Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the festive music, the beautiful decorations, the love in the air. It seems the world is decked out in my favorite colors of red and green. I love the scent of fresh-cut pine, the myriad of colored lights and familiar ornaments, the popcorn balls and toffee. I love the art of Christmas; Handel’s Messiah, The Nutcracker ballet, the loving painted renditions of the Nativity. Love; handcrafted, wrapped and delivered. It seems mankind’s greatest talents and best efforts are expended at the celebration of Christ’s birth. He was an artist and artisan, I’m sure he appreciates all heart-felt generosity.
I was born two days after Christmas. My little five foot tall mom delivered her first baby, all 8 lbs and 14 oz. of me. My poor mom almost bled to death, I still feel bad about that. I was wrapped in a blue blanket because the hospital had run out of pink, bother. I don’t remember much, I heard a comedian say that he kept a journal from his birth. The first entry was; “still tired from the move.” But I’ve always loved sharing my birthday with Christmas. Except in seventh grade. My mom was single and there was never had enough money for extras. Two of my good friends had June birthdays – they received cool things for summer: radios, beach towels, new clothes – girl stuff. It occurred to me that my gift season was the middle of winter – no cool summer things for me.
Otherwise I LOVED Christmas. My Mom was an excellent cook and possessed the valuable skill of being able to create something wonderful out of not much. I loved her colorful M&M cookies, fudge and pecan sandies rolled in powdered sugar. Christmas music filled our house; the air was scented with bayberry candles. It seemed the whole world was filled with hidden surprises. I loved the joy and security of gathering with my favorite people and sitting as a family to share the story of Christ’s birth. My mom played carols on my sister’s toy organ, I displayed the nativity cut-outs I received in Primary at church and we sang. Our church put on a Christmas party every year. I think there was a dinner with lots of children running around while their parents visited. And Santa always came. I was nervous that I hadn’t been good enough, but he smiled and twinkled and I felt somehow reassured that my stocking would be filled and I would receive something special – he always came through. He gave each child a small white paper bag; one year containing a popcorn ball, tangerine, a warbling bird whistle and a few little Christmas-shaped chewy candies. And a small candy cane. There was always a candy cane.
I loved the way the whole town seemed to light up to share the joy of the season. From the second-grade Christmas plays, I mean plays put on by the second grade; the colorful construction paper chains and Christmas trees, covered with stick-on stars, cotton balls and glitter to the class parties. We would drive around looking at the lights and Christmas displays in the neighborhood and downtown. Every year at the fire station, the trucks were cleared out and Santa reigned from his sled in the midst of a winter wonderland. Sleepy the Travelodge bear was at the fire station. (A celebrity in the village – how did he get there?) We shopped downtown; picking up small gifts at the pharmacy and T.G. & Y. for teacher and my younger siblings. The only mall was a half hour away in San Diego, very distant and exotic.
I worked hard at discovering the location of hidden gifts; I have never really like surprises. I wanted what I wanted – no extra frills please. Regardless, there was always a pleasant surprise. I remember shopping with dad when I was very young to pick up surprises for my mom when they were still together. He was a good sport and bankrolled the operation. He built a swingset for us in the backyard and helped with the kitchen magic. When Dad was around Christmas was more enjoyable.
I learned that being with family was the greatest gift. The Chatty Cathys and talking Mr. Ed puppets, and doctor kits and other stars of my childhood Christmases have long been put to rest. Time spent with my parents and family is the most valuable gift. Christ’s gift of the promise of an eternal family is one of the kindest things he has done for me. No wonder the world still rejoices at the memory of His birth.
(This was probably at a Christmas bazaar at our church in Los Angeles
– it still makes me happy! Check out my cool plaid number.)
After months at sea in a small ship, a group of weary travelers, upon reaching the shores of North America, fell to their knees to give thanks. The Pilgrims at Cape Cod or Plymouth Rock in 1620? No, Englishmen at the Berkeley Plantation, Virginia on December 4, 1619. Their orders included the giving of thanks upon arrival and on the anniversary every year from henceforth.
