The popular Christmas carol is “12 Days of Christmas,” but why not celebrate with all the days in December leading up to Christmas? Every year, I get in the Christmas spirit, but I haven’t always followed up with the actions or the grace. As a single person, I don’t have kids to shop for or pageants to attend, but I can still celebrate this beautiful season and ponder all its different meanings.
I love the idea of Advent, the preparation, the waiting. Traditionally, Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas, this year November 27. Despite the sacredness of this season, I love and celebrate some of the secular rituals, too. Here goes the 25 days of Christmas, not in any particular order.
1. Running through Christmas
Here’s where the secular meets the sacred and physical. I recently read a blog at Runner’s World online, talking about a running streak (no, not running naked, instead, a period of time where one runs everyday). Many started on Thanksgiving and will go through New Year’s. I’m starting mine on December 1. As I have recently begun getting back into shape and am training for my first marathon next spring, I wanted to join this movement (ahem, pardon the pun). For the month of December, I plan to run at least a mile, if not more, every single day. Running gives me pleasure, gives me hope, and I love the idea of a physical prayer through running. Here goes!
2. Decorating the tree
This is one of my favorite traditions. For several years, I put up my few ornaments up on garland around a doorway in my apartment. I bought a tree a couple of years ago and really enjoy bringing it out, hanging the garland, hooking the ornaments to the branches and remembering Christmas past.
3. Seeing old friends, renewing friendships
When I used to come home from college during the holiday break, it was a great time to see old friends from high school and reunite. Once I graduated from college and my mom moved 40 miles north, I lost touch with old friends. This year, I plan on reuniting with good friends with whom I’ve only recently been in touch. Thank you, Facebook! Now, these old friends turned Facebook friends become what I’ve been wishing for all along: dear friends in the flesh! Looking forward to seeing Eddie the weekend before Christmas, once one of my best friends and I haven’t seen him since 1996! Hope some of the reunions turn into long-lasting friendships!
4. Celebrating Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve is really my favorite part of the Christmas season. Sure there was the anticipation of Santa, but it was much more than that. Growing up, my younger sister and I participated in the children’s Christmas pageant at church and then we would all go over to my grandmother’s to exchange gifts with my cousins and enjoy a wonderful dinner! My mom had her own tradition with us. We were always allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve, our matching pajamas which were promptly put on by my two sisters and me. Don’t forget posed pictures in front of the tree! We’re a bit too old for matching Christmas pajamas now, but my older sister has generously shared her big house with a Christmas Eve dinner and gathering of Mom, Dad, Stepmom, my sister, her husband, their three kids (and girlfriends of her two sons) and the two spinsters (my younger sister and I). We eat, gossip, play board games, and exchange one gift. It’s a relaxed and enjoyable way to spend the time with family! I love when a fairly recent event becomes a new holiday tradition!
5. Taking the Christmas Home Tour and visiting the Winter Farmer’s Market
The home tour is an annual tradition in Longmont, sponsored by the Longmont United Church of Christ, as a benefit and fundraiser for local charities. This year will be my first to tour beautiful houses decorated for Christmas and to bring in the celebration with joy and light. For several Decembers, I have visited the Boulder County Fairgrounds for the winter market to buy some winter vegetables and a gift or two, always with awe and wonder at the earth’s bounty and people’s talent at cultivation. I love the focus on local, local, local.
6. Elfing it up
No, that’s not a dirty-word euphemism! In my work as an environmental educator, I get to visit kids in schools all over the county and give presentations on a variety of science and environmental topics. Elementary students are my favorite and I’m particularly in love with first graders! In December, we do a special presentation for first and second graders and it’s all about the Eco-Elf. The Eco-Elf (me) wears plastic pointy ears (hidden by well-placed strands of hair), a green felt pointy hat, a green felt tunic over my red or green turtleneck, green cloth pointy Elf-shoes tied on over my running shoes, and my comfy black jeans (which I’ve come to think of as my Elf jeans). There’s definitely a theme with green felt and all things pointy (hat, ears, shoes). We share ideas for how everyone can make it a waste-free holiday (no matter what one celebrates)–from wrapping gifts in newspaper to giving homemade presents. It takes some convincing that I don’t know Santa, but the highlight is when the kids decorate a piece of newsprint as their artwork & wrapping paper! It’s amazing how creative and sweet they all can be!
7. Wandering to see the lights while drinking hot chocolate
When I was growing up, this was fun but sometimes the drive grew tiresome. Now, I’m planning to do it a few times and take the little back roads and side streets! I think the hot chocolate is essential . . .and getting to be the driver or walker! Yes, and let’s give thanks for LED lights.
8. Caroling it out
I don’t really plan on any spontaneous caroling except by myself. I have a small Christmas CD collection and they will be constant rotation in the car and at home. Can’t wait to hear Shawn Colvin’s Holiday Songs and Lullabies and the CD compilation my sister made last year. Definitely a fan of the more traditional stuff, but George Strait singing carols is also pretty awesome.
9. Winding up a wild tree for wildlife
I love the idea of anonymous, guerilla decorating, so this year I’m going to decorate a tree in a local park with completely edible (to animals) and biodegradable ornaments. When I used to work in a bird seed store, we encouraged folks to do this in their yards. I’m thinking peanut butter, pine cones, suet, and maybe some berries. Nothing that will have to be cleaned up later. For more ideas, visit here.
10. Eating, baking, and sharing cookies
It might be Christmas, but it’s also cookie time. I love to bake and this is a great time of year to do it. I’ll probably share some with our drivers at work and with my apartment’s maintenance staff, because I definitely can’t eat all that I want to bake. Chocolate chip and sugar cookies and who knows what else.
