Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Brief Lull

by Nancy Northcott

Before we start today's blog, please join the entire lair in wishing our friends Maria and Marisa at RNTV a very happy birthday! We're all grateful for the wonderful promotion they give our genre. If you get a chance, pop over there and give them birthday greetings.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program . . .

Tomorrow is, in the United States, Thanksgiving Day, a time for friends and family to gather, take time out from the usual rush of life, and reflect on the good things in our lives. It's generally a day of tranquility, of peace and reflection.

And then the madness begins! "Black Friday," as it's called because so many merchants depend on it to keep their ledgers in black ink for the rest of the year, follows hard on Thanksgiving's heels. Malls and big box stores become swamped. While this day theoretically belongs to thoughts of others, to shopping for something to bring joy to the people for whom we were grateful the day before, it seems to bring out the worst in some people.

Parents start scheming--who do they know who works in retail and can get this year's equivalent of a Cabbage Patch Kid or Tickle Me Elmo? (I confess to having spent a couple of hours driving around town in search of the Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Disk one Christmas Eve and finding one only because I happened to walk into the toy store just after someone returned it.) Special deals on limited-quantity items spur people to stand in line for hours, then stampede into the store, often with serious injuries resulting. People battle over the last Hot Gizmo in stock as if they were Joan's gladiators. The police often have to come restore order. This is the spirit of Christmas? Or is it our American tendency to compete coming to the fore in a very destructive way? Or a little of both?

Just as an aside here, I'm a sucker for Christmas decorations. Seriously. I'd rather not have seen them since before Halloween, but after December 1, I love them. I even loved them on my recent trip to NY and felt that, considering that I was in town for just a couple of days, the big tree at Rockefeller Center really should've been lit so I could see it. Even if December 1 was a week away (just kidding, but I've only seen it once and was so hoping to see it again).

But the premature appearance of tinsel and holly and Santa seem to gear us all up for this shopping marathon-sprint- madhouse. Then Thanksgiving comes, and it's "Oh, my gosh, the good stuff will be gone if I don't hurry!" For some people. Not for everyone, of course. I know plenty of people who go out on Black Friday with a plan, avoid places that could lead to mass insanity and violence, and are home by lunchtime.

From there, though, it's holiday cards, home decorations, shopping, packing, mailing--an evolving list that leads lead up to a "whew, it's done!" about midnight on Christmas Eve. And, sometimes, to a letdown on Christmas morning, a sense that weeks of work led up to a brief frenzy of tearing paper and blinking tree lights. Sort of like the scene of the family opening gifts in the dh's favorite Christmas movie, A Christmas Story.

Our Christmases were leisurely when the boy was little. We'd get up, peek into our stockings, and watch him play with Santa's gifts while his dad made Swedish pancakes, a tradition in his family. Then we'd have our pancakes and open our gifts. Since our son wanted to play with each new gift, we paused frequently in the opening process to enjoy watching him do that. Now that he has "graduated" to electronics and video games, it isn't the same, but we still try to take the day slowly, to really look at and think about the various gifts we exchange, the people who gave them, and the fact that our family has reached another Christmas.

We also have friends, Roberta and Art, who are Jewish but loved Christmas. Since they don't feel right about decorating, they came over every year until they moved out of state to help us decorate our tree. We'd spend a leisurely afternoon putting up ornaments, visiting, and discussing the holiday. They often contributed ornaments to the cause, and Roberta made us a beautiful Christmas tree skirt that we cherish. Every year, we think of them when we hang their ornaments or drape that wonderful skirt around the tree.

Because I love Christmas decorations and the dh loves everything Christmas (and has made his own Christmas cards--now our cards--since long before I knew him), we've amassed a fair number of decorative items. We try to buy an ornament everywhere we go on vacation (though we have none from England, which seems strange when we think how much we love it), and people give us ornaments and decorations. A couple of years ago, though, we were both going nuts in the lead-up to the holiday. We looked at each other and said, "What are we doing? This is supposed to make our house cheerful, not transform us into frenzied lunatics." So we put up the tree, put out the snow globes, and stuck the candletower in the middle of the table. And called it done. And you know what? We had just as much fun as we would've had with every piece of holiday bric-a-brac in place. Maybe we even had more fun because we didn't hit December 25 in a state of deadline anxiety.

So what do you find most challenging about the holiday season? What's your favorite coping technique? Do you have a favorite memory of holiday preparations?

