Twinkly Trees and Traditions

Last night I drove down my street towards my home at the end of it, and I noticed tree lights in a window.  Happy yellow-white glowing twinkle lights.  My spirit responded with a standing ovation, claps and cheers included.

Then I broke out of my mental auto-pilot and realized they were my happy lights.

I write this to you in case you happen to wander past and see the twinkle lights shining through the front window of my house.  I write this so you don’t wonder as my neighbors and even some of the folks who abide with me do–just why is the Christmas tree still up?

I wasn’t raised this way for sure.  The same Mama who didn’t do laundry on New Year’s Day or let us wear white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day made sure our tree and Christmas decorations were down by New Year’s Eve.  I think there was some line of thinking that carrying them into the New Year was bad luck.  Also, our trees from my Granny’s woods were usually shedding and in dire need to go to the high grass at the back of our property to live out their next life as a bunny habitat.  (I refuse to entertain the idea that snakes found joy in our old trees.  Because SNAKES. No ma’am.)

Then I married into a tradition of keeping the tree up until Epiphany, January 6th.  I liked this and had no problem embracing it after the first year or two of feeling slightly uncomfortable and apologetic.  The only problem was that January 6th only fell on the weekend a couple of years out of six or seven, so it was rarely the 6th when we actually took it down.  I remember attending a “Tearing Down Christmas” party once, and I thought it was brilliant.  It was after Christmas when folks were more relaxed, but she still had her home beautifully decorated.  It was the last hoorah before she put everything away.  I have yet to host such a celebration, but it’s still something I really hope to do one year.

This year things have been different.  There’s been a different feel in the air since October. I was looking at a milestone birthday in November, so maybe that’s why I missed Mama and Daddy so much–things were just different.  The month of November and first half of December flew by–with all my people taking turns having the cold crud that went through everyone we knew, with celebrations, having Thanksgiving at home (due to aforementioned crud), and three shows in a sixteen day period.  All wonderful things, but time passed quickly.  We always go tree hunting as a family.  With our oldest in law school and folks sick on Thanksgiving weekend, it was the 16th of December before we could actually make the hunting happen.

During this time I struggled with the idea of finally getting an artificial tree.  The only other time we haven’t had a real one was when we were living in Japan for those two Christmases.  I have wonderful memories of the tree hunts of my childhood.  Like other things I loved that I’ve not been able to share with my children, it was hard to let this go. Still, I felt like it was time.  With an artificial tree, we could put it up whenever we wanted–never mind if someone was sick or not.  And it could be decorated at leisure when my law student could come home.

Because as lovely as the ornaments are and as much as I love the stories behind each and every one (and if you have a month or two, I’ll tell you each one), it’s the lights, y’all.  It’s the lights that lift my spirits and give the room a glow like no bit of sunlight can.

Those lights create magic.

Lovely twinkling magic.

So I could tell you that it’s still up because my tree only went up on the 17th.  Or I could tell you that it’s because it’s artificial and I don’t have to worry about needles falling or fire hazards.  Or I could tell you that we just haven’t had the time, what with having wonderful family from out of state here with us after Christmas.

And while those things might be true to some degree–those are not the reasons why.

During these darkest days of the year, that tree with its little non-LED lights has given me hope.  It has been the light that draws my soul towards it and that hope like a moth to the moon.  The magic that I saw so brilliantly in the wee hours of Christmas morning before I retired for a few hours’ slumber remains.  It whispers to me–“All will be well, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

There is promise. The sun, the warmth, the days will lengthen.   The light will return.

But until then, I find joy and peace in the twinkling lights that someone in a warehouse somewhere painstakingly attached to my faux tree.  Bless them and bless that peace that surrounds me every time my eyes land on that luminous evergreen.

And bless all of you.  I hope that when you find something that brings you joy and peace and puts magic into your world, making your heart sing, that you will hang on to it too.  Some years are like that.  Some years we just need to keep those trees up.

And that’s okay.

Love  and twinkly lights to all.

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“…..with every Christmas card I write…..”

On our way home this evening, the song “White Christmas” came on the radio.  Aub and Cooter were in the car with me, as I was humming along without really thinking about the song.  The song continued, and the lyrics played:

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
with every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry…..”

and then I heard Cooter hollering at the top of his lungs from the very back seat–

“WHAT?” Palm to forehead.  “What?  I’m supposed to write Christmas cards too?”

*sigh*

Poor little guy.

Poor all of us.

How many folks have asked you, “Are you ready for Christmas?”  “Do you have it all done?”  “Have you planned your menu for the day?”

