Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas, Krampus and Cookies for Chanukah

Last year at this time, I was making plans to get out of dodge. The last thing that I wanted to do was spend the holidays at home, missing my mom.

This year, it couldn't be more different.

We got our tree on the day after Thanksgiving. I've never done that before. We even succeeded in decorating it that weekend, which I had my doubts about on Sunday, as the boxes were still strewn around the house, amidst the clutter.

I've also been listening to Christmas music already, and pushing away my fears that I'll be so sick of it by the time Christmas actually rolls around that I'd better stop and listen to something else. I've been listening so much, in fact, that Pandora told me the other day that they're sorry, but they can't locate any other music on this station for me. I wonder if I'll get a similar message from Accuradio?

Mom, shaking her gift for a guess...1985
But the thing that had me jump to the computer to pop out this post was this feeling that I had on the floor just now, wrapping presents in Kaya's room. I feel just like my mom, eager for Kaya's wide eyes, excited to give her 'schuschkis' at every possible opportunity. It's a truly wonderful feeling. It's like she's here with me, everywhere, enjoying the holiday spirit wherever I can create it and let it in.

Enjoying my new books, 1985

Granted, it's not like I'm necessarily following in her footsteps, as many of you, who knew her, are well aware. She saved everything until the last minute. On Christmas Eve, she'd be out at Toys R Us, buying up the best of the sales rack, just before picking up a free tree at the local Gemco. She'd decorate and wrap and play the Santa until the wee hours of the morning, similarly eager for us to peek our heads around the stairs, asking if we could come down.

Man, I miss her.

Admiring the writing tablet I made her in wood shop, 1985

And at the same time, it really is like she's so much more present now than when she was alive and so sick.

So, maybe I'm enlivened for the holidays because it's a way to feel connected to my mom. And maybe it's because I know that Kaya is finally at an age where she'll notice, and it will make a difference for her and her life.

Whatever the reason, I'm definitely loving it, and very excited at the freedom I have to create whatever I want with and for my family. Last year, I felt pretty overwhelmed at the idea of creating new traditions. I did a few things, like planning an art project with the rest of our family while we were together to celebrate, but all in all, I felt pretty defeated. It was clear to me this commercial trend at the holidays isn't at all what I want, for any of us. But I was at a complete loss as to how and what to do to avoid it.

This year, however--like I said--it's all different. Geoff and I have actually had a few conversations already as to what we envision for our family traditions, and since tomorrow is the first, I thought I'd get them down in print. Nothing like a reference for when we get distracted by the fun of it all and forget what we had in mind!

So, just to put the foundation on our intentions, our goal is to create traditions that instill a feeling of warmth, wonder, love and giving. I believe that many of the traditions that exist in our culture exist through the intentions of all of those ideals, but that, over time, and with the tendency of our market economy, have been washed away. I have felt torn, because as much as I want to move away from the commercialism of Christmas, and get rid of gift-giving all together, there's an obvious emotional connection that exists for me (and for Geoff), and it's hard for me to let that go. I don't know that we necessarily need to; I don't think there's a right or a wrong way to do this, even from an environmental standpoint (which is usually the standpoint I operate from). It simply feels like a balancing game.

So, we want to create traditions that teach Kaya about the value of giving, and service, as well as offer her opportunities to receive, as it's partly through receiving that one can fully understand the benefits of giving. We'd like to avoid the immensity of Christmas day, however, with piles of gifts that do little other than get pushed to the side because she can't even come close to processing all that she just received. All those gifts, all at once, is simply too much--at least for a child--and often, the appreciation is lost, replaced by disappointment that it's all over so fast. After a month, or more, of so eagerly waiting, and it's all over.

The Jewish tradition has that piece nailed, I think. One gift a day, for 8 or 9 days (clearly, I have only slight awareness of Jewish traditions!)...spread it out. Give time for appreciation. I was raised with a taste of Judaism--my dad, now a self-proclaimed atheist, always felt more in touch with his mother's Jewish lineage at the holidays than he did with my mom's Catholic tendency towards Christmas. So, he'd usually forgo the tree, and we'd have Matzoh ball soup at some friend's house, and open our briefcase 'stockings' after being at our mom's. I appreciate that I was exposed to both cultures (thanks, Dad!), and I'd like to do the same for Kaya, even if our reasoning is different.

And naturally, I want to weave in traditional German cultural celebrations, as well as those of ancient and native peoples of the earth, too. With our passion for the outdoors and understanding for the need for sustainability, as well as our desire to create intercultural understanding from an early age, I can't imagine it any other way.

But I better get to laying out our plan before I lose you to all this theory!

Here are the major dates we are excited to celebrate:

Dec. 1: Start the season!
This will be the first day that we start reading a holiday/winter book a day. I've checked a bunch out from the library, and we'll put the names in a jar and will pick a new story each night. We've also got an advent calendar book from a German friend of mine, and an interactive calendar from our Aunt Connie that will help us mark the days of the month. I don't know if this will happen every year, but this year, 'ein kleines Weihnachtszwerg' [a little Christmas elf ] brought Kaya a gift, which she'll get tomorrow when she comes home from her grandparents.

