang strands of cranberries and popcorn outside for the birds and plant daffodil and tulip bulbs for spring blooming. It's quite a tradition around here now."
Tim grew up in the 1950's and fondly remembers the "Bubble Lights" on his childhood trees. "I searched for years to find something similar. Finally, a few years ago I found them in a local store and bought a strand immediately. They were exactly as I remembered them and just looking at them make me smile with the memories of happy Christmases past.
Observe a tradition
Take the time this year to observe traditions in your home and take comfort in their familiarity and reassurance. The Jewish Festival of Lights is honored with the ritual sunset lighting of candles for eight days. Christians celebrate the Advent season, the four weeks prior to Christmas, by lighting symbolic candles in a wreath. Kwanzaa and St. Lucia's Day are also celebrated with ceremonial candle lighting.
New Yorkers Lisa and David enjoy taking turns reading Christmas classics and Hanukkah stories to their children. David cooks latkes for friends and neighbors and Lisa bakes Christmas cookies from her Swedish grandmother's recipe. They incorporate the lighting of the candles on Lisa's Advent wreath and David's heirloom menorah into their family's holiday traditions. "We want our children to know the customs and rituals of both our backgrounds," says David. "Lighting candles and eating a festive meal seem to be universal rituals that everyone relates to and takes comfort in so we incorporate both in our new interfaith family traditions."
Remember the reason for the season
"Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
Scott, a programmer in Texas, hasn't set foot in a mall store in three years and agrees with The Grinch. "Shopping takes the Christmas spirit right out of me, guaranteed. It's not about the ribbons, tags, packages, boxes or bags! It's the fact that we take the time to remember others. This year I'm going to make donations to charities in the names of my family."
Doris, a Connecticut grandmother of ten recalls, " the memory of my family gathering around the table, and candles glowing magically against cold windowpanes that come to mind. I don't recall actual presents or specific meals but I will carry in my heart all my days the warmth and joy of being surrounded by loved ones."
The most enjoyable Christmas Bonnie, a secretary in Kansas, ever experienced was the year she forgot to put tags on her presents. "Everything came from 'Santa' that year", she laughs. "It was so much fun seeing the delight on the faces of my family without expecting a thank you, that I give all my gifts anonymously now, even to friends and co-workers. I am 'Secret Santa'."
One sure cure for the holiday blahs is to actively participate in the holidays. Go caroling. Create a gift, sew, bake, paint, carve or build. Write a thank you note to a service person overseas or a NYC rescue worker. Explain the meaning of Christmas to a child. Address Christmas card envelopes for nursing home residents. Attend a Nutcracker ballet performance. Make snow angels. Laugh often and smile at strangers. Go to a live reenactment of the nativity. Gaze at the winter stars. Say "Merry Christmas" to a stranger. Get together with friends for an ice-skating party. Walk through your neighborhood and look at the Christmas light displays. Bake Christmas cookies with a child, and enjoy the happy chaos.
Karen, a homemaker in Ohio, participates in a cookie exchange. "All my friends are watching their weight, so we each try to make the ultimate fat-free, lo-cal cookie for our annual party. We make cookies in the tiniest possible size so we can have the fun of trying them all without so many calories to feel guilty about. After all, it's not about the cookies, it's about being together with good friends."
Peace on Earth takes on a different meaning during wartime, especially those fought on American soil. The White House was burned, Washington, DC was occupied by troops, symbols destroyed, and still America stands strong and Christmas continues. The Christmas spirit prevails even during the darkest of times, and the message of hope rings more resoundingly when we are united together as Americans.
The first true American Christmas occurred on a cold December in 1776 when General George Washington led a ragtag band of farmers and merchants on a victorious raid against the occupying German army. General Washington took advantage of the fact that Germans made merry on Christmas Eve and surprised the larger army while they were sleeping off the after-effects of their holiday grog. In the very early hours of that Christmas morning, the ill equipped attacked the ill prepared and won the first victory of the Revolutionary War. That event turned the tide of that first war on American soil and marked the birth of America on Christmas Day.
During the height of the Civil War, Christmas was anything but merry and bright. The story of Rebecca typifies the time. The young widow and mother of three, looked at the signs hanging in the corner shop. Fifty dollars for a turkey? Four dollars for a quart of milk? Discouraged and disgusted she hurried home and contacted her cousin who had a farm in the country. "Please send fresh milk for the children, whatever you can spare."
At Christmas during WWII the women of my family would pool their ration coupons for gifts of shoes, sugar for cookies and gasoline sufficient for family members to visit for the holiday. They shaped inexpensive Oleomargarine into butter-like cubes and sang carols to photos on the dinner table of their men who were serving in the military.