35 comments:

Anna Campbell said...

Aha! Come to me, chicky, chicky, chicky!!! Bwaahahahahahahaha!

Anna Campbell said...

Nancy, what a lovely post. We don't celebrate Thanksgiving down here in Oz so really it's just the Christmas madness we need to cope with. Having said that, though, I love this time of year. I love sending cards. I love receiving cards! I love the music and the shops all decorated and the way it never gets tired for kids.

Pat Cochran said...

Congratulations, Ms. Anna, on your
capture of that rascally rooster!
He does seem to like visiting the
Land of Oz, doesn't he? I laughed and thought of the Golden One as I
was watching the "Samantha Who?"
show last evening. The scene that
caused my reaction showed the family home just filled with roosters! It seems the parents decorated with roosters because they run a chicken farm!

Pat Cochran

Jane said...

Congrats on the GR, Anna. Preparing for the holiday feast is pretty challenging. Making sure you don't screw up any of the dishes. Shopping for presents is always very stressful. I hate shopping when it's crowded. I made the mistake of shopping on Black Friday last year. It was so crowded I didn't manage to score any deals. I going to stay home on Black Friday this year and eat leftovers.

Tawny said...

WHooohooooo -- it's Holiday Time! I love the holidays. I love the little kid excitment of it all and the fun of spending time with my family and all the crafty projects I make the kids do with me. I love the pretty colors and the paper and tinsel. The decorations and the cards and the warmth. Just... all of it.

I love giving gifts, and admit I stress over finding the 'perfect' something. That said, I hate shopping in crowds, so I always miss the killer sales because I give myself a Thanksgiving deadline to be finished.

Thank you, Nancy, for the happy reminder that its holiday time :-)

and Congrats Foanna on snagging the rooster. Too bad you can't send him out shopping for you, huh?

Helen said...

Well done Anna I am sure he can help with something around the house.

Beautiful post Nancy I always get a bit stressed at this time of the year there is always lots to do and I really don't like shopping I make sure I have a list and get to the shops and do the shopping as quickley as possible I still haven't started making the cakes I need to buy the card to send.

A tradition with me is I get one of the cakes I make in the oven I have Christmas carols playing on the CD player and while the cake is cooking I write the cards out but of course this year I have two grandchildren due in about 2 weeks I have another week left at work before I go on holidays.
Other than that I do love Christmas I love the decorations the Christmas carols the cards and gifts but mostly I love spending time with my family.
I am looking forward to it stress and all.

Have Fun
Helen

danie88 said...

My parents are divorced so I have two christmas's to go to every year and it's a bit challenging...

one of my coping techniques? a nice big glass of hot chocolate with LOTS and I mean LOTS of mini marshmallows... mmmm... just thinking about it makes me all warm and toasty inside...

one of my favorite memories... wrapping presents... the rest of my family seems to hate wrapping but I love to wrap presents! I dunno why I just have so much fun doing it!

...so now I really want some hot chocolate... and we don't have any... which makes me sad... *sigh*

Terry Odell said...

**Scrooge Alert** from someone whose holiday ISN'T Christmas.

Since the kids grew up and moved away, we don't do much 'Holiday-ing' anymore.
However, I still have fond memories of assembly-line rugelach baking with my daughters, and the once-a-year making of rolled and cut sugar cookies that all three kids would painstakingly decorate. And inviting friends to share our traditions, making latkes, and serving all the cookies we baked.

But now? We don't celebrate Christmas, so all the hype starting at Halloween just brings out the Bah Humbug in me -- it's turning a holiday into nothing more than a huge retail exploitation.

I stopped sending cards years ago as well. It's not my holiday, and I was getting too many cards from people who never bothered to call, write (or even e-mail) with stick-on address labels and pre-stamped signatures. Other than knowing they were still alive, it seemed meaningless. I only send cards to very close friends family, and I match the cards to the holiday they celebrate. I'm always impressed when someone who's not a relative bothers to send me the 'right' kind of card.

However, I love seeing the excitement of the little ones. Maybe the economy will have people looking more at traditions and less at excessive gift-giving.

It should be about the memories, not the gifts.

Marisa O'Neill said...

Nancy
Thank you so much for the wonderful birthday wishes. Maria and I are having more fun then is legally allowed celebrating our birthday on-line. A first for us! The Romance Bandits have become our home away from home.

I love Thanksgiving, it's all about family, friends and food. Could there be a better holiday? (my next favorite is 4th of July, more friends, family, food AND fireworks!)

