Just before I turned nine, my family moved from Toronto, Ontario, where there is real winter, to a rural area due east of Vancouver, BC. Our first winter there was disappointing: even though we lived in the foothills of the Coast Mountains, we didn’t see much snow. Winter didn’t look at all like my brother and I were used to: outside our door was a muddy driveway, grey trees bare of leaves, and the overcast skies that the Pacific Northwest is known for.
Fortunately, inside the house were all our usual trimmings of Christmas: Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby on the radio, tinsel and glass-ball decorations for the tree, a wooden box of Mandarin oranges, and – best of all – my mother’s Christmas baking.
The smells of shortbread baking drew us into the kitchen, hoping for an early treat. We loved to decorate the spritz cookies, and it was a big year when we – each in our turn – were allowed to choose the shape and press out the cookies.
Many of my favourite family memories are from Christmas-time.
Now I have my own family – we celebrate with some of the same traditions, and have added new ones of our own. Making the house fragrant with baked goodies is a mainstay: to come in from the dark and cold to a warm candelit kitchen that smells of butter and sugar, orange and cinnamon… it makes a heart glad.
There is always a craft day, when we invite friends to share a creative project with us. We spread supplies out on the island in the kitchen, listen to carols, and laugh (a lot) while we we make ornaments or cards, nomming on yummy treats and cocoa or cider. Everyone leaves with something they made with their own hands and memories of a fun afternoon.
The season can get frantically busy, with events every weekend and on the weeknights, and the growing feeling that there is not enough time. To balance this, we keep a lot of our celebrations and preparations home- and people-based. Sharing time with loved ones is what makes the season bright for me – the simplest things can be the best.
Here are some of our favourite ways to enjoy the season.
We watch our favourite Christmas shows together. I know: generally we spend too much time in front of screens. But this different: dimming the lights, putting out a plate of gingerbread, and cuddling with loved ones on the couch to share the classics is not the same as hanging out on facebook or playing video games (no dis on either of those – we like them, too).
- White Christmas – I say this with no irony. We love this movie. Okay, Ed may not actually love this movie. But he loves how much I love this movie.
- It’s a Wonderful Life – it’s a wonderful movie. I cry every time George realises how loved he is, how much his family and community need him.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas – this is my absolute favourite Christmas show, the show without which my celebrations do not feel complete. In my own way, I am that little tree, made better and brighter for the tender care and love from those close to me. Plus, the dancing scene? Best EVAR.
- Muppet Christmas Carol – my favourite version of this story, probably because I’ve had a love affair with Muppets my whole life. This has Muppets and human actors, with Michael Caine as Scrooge. Favourite scene: when the employee-rats go to Scrooge to ask for more wood for the fire, he responds that they have two choices – shut up and go back to work, or be unemployed. The rats shake off their scarves and start to dance, singing, “tropical heat wave, tropical heat wave, dis is my island in de sun, oy, oy.” What’s not to love?
But we don’t stay in all season. Not when there are such fun things to do with and for others. Things like these:
- Wonderland Holiday Carousel – every year since Kristina was a toddler, we have visited the carousel. Admission is free, although they do suggest a donation of $1-2 to their designated charity (volunteers from/for the charity staff the carousel).
This year, all proceeds go to Treehouse. I can’t wait to go there so I can stand in line, shivering with cold and anticipation, hand over my ticket, choose my horse, climb up, impatient for the music to start, then abandon myself to the the swirl of lights and the cold air snapping my scarf against my face. At the end, I’m the one who pouts a little, then asks, “again?” Yes, I am really four years old.
- Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition – a Friday after-work sidewalk event in Seattle. It is clear that some of the groups have practiced for months, while others were thrown together that afternoon with reindeer headbands and a Santa hat from Bartells. On every street corner in the downtown core there will be groups belting out tunes, with the audience voting on their favourites. This is usually another shivery event, and always great fun. *this Friday 4 December
- Nutcracker window-displays at the downtown Seattle Nordstrom – these are based on the Maurice Sendak sets for the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s presentation of Nutcracker. This is my favourite Nutcracker, with Sendak’s set and costume designs perfectly capturing the line the story walks between dream and nightmare. The window-displays are scenes from the ballet. (I’m not sure if they still do this – it’s been a couple of years.)
- Giving Tree – in nearly every mall, many restaurants, and maybe even your dentist’s office, you can find a tree or display that serves to connect new, unwrapped presents with kids who might not otherwise receive gifts this year. We have been so very blessed – it is part of our tradition every year to pass some of that on.
Enough for today. Next time, I will highlight a few of our favourite events that are worth the price of admission, and our favourite Christmas CDs. (I am quite the collector of Christmas music. You might not have known that about me.)
And what about you? What makes it Christmas for you? If you celebrate something else, what are your favourite holiday traditions? What brightens the season and makes your heart glad?
listening to: not Christmas music (it is still a little too early for that in our house – we’ll hold off for a few more days)