Top 12 Favorite Christmas Traditions

I can be a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas. I have the typical complaints about shopping and crowded streets, but most of all I don’t like the break in my routine. I haven’t written much here or in my novel lately because I’ve been busy—gasp—socializing. As in, real life real time real people interaction, flesh and blood and all that. Also, I travelled to Oklahoma twice in the past month and got sick in-between, so I haven’t exercised in forever. But hey, that extra blubber is part of what makes the holidays feel so warm.

Also, I’m not a Christian, but since this holiday has been hijacked long ago by secular forces, I don’t feel compelled to abstain from it. I don’t celebrate Easter because I do believe Jesus is the reason for that season, for the most part.

So enough preamble. I’d like to share with you my favorite things about this holiday. Let’s begin the countdown:

12.  Playing the Nutcracker for five minutes. Then I get sick of it, but those five minutes are kind of okay. My brother’s wife once forced him to see it, and he complained that he would rather have his balls nailed to a wall than watch that again. Nutcracker indeed. I, however, am a little bit more tolerant. Five minutes.

11.  New ornament. Each year I buy a new ornament and label it with the year. Some of them have been relevant to the theme of that year, others are just last-minute buys. This year’s is a pig that I thought was a javelina, but who knows:

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10.  Re-reading last year’s Christmas cards. I save them each year for making my list for next year. This year I’m on top of things—I saved the envelopes too so that I have the addresses. You’d think I would have come up with this brilliant idea long ago, but I’m slow on the uptake.

9.  Ridiculous Christmas clothing. The star at the top lights up. Oh yes it does. And I wear it in public. I also have a pair of panties that says, “Be naughty, save Santa the trip.” Oh yes it does.

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8.  Giving gifts. I don’t really like this part because of all the usual reasons, but it forces me to think about all the people in my life. There’s a big part of me that wants to give a random gift at some other time in the year instead, but I haven’t done it.

7.  Rain. We don’t get much of it, which is why I love it. At this time of year in Tucson we get a nice all-day rain from time to time. Yeah, I know. Those of you from cold climates hate me now.

6.  Christmas night lights.

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5.  Christmas lights. We don’t get into the decor like we used to. My husband is the only one who will get up on a ladder, but he has had vertigo recently. So we did the most half-assed job because after he wobbled a little bit, I demanded in a semi-hysterical suburban housewife voice that he get down from the ladder. Last year he put up the lights while I was away in Oklahoma, and he fell. Luckily he didn’t fall into a cholla and he came away with a few scraps, but nothing serious. Still, I’ve been hounding him to let it go, let it go. While it’s not worth spending the holidays in the hospital, I have to admit I like that little bit of shine coming in through the kitchen window.

4.  Sweaters. And I’m not even talking about Christmas sweaters, which I would wear if I had one (see Christmas t-shirt above). I hardly ever get to wear sweaters, and I just love them. Here in the desert, there’s a small window of opportunity, so I grab it.

3.  Challah bread. What? I know, it makes no sense. Nevertheless, it looks so festive and I don’t care that I’m mixing things up. Besides, my husband’s Jewish, and so was Jesus, so I figure it kind of works. I love the whole process of making this bread, especially the braiding.

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2.  Las Posadas. I’m going tonight! This is hands down the best Christmas celebration ever. I hardly know the woman who invited me to this beautiful fete because I usually get the invite from a woman in my writing group and we tag along with her. This year, my friend is out of town, but the hostess tracked me down to give me the invite. Now I feel super special. Her graciousness makes me get a little misty eyed. How many people would track down a stranger to invite them to a party? Merry Christmas indeed! I can’t wait to get to know her better.

For this Posada we all meet and follow a procession house to house while carrying candles and singing “Feliz Navidad.” It’s led by a live mariachi band! I love trying to sing in Spanish, listening to the Mexicans to get the pronunciation right while following along on a printout.

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And then we end up at the host’s house to finish the evening over tamales and her special concoction:

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I have no idea what’s in here, but it’s delicious. The kids then knock around a piñata and we all get hammered while we listen to the mariachi band.

1.  Christmas tree. I never had a real one growing up, so this always feels special. I love the scent filling up the house, the magic of it. I even love the struggle to get it on top of the car (we put it in a junky sleeping bag to keep it from scratching the paint) and then pissing everyone off as we drive 25 MPH all the way home. :

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 What are your favorite holiday traditions? And/or what are your least favorite?

Holiday Gift Ideas

I decided to lighten things up after that last post. I figure I owe it to you, especially to those of you who made it to the end and actually studied the post. You are awesome.

Stuck for gift ideas?

For people just like you: 

How about these lovely magnetic finger puppets of Plato, Descartes and Kierkegaard?