Christmas is stressful, BUT, our family has it down to a science so that we can actually enjoy the holiday. We celebrate Thanksgiving the Saturday before - and on Thanksgiving weekend we prepare for Christmas. The tree, the decorations, the Christmas china (oh yes we have those), the Christmas village (which now includes about 85 miniature Victorian homes, shops, ice skating rink, park and a seaside resort). We shop on one or two days and get everything. We plan the Christmas meal 5 weeks ahead making sure everyone will get one of their favorite dishes and then sit back and enjoy the season.

There are three girls in my family and the three of us have become a HOLIDAY MACHINE - get it organized, get it done, enjoy the fun.

Susan Seyfarth said...

Hi, Nancy! What a great post! Thanksgiving really is the kick off of the Christmas season when it really ought to be all about just relaxing & being with your loved ones & eating ill-advised quantities of food.

For that reason alone, Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. I'm not a good cook, but I love cooking & it's been so much fun for me to tackle an entire Thanksgiving meal. This year I'm trying out pumpkin cream puffs instead of pumpkin pie & I think I might be onto something.

As for Christmas traditions, I love how you describe opening the presents in a leisurely fashion & really enjoying each one. My family does that & it's something I'm definitely imposing on the next generation. There's nothing more unattractive to my mind than seeing kids shred through wrapping paper, toss aside what was inside & dive after the next gift. Misses the point, I think.

Buffie said...

Christmas is a fun time at our house. It always has been. The dh and I always bake several varieties of cookies during December. We enjoy spending the entire weekend in the kitchen together. My kids love to be the taste testers.

One of my favorite traditions is with my side of the family. Every Christmas Eve we go to my sister's house. My parents arrive with stockings for everyone. You ever gets the $1 bill in their stocking is the person who gets to hand out the stockings next year. And every year my Dad plans a game (with prizes) for all of us to play. My boys love that time and I can see memories forming in their little brains. It is a great time.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARIA AND MARISSA!!

Maria said...

Thanks for the Birthday wishes! The Romance Bandits ROCK!

I LOVE the holidays. Especially Thanksgiving. It's a time for family and friends... no stress just lots of eating. And I LOVE to eat!

Marisa neglected to tell you, that I'm in charge of the enormous Christmas Village that I create at my parents home each year. And each year another piece gets added to the village. In fact, my father had to build a special platform for the village. But when it's done and the lights go on, wow, we all get excited.

Suzanne Welsh said...

said...

Nice post, Nancy.

Since we live so far from home, it's been my responsibility to cook all our holiday meals. When I lived near my mom, I always tried to help, and I miss being in the kitchen with her.

On top of that responsibility I also have to add in having to work at least two of the six holiday shifts, (eve and day for all three holidays). So it's forced me to become organized.

The menu doesn't vary, much. Only one new or different dish each year. It's difficult enough to create the family holiday without risking experimenting on the family! hehehe

I usually cook southern style beans for a meal early in Thanksgiving week. Then make the cranberry salad another night, and the pumpkin pies another. If I work on Thanksgiving eve, I come home the next morning, have breakfast, then clean the turkey, make the dressing and stuff that bird.

Now here's the best part. I go to bed! Hubby and Rocky-the-wonder-dog are now in charge of the main part of our meal. They must cook the bird. Man can those two baste a turkey!

When I get up, I finish the sides, make the gravy, and then we eat.

Christmas is always spent in a balancing act. Trying to decorate, shop, wrap and bake, but still take time to enjoy the holiday.

A group of writer friends here in Big D get together one evening at a nice restaurant. Just us girls. We have an ornament exchange, good food and lots of wine! That is great fun!

Kate Carlisle said...

Wait. I thought the holidays were all about stress and anxiety and frenzy. Are you suggesting that I do something to avoid those feelings? What sort of holiday season would that be??? LOL

Yes, I'm afraid I AM that last-minute, frenzied nutcase, racing through the malls to find something, anything ... uh-oh, my heart rate is increasing even as I type this. Oh, dear ... deep breaths ...

Great post, Nancy! And I hope everyone has a wonderful, fun-filled, frenzy-free holiday season!!

And Anna, congrats on nabbing the fine feathery fellow!

Nancy said...

Anna, you got the bird! You haven't had him lately, have you? You sound as though you have a handle on the season. I enjoy it more now that I just don't go out on Black Friday.

