It's probably true for most of us that the month of December has special significance and meaning. Each of us has our own often emotion-laden memories of whatever traditions we grew up with: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice or some hybrid of the four.
When I think back on my own memories of (in my case) Christmas, certain ones take prominence. I recall spending afternoons with my mother baking and preparing the holiday foods. I think of digging out the Christmas boxes from the attic and the excitement each year of decorating our home. Beginning in early December we would beg my father to take us on our annual tree shopping venture. We of course wanted the tree up as early as possible, but he liked to wait in hopes he'd find an acceptable tree at an end-of-season discount.
I have warm recollections of Christmas eve and the traditional Italian meal of various sea foods. Ours always concluded with a boiled lobster for each guest, a very luxurious off-season indulgence in the New England winter. My aunt, uncle and cousins would always join us on Christmas eve for dinner and midnight Mass. All five of them would spend the night; there'd be people sleeping everywhere in our modest three-bedroom, Cape Cod-style home, with someone on the sofa and others scattered on cots. Christmas Day would of course start with the gifts, followed by more food preparation and a huge afternoon meal: antipasti, my mother's special soup and homemade raviolis, all followed by the traditional American meal of turkey and the trimmings. The evening would be spent with all the generations playing cards and sampling the array of desserts.
Interestingly, none of my favorite December memories have anything at all to do with toys or special gifts. I can't honestly recall any particular gift, although there were many, and I'm sure they excited me at the time. Instead, my treasured memories have to do with my parents and siblings and all the relatives, of being together enjoying special holiday foods, and mostly of sharing each other's company.
So as we enter this season, whatever your family celebrates, resist the inclination to devote too much time and effort to toys and gifts. Instead be sure to set aside time for being together, preparing food, decorating your home and establishing a set of traditions unique to your family. I guarantee that years from now your children will almost certainly have forgotten the gifts and toys, but they'll always treasure the memories of shared time and traditions.
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