How many times have you asked those questions in an effort to make conversation?

*guilty*

All the pressure.  All the expectations.  We create list after list.  Shopping lists.  Gifts we’re giving lists.  Parties and dinners we are invited to.  Parties and dinners we want to throw.  A baking list.  A grocery list.  A list of errands.  And yes, Cooter, even a Christmas card list.

One of my sweet friends was all but apologizing to me today that her Christmas card wasn’t going out until after Christmas.  There was just too much to do and not enough time.

Bless.  Her.  Sweet.  Soul.

I remember the year I didn’t send out cards until Valentine’s.  It worked.  It was kind of fun.  And I’m guessing our card didn’t get lost in a stack with everyone else’s Valentine’s Day cards.  Just a thought.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves–scratch that.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to create the perfect Christmas full of all the perfect little moments in a clean, tidy home with lots of festive decorations and ornamentation and all of the joy and fun and laughter and contented sighs.

Yeah.

I’m betting I’m not the only one.

We have one week left, y’all.  To take it back.  To take a moment to rest and cuddle and read a Christmas story together piled up on the couch or chair or bed underneath the colorful afghans that bring me such joy with the people that make my soul glad.  Savoring the moment without worrying over the perpetual clutter or unwrapped gifts and all the other things we carry on our shoulders.  To simply be in the precious moment of NOW.

We have one week left to change our question from “Are you ready?” to “How are you?” or “Where are you finding peace and Light today?”  or “Where AM I going to find peace and Light today?”

We have one week left to change it. Even if we only take five minutes a day to step away from all the expectations and Hallmark commercials (doggone them for making me cry and wanting to create all the moments myself) and hustle and bustle and lists and pressure, and we just sit down and breathe.  And laugh.  Or listen.  Or sit next to the people we love or the people we’ve just met and BE.  That’s the goal.  If we can even take five minutes a day to welcome into our hearts the presence of Peace, we’ve come a long way from all of the things weighing on us, all of the lists we carry around, and we’re one step closer to that quiet night of reflection and Love beneath a bright star listening to the quiet, steady breaths of the little one newly come to us.

Go ahead.  Add THAT to your list.  You deserve it.  And *takes a deep breath* so do I.

Love to all.

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By Jon Curnow from London, United Kingdom (Christmas To Do List) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

…..And then…..But then

My little guy Cooter is sick.

He started running fever yesterday afternoon and woke up with the same temperature this morning.  I’m impressed that he’s fighting this on his own–I have yet to give him any medicine and it’s staying steady below 102.  I’m also *ahem* impressed that it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down at all.  So I’m thinking this is not the “three-letter word” stuff.  Last week that had his sister down for the count and not moving off the couch for two days.  So tonight I’m thankful it’s not worse…..

Cooter woke up this morning and immediately started talking.  I wasn’t quite as alert and ready to converse as he was, but I’m not sure he noticed.  He piled up on my bed and started telling me a story–or was it a dream, sorry I’m telling you I was not fully awake yet–about Star Wars characters, a battle, and some cheese.

I think.

The story moved pretty quickly from one thing to another.  The relaying of it included a lot of excited “…..and then…..and then…..but then…..”

All one run-on sentence adventure.  It was precious.

I was thinking about those words today as I prepared for the magic and beauty of tonight and tomorrow.

and then

but then

We have spent the entire month working our way to Bethlehem.

To the manger.

To the baby who was born to be King.

We read each day from a book about a little bear’s journey, following the star, and this morning he finished his journey and made it to the little baby tucked away in a stable, “no crib for a bed.”

So much preparation.  So much excitement.  So many good things–kindness, listening to others, caring, loving, sharing, giving.

All the way up to the day many of us will celebrate on December 25.

All that kindness, magic, goodness, caring, giving–

and then…..

but then…..

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Tomorrow morning when we get up the first thing that will happen before presents or anything is Cooter will take Baby Jesus out of his pocket on the Advent calendar and place him in his manger, just as has happened each Christmas morning for the past 18 or so years.  We will have made it–the journey to the manger.  Following the Light.

And then?

All of our stories, if we sat and told them as Cooter did this morning, would be filled with lots of “and thens” and “but thens.”   And now that we have seen the best of human nature in others AND in ourselves during this time of waiting and preparing, the question begs to be asked–

And then?

Will we let it all go, this need to share with those who are in need?  This reaching out to other people with kind words, smiles, waves, hellos?  Will we stop digging for quarters in our pockets and looking for the red buckets?

See, people are in need all year long.