Pat, you know we love roosters here in the lair. What a cute show idea!

Jane, I'm with you. I try to get my shopping done early and then hide at home, wrapping packages or some such, as the final-week frenzy hits.

Nancy said...

Speaking of roosters, everyone should be sure to check back on December 2, when Anna Campbell posts December's preview, for a special rooster-related holiday announcement.

Nancy said...

Tawny, I love wrapping way more than shopping. My father, a former Navy corpsman, taught me to wrap packages. He was meticulous about squaring his corners, having all his end-flaps tidy, and making the ribbon snug. I have to admit I'm not nearly so careful now that the packages don't have to pass his inspection, but I always think of him ("Put your finger right there, honey, and hold the ribbon down while I tie the knot.") when I'm wrapping.

Helen, your card-and-cake-and-carols tradition sounds lovely. We make fruit cake to give away. I call it Aunt Lillian's Cringe-Proof Fruit Cake because the recipe came from the dh's Aunt Lillian and it isn't a hard log of candied fruit. It's more like spice cake with candied fruit in it. And brandy brushed over it. I like addressing cards when we have them made far enough ahead that I can do a few at a time and write messages in them.

Nancy said...

Danie, your hot chocolate sounds fabulous! Juggling family at the holidays can be a challenge. The dh's family doesn't live within driving distance, but we usually see them in the summer. We used to go see my parents on Christmas Eve, then have Christmas Day here.

Terry, just 'cause Christmas isn't your holiday, that doesn't make you a Scrooge. I agree with you that it should be about the memories, not stimulating the economy. I do like to see little kids in line to talk to Santa or staring at decorations in the mall. There's so much magic in their eyes at this time of year. Your baking tradition sounds like lots of fun. Now that the boy is older, we don't do those kinds of things so much either.

Nancy said...

Marisa, happy birthday and many happy returns! We're glad you and Maria like it at "our place." :-)

One of my cousins also prefers Thanksgiving to all other holidays, for the same reasons you name. I envy your holiday machine. If the dh and I could be that organized, we'd just sail through the holidays.

Susan, the pumpkin cream puffs sound yummy! When I worked as a weight loss counselor, swapping recipes was a huge activity at this time of year. Cream puffs, however luscious, sound as though they come in pre-set portions, which is always a plus.

Buffie, the stocking game sounds cool! So do your cookies. Our friend who made the tree skirt also used to bake (before she started working fulltime), and she made the scrumptious plates of goodies for friends!

Nancy said...

Maria, happy birthday and many happy returns to you, too! I love Christmas villages. We don't have a place to put one, unfortunately, but I always linger over them in store displays and other people's homes. I saw a Christmas castle in a store--at the beach, of all places--and almost bought it. It had snow on it and everything. I'm still thinking I might have to break down and just make room for that somewhere. I don't really need my desk when I have the dining room table, do I? *g*

Suz, I can see how working the holidays would force you to organize. We're all grateful for you and Joan and all the other people who stand by to help those in medical or other need when celebrations are going on all around.

You trust Rocky the Wonder Dog with turkey? Have you seen A Christmas Story? Our dog thinks the Bumpus (sp?) dogs are geniuses.

Nancy said...

Kate, I do love that cover! I can't wait for the book to come out. There's nothing wrong with enjoying the frenzy, you know. I hate crowds--the downside to walking along 5th Ave. in New York to look at holiday decorations--but some people enjoy the bustle and energy crowds generate.

terrio said...

Terrific blog, Nancy. And after reading Anna's comment, I wonder what it must be like without Thanksgiving as the starting line. Odd what we get used to.

I've never done the black Friday sales and don't plan on it this year. I don't decorate anything that moves but I do love putting up my tree. This year I'm in a new place so the trick will be to figure out the arrangement. No idea where that little village is going to go. Hmmmmm.....

I used to love decorating the tree when I was growing up. My grandmother never moved a picture or piece of furniture except for that one time of the year. Everything shifted for the tree, then shifted right back after the holiday. She might have been just a tiny bit OCD. Back before we knew what that was.

This year I'll be alone on the actual day of Christmas, but the week after my kiddo comes back and so does the BF with his kiddo. So the week after will be lots of fun!

terrio said...

Forgot to say congrats to Anna on the chook and Happy Birthday Maria & Marisa!

Claudia Dain said...

Nancy, what a thoughtful, lovely post.

