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A step-by-step guide to celebrating the holidays

Merry Christmas, Deer! Our Christmas card in 2001.

We’ve got little rituals we follow all year, but holiday time is fairly steeped in traditions. I don’t know about you, but starting the third week in November, there’s practically a checklist I run down. Some of these activities are rooted in childhood, others are the result of our efforts to forge uniquely Basil-Terri-Catherine rituals. And then there’s a whole other category that’s frankly, well, rope-worthy, but I guess we embrace them nonetheless.

Here are a few of ours; what traditions do you unpack at the end of each year?

  • Watching Stamford’s Big Balloon Parade, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, from the Hoyt Street kickoff point.
  • Homemade Cranberry Relish, Broccoli Casserole and Stuffed Mushrooms on the Thanksgiving table. Other recipes can come and go, but these are non-negotiable.
  • Creating a Christmas card with Catherine’s photo on it. Every year. No matter what.  We never get to see everyone we hope to throughout the year, so these greetings serve as a chance for far-flung friends and relatives to watch Catherine grow. I think I should create a book of them as a gift to her sometime soon. She’d be amazed at the metamorphosis.
  • Assembling the wooden deer. These were created by my mom and dad for Catherine — one of several sets of holiday decorations that give our front lawn a festive look. The deer are understated, elegant — and a family of three just like us. When Catherine was little, there was a lot of discussion about where to group them. Now they have “their spot.” I only hope the deep freeze doesn’t come before we can pull them out of the ground on Jan. 1. Some years, they’ve greeted Valentine’s Day before we could take them inside.
  • The wooden candy canes, too. These flank our front door and are bigger than me (insert your short joke here; I’ll wait). Somehow the season wouldn’t be complete without these gifts from Grandma and Grandpa.
  • The annual “Basil is going to move every blasted thing in the pantry and reorganize it so Terri can’t find it while she prepares Thanksgiving recipes.” I think this is self-explanatory.
  • Ditto on the fridge.
  • Watching the Macy’s parade every Thanksgiving morning — a tradition held over from my own childhood that I now suspect was borne of Mom’s need to get Traci and me the hell out of her way.
  • Chinese food the night before Thanksgiving. This is Basil’s contribution to the tradition list — one he swears was part of his childhood routine. And so we have beef and broccoli before embarking on turkey and stuffing. Even this year when the night before Turkey Day was also Basil’s birthday.
  • Christmas cookies. Tons of them. A tradition from my youth that I try my best to maintain. There’ll be a whole post on this soon, I promise. Suffice it to say that Christmas cannot happen without the aromas of Ginger Snaps and Lemon Snowflakes.
  • Watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Other holiday shows are optional, but missing Snoopy is a deal-breaker. Ditto for Vince Guaraldi‘s holiday CD.
  • Speaking of the Peanuts gang, our tree must be purchased from First Congregational Church here in Old Greenwich, where all proceeds go to charity. And it must absolutely be a Charlie Brown variety. Someone has to love these less-than-perfect specimens; it might as well be us.
  • Topping the tree with Mom and Dad’s angel. She’s not the prettiest heavenly being, and she’s long since lost the blue light that gave her an otherwordly glow. (In fact, she’s a little warped around the midsection thanks to the heat of that lightbulb. But heck, aren’t we all?)
  • Perusing others’ holiday decorations. Every year as the big day nears, we pile in the car — sometimes in our pajamas — and ride around to check out the displays put together by people who go all out. Basil and I started this before we were married, kind of by accident. Now it’s part of our December routine.
  • Closing the year on a high note. Our New Year’s Eve celebrations are pretty mild affairs. For several years when our kids were very young, we would get together with another family, eat and play board games, struggling to keep the kids awake til the ball dropped. This family has a tradition we’ve adopted: Instead of yelling “Happy New Year,” they decide ahead of time on a word for the new year and holler it as the countdown ends.

Those get-togethers have faded from our calendar, but we retain the “word” tradition, at least on years when we’ve managed to stay awake.

This year, I think my word will be: “Resilience.”

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


4 thoughts on “A step-by-step guide to celebrating the holidays

  1. Ginger Snaps…
    Slowly I turned…
    Step by step…
    Inch by inch…

    Posted by RSwad | November 26, 2011, 2:51 pm
  2. Thanksgiving is turkey with my sausage and cornbread stuffing, and pumpkin pie, and sweet potatoes. Not candied, just baked. Everything else is negotiable. An ex-DIL added brussel sprouts to the menu, and we’ve kept them.

    Christmas is more carved in stone. The Star Trek ornaments, stars and moons go on the railing in the living room. And once an ornament goes on our tree, it’s permanent (unless it shatters). The origami bird my sister made me for our first Christmas is a little (?) shabbier, but it’s on the tree, along with the wonderful handmade ornaments I’ve bought over the years. We have too many for one tree, so we’ve expanded to 4 (3 small, 1 big). Christmas Eve is our big dinner — Danish roast pork with crisp skin, browned potatoes, red cabbage, and applecake for dessert. We used to do turkey, stuffing, etc., on Christmas Day until we realized that no one wanted to eat another big meal. Now we go to our son’s for Christmas dinner. Gifts get opened Christmas Eve. One year I suggested putting presents under the tree as they were wrapped, and you’d have thought I suggested canceling the holiday entirely. No, there has to be the subterfuge of Mom sneaking the presents under the tree after dinner while the kids go with Dad/Grandpa to search for Santa.

    We have spent New Year’s Eve with the same 5 couples since we had toddlers. We’d all bring our kids to one house. The kids would party in the playroom while adults ate and talked upstairs. When we moved to Bethel, we spend the night in Enfield with friends. The menu for the party has some basics — kielbasa in sweet and sour sauce, Mrs. Kulchuk’s meatballs, hot marinated mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, pistachios — plus whatever others bring. We bring breakfast, which started a tradition. Our kids weren’t allowed sugar cereals, except for New Year’s morning. They would discuss for months which cereal to bring. It finally evolved into 3 boxes of cereal, one per child, and with Jean’s 3, they usually finished them off. Breakfast for the 4 adults is bacon, eggs, English muffins, juice, and coffeecake. The kids made monkey bread, just in case they didn’t have enough sugar.

    Holidays, in my mind, are about continuing old traditions, sometimes adding new ones as family members join the family. We do “poppers” Christmas Day — sometimes the traditions outlast the family member, as in the brussel sprouts.

    Posted by Karen Waggoner | November 26, 2011, 1:05 pm

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