Friday, November 2, 2012

'Tis the Season

You're probably going to think I'm sick, and I'm sure I've confessed this before, but now that Halloween is over I've busted out the Christmas tunes. Yep, I'm one of those people. Don't worry, I haven't afflicted anyone else with this mild holiday addiction. I haven't even told Shane, since no one else knows what I'm listening to with my headphones on.
I know that many people will get mad and say that listening to Christmas music so early in the season is atrocious and part of the commercializing of Christmas. However, to me it's completely the opposite. First of all, many "Christmas" songs don't say word one about Christmas, or any other holiday. "Winter Wonderland"? "Jingle Bells"? "Baby, it's Cold Outside"? Nothing about Christmas in any of those. They should more properly be termed winter songs. That's not why I listen to them, of course, but it's a small defense.
Getting to the heart of this for me, Christmas music serves to remind me of just what's so special about Christmas, and to get me excited for all of the wonderful things to come. I don't know about you, but with only a few exceptions I don't really remember the presents I got for Christmases past. Mostly what I remember are the things like cookie baking, watching movies and drinking hot chocolate with my family, and all being together. There's an 11 year age spread in my family, with my oldest brother being six years older than me. Think about it: he turned 18 when I was only 12, and long before he moved out he spent a majority of his time elsewhere. I loved Christmas for bringing him home for a bit, for a chance to hang out with all of my siblings. My other older brother left when I was 14 and the chance to get together at the holidays became that much more important to me. (I can only imagine what it was like for my little brother, 5 years younger than I am.) Board games, card games, puzzles, lots of family dinners, those are the things I love about Christmas and they're the memories that come flooding back when I listen to Christmas music.
Newer happy memories too. Two years ago my brother and I spent an evening making Christmas cookies for my work's cookie giveaway during finals. I didn't realize that when I'd written a particular recipe down I doubled it. (Why would you ever make less than a double batch of those cookies?!) So we doubled it, not realizing, and it turned into a hilarious scramble when we realized our mistake. Just the wet ingredients filled my largest mixing bowl so we had to find another bowl to put some of it in and try to get the dry ingredients for both bowls correct. I wrote a note on the recipe: "THIS IS ALREADY DOUBLED! BEFORE YOU DOUBLE IT, REMEMBER CHRISTMAS 2010!!" It makes me laugh every time, and every time the Boy and I talk about making cookies together one of us will start giggling about that.
This year we have lots to look forward to. It turns out that Shane will be home for Thanksgiving, so we'll get to go to Soldotna as we usually do to visit parents, grandparents, cousins, not to mention my brother-in-law and his girlfriend. (Who are moving out of state soon!) With the very recent passing of one of Shane's elderly relatives, it seems more important than ever to spend as much time with family as possible. After all, they won't be here forever.
After that, we'll only be home for a few weeks before we leave for Maine! My family is having a reunion at the family home there and I couldn't be more excited. Well, all right. I guess if my oldest brother and his wife were able to make it, I could be. (Poor Johanna has Christmas Day off from work and that's it.) But I get to see aunts, uncles, and cousins who are normally spread out over the country. Many of my cousins weren't able to come to our wedding so it's been years since I saw them anywhere other than Facebook. There's a new addition to the family, who will be 8 months old when we get to see him. And another cousin is pregnant, so we'll get to celebrate that with her. The little girl who was the youngest family member last time we did this is five now, a big kindergartener.
I'm looking forward to all the ways we'll reconnect with each other. We'll go for walks in the snow (for us it will be relative warmth; for many people in my family, a novelty, since they live in warmer climes), cook grand meals together, play games, watch movies, and catch up on all the news of each other's lives. I'm so excited and happy that, honestly, I could just cry.
As if all of that wasn't enough to be happy about, on our way home we're stopping in Seattle for a week. We'll spend New Year's with my friends there, have more time with my parents and two of my brothers, and my oldest brother said last night that he'd talk to his wife and see if there's any way they can make it up there for a few days. Squeeeee!!! I haven't been to Seattle in about two years and it's definitely far too long. I have lots of people there whom I love and I miss them. They've made so many life changes that I've missed out on. Some have gotten married, bought houses, had kids, and existing children have done far too much growing up. I can't wait to see everyone.
So, the one thing I haven't mentioned in all of this is gifts. Despite what people say about returning to the spirit of Christmas, making it a simpler Christmas, etc., and despite the messages we get every year from Christmas movies, people still make a big deal about gift giving at Christmas. To some extent, this isn't bad. It's a time when we get to show our friends and family our appreciation of them. And who doesn't like getting something fantastic? "OMG, I've wanted to read this book for so long!" "Thanks, Mom, I can never have enough wool socks." So I'm not completely anti-gift-giving. But definitely, it's generally over the top.
For me and Shane, like so many others we're once again dealing with unemployment. (Forgive my silence the last couple of weeks--this was a hard secret to keep and I've known since mid-September! He wanted to be the one to tell friends and family, however.) This is his last shift, since the higher ups at his company decided that it would be more worth it to let everyone go for the winter than it would be to keep the camp open when not as much work would be getting done more inefficiently because of the weather and conditions. It's not terrible--we saved a lot of money this summer, and Shane gets a fairly generous severance package, plus he's got a standing job offer when the camp reopens next year with an actual signing bonus if he works for them again--but it's still back to just my income. Our trip is not cheap. I told my oldest brother the amount just for our plane tickets over the phone last night and I swear I heard his jaw drop. (I'll just say here that it nearly cost us the soul of our firstborn child, when we have one. People from Alaska will know.) So while we'll still give gifts to our families, I told Shane that not only am I totally cool with him not getting me a gift, but that I'll actually be mad if he does. I said flat-out that our trip is really the only thing I *need* for Christmas. The only things I want don't come wrapped up under the tree. This led into a very personal discussion about how we can best use our money in the future for the things which truly do matter to us.
Shane's parents will certainly, as usual, go overboard for Christmas. So I asked Shane's mom for one of the few things that I really want. Shane has told me repeatedly that she's so excited to finally have a girl to shop for that I don't feel bad about this.
I will be informing my family that they don't need to spend gobs of money on us. The travel itself, or the shipping to send even small things, is fairly expensive. I don't want anyone to feel pressured to spend more than they can really afford, or even if they can afford it to feel like they need to spend lots of money to show they care.
For the extended family, when we've done these Christmas get-togethers in the past we've done a white elephant gift exchange among the adults. I've got several homemade things which I'm planning to pull together into a gift, things which I know pretty much everyone in my family would appreciate and enjoy. Many of us bring regional things--really good chili powder from my Texas relatives is always appreciated, and there are some special canned peppers from a local Seattle company which my mom talked about buying a case of to distribute at Christmas. (YES!) It will be fun and low-key and perfect.
Other than seeing my relatives, one of the things I'm looking forward to the most is introducing Shane to the family home. It was built by one of my ancestors about 175 years ago and it has all kinds of stuff in it. My great-grandmother's first grownup party dress, military uniforms dating back to WWI, and so many incredible things. The oldest book we've found was printed in the 1750s, before the U.S. was even an independent country. How incredible is that? There's a creepy room in the cellar which was dubbed the Alfred Hitchcock room (if you saw it, you'd know why), and the memories of wonderful childhood memories. I just can't wait for Shane to see it all. Back to my original theme, listening to Christmas music is making me happy right now with the anticipation of all of this. Now isn't that a decent reason to listen to it?

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