What I do to keep it from being crazy? I don't shop at malls. I also don't shop for the "it" gift.

You'd be amazed at how relaxing Christmas prep is without the mall!

I love sending Christmas cards and do that every year, though I think I'm the only one left alive to do so. I just seems such a friendly, warm thing to do. I'll be very sad when Christmas cards go the way of 75 cent a gallon gasoline. *g*

Kirsten said...

My worst challenge at the holidays is keeping my spending under control!! I desperately want to buy every child a present, a new coat, a bike, whatever I see on a giving tree, in our church, at the school...there are so many needs and my family is so blessed. It's hard to see families--KIDS (that's what really breaks my heart)--going without this time of year.

I am a hard core, 4AM Black Friday shopper and this year will be no exception! I must get my son that big Lego set that will be 50% off at ToysRUs and the only way to do it is get in line EARLY. So wave to me as you roll over in bed Friday morning! :-)

I did a little shopping this morning in anticipation of Black Friday (had to scope things out a little, get some little things out of the way, you know). I also made a few on-line purchases. Of course, I always try to do my shopping early, but then end up buying more than I should anyway. Ah, I guess that's just the holidays...

Nancy said...

Terrio, glad you liked the blog. We enjoy doing the tree, too. Like your grandmother, we rearrange the room to make it fit. Our living room is small, and we have to remove the coffee table and shift the sofa to make space, partly because we always have a very tall tree, which means it's also a very wide tree.

Sounds as though you'll have Christmas twice--once on the day and then again the week after. Cool!

Kirsten, I wish you luck Friday and will definitely think of you when I roll out, which will be long after 4 am! We also look for charity gift opportunities, and we try to involve the boy in selecting the gifts. It's a reminder that not everyone is as lucky as he is.

limecello said...

Great post - and congrats on the GR, Anna! ;) He wanted to get away from the craziness.
The holidays... I like holing up and venturing out only when I have to. I almost become reclusive. Everyone is so stressed and grumpy and drive STUPIDLY. I almost got in (yet another) accident due to an idiot swerving around on the road today. Ugh. With my luck it's better to stay in.

Anna Campbell said...

Ooh, yes. No spoilers here in the lair, but people who come to visit us in December could end up VEWY, VEWY happy!

Nancy said...

Limecello, I understand the urge to stay in. People do get grumpy and reckless. It's nerve-wracking. I'm glad your close call today was only close and not disastrous!

Anna, we could never reveal our secrets, of course. Even the bird seems to be keeping his beak shut about this one. People will just have to wait and see.

December 2 . . . be here . . . and inquiring minds will truly know. *g*

Suzanne Welsh said...

Nancy said: You trust Rocky the Wonder Dog with turkey? Have you seen A Christmas Story? Our dog thinks the Bumpus (sp?) dogs are geniuses.

WE are very careful with that bird and Rocky-the-wonder-dog. But it is comical to see him parked in front of the oven, every part of his nose working to smell the steam escaping the sides of the overn...:) (It's an old oven)

Nancy said...

Suz, I can just see Rocky guarding the oven. What a hoot! Mark brought our turkey in last night, and Maddie was very attentive until it disappeared into the fridge.

Joan said...

Fun post Nancy!

A couple of memories that came to me were the year my Mom and I made Christmas ornaments for the tree from a Good Housekeeping magazine. Tiny drums from cut up TP rolls covered in felt and accents of shiny braid, Santas and Angels. I still have a couple of these.

And every year we had this Metallic Paper "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" that was draped with great ceremony over the living room mirror.

Now this year....for the first time in ages...I am OFF on Black Friday. I used to like to go out, listening to carols on my radio but there is no way in Roman Hades you'll find me ANYWHERE at 4 am!

We'll see as I need to wind up my second GH entry. But my bro's b-day is Dec 5th....gotta get THAT present first!

Nancy said...

Joan, making ornaments sounds like great fun! We used to have shiny paper decorations, too, but they didn't hold up over time.

Congrats on being off Friday!

jo robertson said...

Great post, Nancy, sorry I'm late getting to the post today, very hectic day with 8 of the grandkids and going to the fire station -- whew!

I make it a rule never to leave the house on Black Friday. I have friends who make it an annual event, but I've never found it worth my time to elbow my way through crowds.

One year, however, I did go out the Friday after Thanksgiving, with nothing particular to buy, and it was kind of fun, especially knowing I could just pack it all in and leave if I wanted to!