In need of quarters, clothes, food, shelter, safety, love

kind words

hugs

someone to believe in them…..

Now that we know, that we’ve had a taste of what that looks like, after we get up in the morning and spend time with those we love,

what comes next?

What will your story be?  How will it continue from here?

 

Merry Christmas!

and then…..

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…..

The holiday season is upon us.

I mean, officially.

Hallmark Channel has been showing Christmas movies for weeks, and I actually heard Christmas music on the radio two weeks ago.  It’s just that now I can enjoy it all guilt free.  I used to be one of those who would not listen to a single Christmas carol before Thanksgiving Day was over, but I have to admit that last year and this, I’ve snuck in some listening a little earlier.  I’ve needed what the music does for my soul.  And now, I can listen without shame.  Without hiding.  Without worrying that the littles were going to throw me under the bus about what I’d been listening to.

We have a gentleman who lives about a mile from here who decorates his yard elaborately every year.  Except for last Christmas.  Big trees had fallen on his home after a tremendous rainstorm, so while he was rebuilding, no lights.  But this year, road construction going on in front of his house and all–he’s got them out.  And he started lighting them up at night a week or so ago.  I am so happy to see those lights again.  They were missed last year.

This past week my next door neighbor has been putting lights up all over his house–eaves, around the windows, bushes, etc.  It’s impressive.  A few nights ago he was working on some finishing touches with his teenaged son.  I teased my neighbor that he was trying to make all the rest of us look like slackers.  He laughed and said his goal was to have lights like Clark Griswold (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”).  That made me laugh and of course I had to say, “Clark, the little lights, they’re not twinkling.”  He replied, “Yeah,” nodding towards his son, “I just asked him if I could call him Russ, just for today.”

I love it.  And I love that I can see their lights from where I’m sitting near the fireplace right now.

But us?

Well, no lights outside.

But turns out, we have decorated for the season.

And it was no trouble at all.

The mistletoe peeking out from the beautiful fall foliage of my Bradford Pear.

The mistletoe peeking out from the beautiful fall foliage of my Bradford Pear.

 

I first noticed this growing on/in my Bradford Pear tree a couple of months ago.  When everything was green, it was hard to completely decide that one of these things was not like the other, but I had my suspicions.  And sure enough, now that the tree that I chose because of its beautiful, flaming, fall foliage is in full “bloom,” I know exactly what that is.

Mistletoe.

See?

Decorated.

I remember stories of folks going out in the woods and shooting down mistletoe to bring back and hang in their homes.  I am delighted–downright tickled–that my front yard can boast such an old-fashioned Christmas decoration!

It is interesting to read about mistletoe.  Turns out that clump was probably started over a year ago, from just a tiny little seed left there by a bird who likely ate a mistletoe berry from somewhere else.  It is slow growing and has to function on its own for a bit until it can really root into its host tree and then it grows right there with the tree.

All concerns about whether this is harming my Bradford Pear aside, this plant that is growing as though it was always a part of the original tree all along got me to thinking.

About Christmas spirit.

And hope.

It’s hard during dark times and times of loss and pain to have either of those.  And yet, one day someone comes along and smiles or offers directions or compliments you on your shirt, and suddenly you are stepping a little lighter, if only for a moment.  And then later on, it takes root, down deep in your heart and soul and it becomes an integral part of your being.  Your way of life.

Hope, spirit, love, light–it’s a part of your very being.

And it stands out just as much as that mistletoe does on my beautiful Bradford Pear.

Tonight I’m thankful for those who light up the world with their holiday spirit–even if it might seem a little early to some folks.  I’m thankful for laughter and funny movies and things that lift our spirits in the midst of times that otherwise might bring us down.  I give thanks for surprises and discoveries that send me reading and learning and that make me smile.  (And I’m thankful that I have a nurseryman/horticulturist in the family whom I can ask what is best for me to do for my beautiful tree and its parasitic friend.)

As we go about our days, may we never miss a moment to drop a seed that could help grow someone’s hope and Christmas spirit.  For it is through those small kindnesses that we can light up the whole world, not just during the holiday season, but everyday.

Love to all.

 

 

Making the Season Last…..

Yesterday evening one of my friends mentioned to me that she had seen some Cherry Cordial ice cream somewhere.  She mentioned this because she knows how much I love those things–they make me think of my Daddy.  We always wrapped up a box for him and put them under the tree.

As we were talking about how good we knew it would be and wondering where she saw them, I said, almost forlornly, “They’re probably for the holiday season only.”