Many of today's American Christmas customs were created during times of national crisis. The Santa we see today first appeared during the Civil War, as did the notion of sending Christmas boxes to people serving in the armed forces. Thomas Nast, the German illustrator for Harper's Weekly magazine during the Civil War, was the man most responsible for our present day view of Santa. St. Nicholas had been a skinny Turkish saint who traveled with a nasty counterpart, Black Peter, to reward good children and punish the bad. Nast conveniently 'forgot' the switch-wielding Peter and instead, illustrated Santa as a plump, jolly man of abundance and cheer in an attempt to lift the spirits of a nation torn apart by war.
Be a patriotic purchaser
This holiday be patriotic and buy for quality, not quantity. American artists and craftspeople need your support, so shop at local craft fairs, go to open studios by from local artists, or buy online at stores which stock "Made in the USA" gifts.
Matt, an investment analyst, lives in San Francisco and shops for gifts at local art studios. "I can buy something totally unique, talk to the person who made it, and not have to deal with the crowds or step foot inside a mall. This year, it's even more important to me to support American artists, and besides, it's fun to get to peek into a working art studio!"
Don't force the feeling
Christmas can be hard enough without the added pressures of loved ones gone, country at war, or uncertain economic times. Expectations and obligations can seem overwhelming even during the best of times. We need to lower our expectations for a Norman Rockwell-perfect holiday and realize that Christmas is first and foremost about love. Acknowledge that feeling merry will be difficult this year, and take it slowly and more simply. When friends and family come to visit, ask them to bring food or beverage to share, or a decoration to hang, so you won't feel pressured to be the sole provider of a merry Christmas.
Saritha, a mother and real estate agent in Chicago, polls her family every year on what traditions to keep. "I was driving myself nuts trying to create the perfect Christmas every year. After talking to my family, I realized that they didn't care about most of what I was working so hard at. They wanted just to spend more time with me and not have me running around like a crazy lady. If making another batch of homemade cookies is going to turn me into a monster instead of Martha Stewart, then I'll buy a package at the store and save my sanity."
Be good to yourself
While trying to entertain others, we often forget to take time out to be good to ourselves.
Hannah, a student in New Mexico tries to stay healthy. "It seems like everyone at school is sick this time of year and anxious because of finals. I take the time to be good to myself - I walk every day, take my vitamins and go to bed early. I take a bubble bath with aromatherapy oils to lift my energy. Orange essential oil with ginger is my favorite. It gives me the extra boost I need."
Jim, an electrician from Philadelphia grew up watching all the classics on TV. "I rent It's a Wonderful Life so there's no commercial interruptions, make a big bowl of popcorn and call my mom in Florida. We time it so that we watch it simultaneously in two different states. It unwinds me after a busy day and always gets both of us into the holiday spirit. I tell my friends to turn off the home phone, cell phone, pager, computer, TV, and radio and sit in silence or enjoy some quiet company."
Find the joy
Find the joy this holiday even in the tiniest of miracles; a snowflake, a sunbeam, a star, a smile. Finding joy is as simple as looking for it. The more you pay attention to finding it, the more you will discover.
Roberta, a hospice aid worker in Denver, goes for a walk through her neighborhood every day in search of joy. "Joy can be found in everyday places. I go out every day determined to find evidence of joy, and not surprisingly, I find it. Sometimes it comes in very ordinary forms, children laughing, neighbors waving, dogs playing, but it is always there. Once I find it, I have to pass it along to everyone I meet!"
Spread the good tidings
To boost your mood, spread some joy and love around this season. One of the morals of Dickens's A Christmas Carol is that no one should be alone during the holidays.
Bob, a real estate broker in Arizona, lives 2000 miles from his only living relative. "Since I can't be with family during the holidays, I host an open house for my "extended family" every year. All I do is provide the room and my friends bring the food and the fun. It's a low-stress way to make sure no one is alone. We welcome everyone and each year there is someone new, a friend of a friend who couldn't make it home. I become their home, and they, even strangers, become my family. It brings me so much joy to be able to spread a little Christmas cheer to someone who otherwise would have been alone. I definitely recommend it!"
"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."
The shepherds were absolutely terrified at the sight of a band of angels lighting up the night sky. "Fear not," is what the angel says. The messenger from God announces not a request, but a demand. Focus on the joy, not on your fears.
John lives in Brooklyn and watched the Twin Towers fall. "I was in shock for weeks. I saw a counselor who helped me work through my grief and depression, but I realized the biggest hurdle to overcome was the fear. I've decided that I will go to Rockefeller Center to see the tree, shop on 5th Avenue and go to my mom's house for dinner as I do every year. This Christmas may not be the merriest, but I will keep on living. I won't let fear rule my life."
There are many ways to create a happy home for the holidays. Christmas this year may not be a perfect holiday, but it can remind us to be close to family and pay attention to the most important qualities of the season: love and joy.
No matter where you call home, it is the love you hold in your heart all year round that is essential. Love is what people remember and hold dear long after the dishes have been washed and the ribbons recycled. Love is what will make yours a happy home for the holidays.
Copyright 2001 Sacredhome