My ancestor, William Tracy, a governor of the Berkeley Colony, was so convinced of the potential of the early ventures into the colonies, that he invested heavily in them. Unfortunately, he died before he witnessed the amazing rise of “America.” And though some of the celebrants of the first “Thanksgiving” in Virginia were killed in the Indian Massacre in 1622, the Pilgrims in Massachusetts carried on the tradition of giving thanks. Times were hard; so many pilgrims died that first winter that they buried the dead at night so the Native Americans wouldn’t know how few of them were left. Only 53 survived that first brutal year. The struggles of the Puritans, the conflicts with and help given by the Native Americans, and the culmination of efforts led to the brotherhood of that shared feast in the autumn of 1621.
Many historians agree that the first American Thanksgiving was inspired by ancient Israel’s Feast of the Tabernacles, the celebration and gratitude for the harvest. Gratitude is a divine principle and is defined as: A feeling of thankful appreciation for favors or benefits received; warm appreciative response to kindness.
The power of gratitude can be life-changing. Studies on the health benefits of gratitude have shown an increase in energy in participants, improved sleep and other positive outcomes according to Robert Emmons of the University of California Davis, Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami and Alexander Wood of the University of Manchester.
Hospitality binds individuals, families and communities in cheering and loving ways. Each of us has the potential to increase the positive energy in our community, world and the universe. As you gather your loved ones and give thanks for the good things in your lives, here are a few ideas to enhance your celebrations.
Place branches with autumn leaves in mercury jars or vases surrounded by votive candles, acorn and pumpkins. Have guests write on paper tags things they are thankful for; tie onto branches. Or write on collected leaves with a thin permanent marker and scatter on the table.
Cut 56 thirteen inch squares of autumn-color fabrics and sew together in eight rows of seven for a generous queen-size quilt. Add a thin batting, muslin for the backing, and add a simple border. Collect several varieties of leaves; trace on brown paper to make templates; lay the leaves on the quilt and outline in chalk. Stitch with embroidery floss in a contrasting color using a simple running stitch. Quilt around each block. This quilt can be used for a tablecloth or displayed from September through November.
As you plan your holiday menu, make a list of the foods and serving dishes. Plan your cooking and baking days and which foods may be made ahead and frozen or chilled.
Create a family bingo game with copies of photos of family members. This is a good way for the children to learn about their ancestors. You may use vintage scrapbook paper and cardstock. This game uses candy corn for markers. Have the family pitch in by bringing plenty of small gifts and toys for prizes.
Make or buy gingerbread houses and assemble a few days before Thanksgiving. Have at least one per family to take home. After the dishes are done, let the decorating begin! Be sure to have lots of frosting and candy (buy on sale after Halloween) to decorate with.
Thanksgiving on Wednesday
Although President Abraham Lincoln officially made Thanksgiving Day the fourth Thursday in November, personal schedules might suggest celebrating on a different day. Having Thanksgiving dinner the evening before gives you the day to take children to the mountains, beach or local historic sites the next day. Yummy leftovers make a great picnic.
Thanksgiving on the Beach
One year my clever mother and her friends packed up the feast, kids and grandparents and treated us to an authentic out-of-doors Thanksgiving on the beach at La Jolla in southern California. Yes it was cold and gray; but not as cold as the pilgrims experienced. It was an unforgettable holiday. With a little research you can find recipes and methods for a moveable feast.
One way to show gratitude is to share. During this time of year opportunities abound for helping the less fortunate. From serving dinner at homeless shelters, hospitals or retirement centers to gathering food for food banks and community kitchens; taking a pie to the fire department or police station or sending a treat box to military personnel and missionaries and other overseas volunteers. Look around your neighborhood to find people who would enjoy sharing a dinner with your family.
May you and your loved ones rejoice in the wondrous gifts you enjoy and thank the One who so generously bestows the blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!
Grandma Roberts loved a good game of Bingo with her family.
She delighted in carefully choosing gifts for the winners. She loved having her family around the table, playing, teasing and enjoying one another’s company.
Grandma has “graduated” but we still like to honor her memory with a rousing game of Bingo. For Thanksgiving we use candy corn for markers, you can pick it up on sale after Halloween for cheap!
I haven’t made up the new cards yet, but I’m designing them in my mind. I’m going to gather photos of past family members and create
a family bingo, to help our little ones learn the faces of the dear departed. I’ll post them when they’re finished. Now’s a good time to pick up a few gifts while you are looking at Christmas stocking fillers. The dollar aisle at Michaels, Target and dollar stores are
good places to start. Also, ask relatives who are coming for Thanksgiving to bring prizes. My mom, uncles and aunts bring the best things!