Dec. 6: Nikolaus
Optimally, I'll write more about this after the fact, but Saint Nicholas was the historical precursor of our present day Santa Claus. He was actually a saint from the 4th century, who had a reputation for secret gift-giving and putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. December 6 was his feast day. So, in Germany, as described by Wikipedia, "many children put a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside the front door on the night of 5 December. St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts and sweets overnight, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good, polite and helpful the last year. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (Rute) in their boots instead. Sometimes a disguised Nikolaus also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they have been good (sometimes ostensibly checking his golden book for their record), handing out presents on a per-behavior basis. This has become more lenient in recent decades.
But for some children, Nikolaus also elicited fear, as he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Ruprecht), who would threaten to beat the children for misbehavior as using this myth to 'bring up cheek children' for a better, good behavior. Any kind of punishment isn't really following and just an antic legend. Knecht Ruprecht was equipped with eight deer legs. In German speaking parts of Switzerland, where he is called Schmutzli [or Krampus] he threatens to put badly behaved children in a sack and bring them away to the dark forest. In other accounts he throws the sack into the river, drowning the naughty children!

Dec. 14: Light a Remembrance Candle
We started this tradition last year, in hopes of creating one hour in which anyone who was interested could light a candle and send out wishes and happy thoughts in remembrance of our mom who died last year of Non-hodgkins Lymphoma. I look forward to doing this again this year, and will be sending out invitations soon. For those of you who want to join us, I expect that I'll invite people to light a candle at 6pm, Pacific Standard Time, pass around mugs of cider, and enjoy some of their favorite music.

Dec. 21-28: Chanukah
I have a bit of reading to do for this one, but I expect we'll light a menorah, talk about what the holiday is, play some traditional games, and give Kaya a gift a day for each day of the celebration.
*Since having written this post, I've done some reading on Hanukkah, and as it turns out, we don't really stand behind the reason for the celebration (triumphing over the Greek Soldiers who took their table honor Zeus and sacrifice pigs, is the abridged version). We're currently seeking a way to incorporate the increasing daylight, as with the solstice which starts on the same day, as well as a way to spread out the gift giving over many days instead of one. Any ideas are VERY welcomed below!

Dec. 22: Winter Solstice
Similarly, I plan on doing more reading on this celebration, too, but I have in mind to make luminarias out of sand and paper bags; perhaps do some solstice caroling (I just found an ebook at Powell's); read some books about solstice; and do a ceremony, celebrating the advent of more light. Our neighbors, who only celebrate Solstice and not Christmas, are doing an afternoon of songs, games and activities, too, which I'm excited to participate in.

Dec. 24: Christmas Eve (with the coming of the Christkind and Santa)
I don't really have anything against celebrating Christmas on Christmas day, except that we've fallen in love with skiing on Christmas day because the mountain is so empty, esp. in the morning. In this way, however, we get to celebrate Christmas in the more traditional German way, where the gift-exchanges often happen on the 24th, when the Christkind delivers the gifts through the window before ringing his bell, and a big feast happens on the 25th.

Dec. 25: Ski!!
Like I said above, maybe we'll have a big dinner after we ski all day. I'm not sure yet. We'll work out the details with the other family members involved. =)
*Looks like we might opt to stay with family this year--there's little snow, my purse with the passes in it was lost, and my in-laws in laws will be in from out of town, too...nothing like a whole bunch of community on Christmas!!

Dec. 31: New Year's Eve
For the past few years, Geoff and I haven't really done much to celebrate New Year's Eve. I'm not attached to any particular celebration this year, either, though I do see it as a greater possibility that we'll attempt to do something with some people we enjoy.

Now that I've gone and laid out all our plans and our good intentions, I feel a little exposed. I have no idea if we'll stick to all these plans, or what we'll throw into the mix in addition. I know I want to bring cookies to the local fire department this year, as well as do some volunteering at the local family shelter, too. In fact, there's a number of other ideas that I want to do, interspersed between all the above celebrations we have in mind. But, it's dinner time, and I've got some wrapping to finish up...

Thanks, as always, for joining in my thoughts for the evening.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts...would love to hear about any celebrations you have that you'd love to pass along for us to adopt!


  1. Ooooh, I love reading about all your planned celebrations! It gives me that warm, holiday feeling inside :) Since arriving in the Netherlands, I've been struggling with the ways to blend together German, American, and Dutch holiday traditions - no easy task! (I just posted about some of this on my blog.) Your list gives me inspiration and the hope that we really can do it all.
    I love the idea of lighting a candle for your mom each year. In fact, I'd love to join in, even though I didn't know her and really haven't ever met you! (at least not in person) But I think it's a nice way to remember our family and friends who are no longer with us - at least not physically. It's wonderful that you feel so connected to your mom at this time.
    So... how did Nikolaus go??
    Kate :)

  2. Kate,
    That makes such a difference for me, reading that you got all warm and full of holiday cheer...yay! I heard that from a couple other people, too, and didn't even realize that it could have that effect on others. I'm super happy to know that you feel inspired, and I'm eager to check out your post and see how your blending process is going, too.
    And, of course, what kind words you share about my mom. Should you be curious about that woman who we're lighting a candle about, here's a link to, what could be, my favorite blog post:
    I wrote it after attending a memorial, for her and others who had donated their body to science. Absolutely amazing experience for me.
    And as for Nikolaus...that questions serves as inspiration for my next post! Thanks!!
    Be in touch, and have a GREAT time in the Netherlands and Germany!


I LOVE reading your comments, they make such a difference! Thanks for sharing!