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Also available: Kant, Socrates, Derrida, Nietzsche, Foucault, Marx, Spinoza, Einstein, Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Rosa Parks, Ganesh, Eleanor Roosevelt, Van Gogh (with removable ear!)—you name it, it’s all at the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, where the “unexamined gift is not worth giving.”

This is my personal favorite:

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It’s a Ptolemaic system watch. Because don’t we all yearn for those good ‘ol days when we were at the center of the universe?

Or this t-shirt (which presumably won’t be pixelated as it is here):

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Or some Freudian slippers:

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For people who have everything (whether they know it or not):

Focus on things to do rather than stuff. For tickets and things like that, I put them in an envelope which I then put in a big box. Then I wrap that so there’s no way of knowing what’s inside. Sometimes I’ll even put something stupid in there (see above), a spot-on gag gift, to make it weigh more.

Stargazing.

We are fortunate to have Kitt Peak Observatory nearby. This one offers classes and supplies everything for a night of stargazing, including dinner. There’s even the possibility of staying overnight. Reservations must be made in advance for ours, so check it out and do your research. Don’t forget to account for the weather—and by that I mean wear appropriate clothing. You obviously won’t be able to predict the weather so far in advance. Here we’re pretty sure to have clear skies, and some observatories will let you reschedule, so check into that too.

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If you don’t have a nearby observatory, or your weather is not so amenable to star gazing as mine, consider finding a low-popultion area and booking a hotel overnight as close to the date as possible for a ‘staycation’. Tucson may sound like the sticks, but the light pollution here is still pretty bad. We like to drive south to Tubac and stay the night, then drive a few miles even further south to a little spot off the highway where the stargazing is incredible. We bring some folding chairs, our glow-in-the-dark star chart (don’t forget you might have to hold it upside down and over your head so that you’re looking at the chart and the sky simultaneously) and a flashlight.

For the present under the tree, you can wrap up a nice star chart and some binoculars with an explanation of what they’re for.

Horseback riding.

I haven’t actually done this one, but it sounds like a lot of fun. Although I’m never going to take the mule ride into the Grand Canyon. Everyone has their limits. So be sure to consider whether this might seem scary or impossible to your recipient.

A Camping Trip.

Once again, consider your recipient and know what you’re doing. I bought a book, Car Camping for Dummies, before we set off. While I would love to do backpacking, my husband’s bad back prefers being next to the car in a giant tent with a blow-up mattress. If you get to the camp site early, you’re more likely to score the spot with the view. On our last trip, we got to camp right alongside the Colorado River and watch people raft from Lee’s Ferry into the Grand Canyon. It was a lot of fun.

I’m leaving aside that horrible experience we had in Santa Fe when we nearly froze to death. I’ll just say this—know what you’re doing.

Tickets to something.

Music? You can look into concerts and festivals. Theater? Dance? Museums? Sports? (I actually hate sports, but I did check out roller derby on a whim and had a great time.) Fitness? For this there are a lot of events in Tucson, but you’ll have to check out your local paper or online. Movies? We have an art theater here, so this would be my choice. Beer/wine? There are festivals for these too. Gardening? We have a ton of options here for desert gardens, as well as the Desert Museum, which is great since they have detailed labels on all the plants.

Education.

So this sounds weird, but maybe you know someone who keeps threatening to learn how to play the piano, or do watercolors, or whatever. Classes at the community college are insanely cheap (less than $200 per class per semester here) and offer a lot of great non-credit classes for folks who want to dig deeper into their hobbies. I took a novel writing course at Pima Community College and I must say, the quality of the class was better than the writing classes I took at an expensive liberal arts college. I prepared myself to be surrounded by a bunch of college kids, but nearly everyone in the class was over thirty, most over fifty, and many of them were editors and published writers. I’m probably just lucky, but who knows? This class was a normal, for-credit class, so don’t forget to look into that as well if you need to.

Online courses are also great.

Of course, there are those who don’t have time for this sort of thing or wouldn’t want to dedicate themselves to a class. For them, there’s the possibility of doing a one-time only class. Or, for artists and non-artists alike, a “wine and palette” sort of thing where you show up at the studio and they provide all the materials and instruction. You don’t need to have any artistic skill whatsoever (I mean it) and you come home at the end of the session with your own painting, which will be relatively decent, believe it or not. You can branch out—pottery, jewelry-making, glass-blowing, cooking, gardening, photography/hiking trips, bird-watching. Whatever.

And, of course, if you’re recipient is young, there’s always just contributing to the college fund.

Activity/hobby kits.

Beer brewing, wine making, pastels, painting, woodworking, model planes or boats (this is actually a big thing at the local park which is right next to the dog pound, so you can imagine all the dogs going crazy). You can use your imagination here.

For writers and readers:

Books. Duh.

But wait, there’s more. I’ll leave you with this post by Michelle Joelle with gift ideas for writers and readers.

Any ideas you’d like to share?