11. Ice skating
Longmont has a lovely outdoor rink and a couple of years ago there was a possibility of closing it down, due to the city’s operating expenses and lost revenues. In a gesture of civic spirit and to make some fun of my own, I plan on going down and taking at least a couple spins (and spills). Maybe I can finally learn to skate forward and backward, but no twirly skirts for me!
12. Cuttin’ it up
Sometimes it helps to revert to childhood and the fun of paper and scissors. I have a big, sliding glass door which I plan to cover in white scrap paper snowflakes of the fold up and cut variety.
13. My house is your house
I have never attempted a gingerbread house, this year I’m going to try to build a house of graham crackers and icing. Yum (except for the icing)!
14. I go out walkin’, after midnight, searching for . . .
Not only a line in my very favorite Patsy Cline song, but it was also a favorite college activity. In college, I used to go walking late at night with Norm or Heidi and there was something about the darkness, the cold, and being able to see the houses and neighborhoods in a completely different light. I miss that feeling of freedom and those talks we had. What a wonderful time of year to wander, look up at the stars, and feel that way again.
15. Giving and receiving news from up close and afar
My mother is known for her Christmas letters. She plans, writes, edits, prints, and always includes a picture and the highlights of the year. There are people who I know only due to her annual Christmas correspondence. I can recognize others from their signature scrawl at the bottoms of their letters and cards. I have never been able to match her success, but this year in the spirit of renewing friendships, I plan to send out a letter. There are kids growing up that I might not recognize without getting on their mothers’ Christmas card lists and it helps to reciprocate the cards and letters. Mine will be on 100% post-consumer paper and with a silent thank you to all the postal carriers!
16. The yule log
We have a wonderful fireplace and it’s the main reason I love my apartment. I plan to have several fires this December and bask in the warmth and the light. In another life, I would have been a pyro-maniac, or at least gotten to work with fireworks, but I’ll have to settle for small, legal fires in the fireplace.
17. Cinematic wonders
I love movies and there are a few movies that I always break out this time of year. Some have a Christmas theme, others I just like watching during this time of year. Cinematic snobs can share their thoughts later. I still love ’em: The Family Stone; Love, Actually; It’s a Wonderful Life; Sense and Sensibility; The Holiday; Little Women.
18. Shopping and window shopping
Now, most would say that the whole shopping thing is what ruined so much of the meaning behind the holiday and that consumption kills the planet. I get it, I get it. I won’t be buying much (and haven’t for years), but I will go to some of my favorite stores to look. I love going to downtown Longmont and downtown Denver to see the decorations and displays. Celebrate local, independent business!
19. Luminating with Luminarias
No matter where I live, I will always consider myself a New Mexican first. Luminarias have a spiritual significance and I think they are beautiful and simple. Small paper bags filled with sand for weight and small candles which were traditionally used to light the way for the spirit of the Christ child. The history of humankind is littered with stories of people trying to light the way toward something. Best not to try on a dry and windy day, but in New Mexico it always seems to be dry and windy.
No, this is not a combination of cheesy corn puffs and Bisquick. These are the state cookie of New Mexico. They are a little like shortbread, a little like sugar cookies, but deliciousness all on their own. Sometimes also known as a Mexican wedding cookie, the traditional recipe calls for lard, but I don’t want to start the great biscochito debate. Can’t wait to make them, bake them, and eat them!
21. Christmas cocktails – Glühwein
My younger sister lived in Germany and fell in love with this winter tradition. I’m all for wine, all for spice, and all ready for a drink this nice!
22. Charity begins at home
This is the time of year when many nonprofits are sending out their fundraising letters and there are numerous coat and canned food drives. Goodness, we need all of that and more with the way things are. I like the idea of finding one or two causes close to your heart and giving what you can, even a $1. Maybe it’s not charity, because chivalry is something that we can all partake in. Coincidentally, I just received an e-mail from one of my favorite groups highlighting the importance and beauty of micro-philanthropy. Check out this site and try their 30-day $30 challenge.
It’s good for me to remember that it doesn’t have to be money. It can be giving your time, sharing your smile, sharing a talent, giving your old coat.
23. Booking it
I curl up with a book most days of the week, even if it’s just a few minutes before dropping to sleep, but there is something to finding those holiday favorites to read again. I plan on re-reading some children’s classics like Little Women and The Night Before Christmas and finding some new ones, maybe a short story collection that summons the spirit of the season and maybe some essays that stir my soul and the beauty of the landscape. Sigurd Olson and Loren Eiseley come to mind. Maybe a cosy winter English murder mystery? Nothing says Christmas like a literary corpse.
24. Finding joy, seeking peace
This is not really a seasonal thing, but a lifelong mission. So many people, cards, and signs say things like joy and peace, but figuring out what that means and helping to realize it in my own life is important. We are living in tumultuous times. Helping others to find joy and peace and spreading it like peanut butter is a wonderful way to learn to keep my mind and spirit occupied, especially when they want to leap in the opposite direction. I’ll have to work on how to find it and how to spread it and how to keep it going.
25. A story, a story
In my own pursuit of building a spiritual life, this season is a good time to revisit the origins. The story of the couple, a donkey (I don’t think there is actually a Biblical reference to a donkey), no room at the inn, and a miracle birth is riveting. My own pursuit is seeking and learning and finding and making peace. It’s always been easy for me to see how we’re all more alike than different, despite our varied beliefs and traditions. However, there are only a few major world religion tents and sometimes it’s hard for me to admit which tent I fall under (perhaps because of some of the tent-dwellers). I am figuring it out as I go.
25 days in a direction, with some fun, frivolity, struggle, and soul!