We both sighed.  She said, “Yeah.  Probably so.”

Isn’t that the saddest thing?  All the good things that will be over on December 26th?

I spend a lot of time and energy on Christmas, working up to the day, as I’m sure many people do.  I really wish more people celebrated the Christmas “season”–from Christmas Day until Epiphany on January 6th.  Christmas movies–when I would actually have time to watch them, Christmas music to listen to and lift the spirits, and best of all–the spirit of folks around us–the giving spirit would carry on beyond December 25th.

I had an amazing retail experience yesterday.  I was shopping for a young man I’ve never met.  I have never shopped for a male that age before and I was clueless.  I only knew the brand of clothes he would like–nothing about styles.  I headed out, a little nervous and a whole lot lost.  When I got to the store, I guess I looked as lost as I felt, because the young sales associate asked me if I needed any help.

YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I mean, Yes please, if you don’t mind.

I explained what I was doing, how I didn’t have a clue what to get, and that I needed the best prices because I wanted to get him more than one outfit.  She nodded and led me around the store sharing with me the newly marked down prices on shirts, pants, hoodies, and so on.

For the love.  Bless her.

I probably seemed ancient to her, and yet she was patient and kind and made me feel like I could do this.

And so I did.

As I was checking out, another sales associate and I chatted about the holidays.  I told her how much I appreciated the help I’d gotten because I really wanted to do this right.  She asked me a couple of questions and started clicking on her computer.  She then gave me not one but two different discounts.  She wanted to be a part of helping this young man as well.  Bless her too.  I started crying.  I couldn’t help it.  I’m tired, it’s been a hard week, (and a hard decade for that matter), and I had no clue what I was doing.  And here she was, reaching out to help, and making a difference.  She stopped, and said, “Don’t cry.  It’s okay.”  And I think I blubbered something about how I could get him some shoes now.  I don’t know, I was so blown away by her kindness.  I gave her a heartfelt Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas and left the store, wishing I could have found better words to tell her how much her actions meant to me.

Because you know.  She so could have listened to me rambling and just nodded and done her job, and she would have been well within her rights to do just that.  I expected no different.  But no.  She stepped outside her “have to’s” and did what she could.  I love that.  I want to be just like her.

I was thinking about her and the limited seasonal ice cream and other things that are usually just a part of the holiday season–many of them my favorite things–white twinkly lights (no LED’s please, don’t get me started), Christmas music, excitement and anticipation in my children’s eyes and hearts, friendly greetings, and folks reaching out with a hand to help.

Occasionally we see these things after January 1, but it is something of an anomaly when we do–it’s almost like we don’t trust it, isn’t it?  I mean, what would you do if you found a container of “Santa’s Christmas” ice cream (I think that’s the name of it–it’s a delicious coffee flavor?) in the grocery store in May?  Would you trust the flavor, that it’s okay?  If someone tried to do something kind for you, and they couldn’t shrug it off with “hey, it’s Christmas” because it’s April?  I know it can happen, it just seems like on December 26th a lot of folks are ready to move on, pack up the tree and decorations and shut down the music and movies and get on to the next thing.

I’m happy for them, I really am.  But that’s not me.  I am thankful that I found a radio station that will play Christmas music straight through to New Year’s Eve.  And I just checked and it looks like Hallmark Channel will be showing Christmas movies through until then too.  It’s a start.  I just love the magic of the season, and I guess my heart wonders, just as Miss N of our Sister Circle asked, “Why’s it gotta be just one day?”  

Years ago I told myself I would give me the gift of the week after Christmas.  I would savor the season the whole week long.  Relax and remember.  Celebrate.  I recall a lady I once knew who gave a “Breaking Down Christmas” party every year, just a few days after Christmas.  It was not a New Year’s Eve party, it was a Christmas party.  Only it was AFTER the rush and bustle of Christmas Day, and it was awesome.  Everyone was relaxed and had a wonderful time.

I know some folks might argue that these things would lose their “specialness” if available year-round, but I don’t know.  So if you hear me humming a Christmas tune or see me digging in the freezer at the grocery store in search of Santa’s Christmas or Cherry Cordial ice cream or hear that I’m watching “White Christmas” in February, just chalk it up to whimsy and my quirky ways.   It’s just me, trying to hang on to the magic, and trying to make it last for more than just one day…..

because magic and love and kindness really never go out of season, do they?

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Today I’ve had Keeping Christmas by Henry Van Dyke on my mind and heart….. it’s really special.  Very short, but so full of wisdom and beauty.  You can read it here.   Merry Memory-Making!