Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 7: Christmas Treats

I have no idea how I missed this one the firs time around last year, but one of my absolute FAVORITE FAVOURITE [take note of the British spelling for effect] parts of the Christmas season is......... the food. No surprise there, right? But not even regular food, like meals. No, no, no, I am talking about the sugary, delicious, wonderful attack on our bodies that becomes our meals when we are not paying attention. Okay, the one exception is the pistachios we get from Baga every year. Those are not sugary. But they fall into the category of treat, and they also have been the spoil of many a meal.
In our house, we have a few select Christmas treats that we ourselves make. Coffee cake, thanks to our years in Cincinnati, has become what we are known for. We make them in bulk and give them out to our special friends and neighbors. It is delicious, so not nutritious, and can fill the place of any meal or snack of your choosing. It is good stuff.But it was not always so. We used to make cinnamon rolls for our friends and neighbors. That was back when we had a few friends and even fewer neighbors. Cinnamon rolls are the most amazing creation known to man. The recipe is my mom's, mixed with a bread recipe from an old and dearly loved friend from our past. There is a lot of work, and a lot of mess, involved with these, which is why we stopped giving them out. Now they are just for us....and the people at Dad's work who won't let him stop bringing them.
Pre-icing, but still. Don't they look tempting?
The other treat we make is also just for us. Christmas cookies. Which is basically sugar cookies in Christmas shapes and with icing on them. Those are usually gone within a few days, as we seem to consume multiple cookies each day. We have bene making these since we were tiny tots, and we still make make them together. I think it's just as important for us to make them as it is for us to eat them. We love it.
Last year's adventure. This is right before J pounded Mom with a face of flour.
BUT we also tend to receive Christmas treats from various people. My personal favorites are buckeyes, chocolate covered pretzels, and peppermint bark. A few years ago, we got IBC root beer decorated like reindeer. That was awesome.
But I am not picky. I am open to try any and all Christmas treats. Bring 'em by and I'll give you a "Merry Christmas" in return, and let you know how it goes. And maybe I'll sneak you a treat. You never know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 6: Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning

Gather 'round, my children. It is time for me to let you in on the inner secrets that are the C family Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning traditions. You are about to embark upon a journey from which there is no return. If you are prepared, venture on. If not, no one will think less of you for turning back.....okay, we will, but not to your face.
Christmas Eve is a treasured time to the C family. The traditions date back to....uh.....well, far enough that I don't remember NOT doing them, how's that? It starts off with dinner, which used to be kind of a big deal, but now we've toned it down. For the last few years, we've done soup in a bread bowl from Panera, which is always delicious. After dinner, we wait around anxiously for the next cue. When ready, we read the story of the Nativity from the Bible. This is key, as it is what Christmas is all about. Then.....when we have permission......we go upstairs to the parentals' bedroom, where all of the presents have been waiting and we bring them down to the family room. Once they are all down, we begin arranging them under the tree. It is quite the process. Big presents have to go towards the back, and you have to spread the presents out so that one person's presents aren't too close together. It's important.
Then.....when Mom feels like it's time.....and if we've been good......she goes upstairs and gets our Christmas Eve presents. Traditionally, we get an ornament and pajamas. We mark the ornaments with our initial and the year, then find a place for it on the tree. Then we change into our pajamas. That's fun. Then we all go take pictures in front of the tree. This is important for in the next morning. THEN it's time for........Dad to read us our Christmas story. [YAY!] Anyone catch the reference? Anyone? Okayyyyyy. Actually, Dad used to make up a story for us. The four of us kids would go and save Christmas somehow from whatever  bad guys were threatening it. Those were some funnnnnn stories.  Dad would get really quiet and then scare us with his loud voice and it was awesome. Now he just reads one, which is still fun. Maybe this year we can get him to tell the story again.......
Then it's off to bed! We kids normally sleep in the same room [except the marrieds + babies] and we always set our alarm. WHAT? Set an alarm on CHRISTMAS? YES! Because we aren't allowed to wake our parents up until 7:00. So we do. Every. Year. Alarms go off at 6:50, and we brush our hair and/or teeth, then when the clock hits 7:00 on the dot, we race into the parentals' bedroom and wake them up. They are always already up, but still in bed. Then we have to coax them out of bed, usually by scratching Dad's back and rubbing Mom's feet. We ignore their complaints about wanting to shower and/or shave and then, when they say so, we can go downstairs and LOOK at the presents, but not touch. So we do. It's always fun to see what Santa brought for us and who has the biggest present under the tree. We all know good things come in small packages, but it's a pride thing. Biggest present wins.
Then we go back upstairs and see how Mom and Dad are progressing. Usually, they are up and ready, so we go back downstairs and turn on Christmas music, hand out stockings, take another picture in front of the tree with the stockings, and then wait for everyone to get situated in their traditional spots. Then.....we have at. But JUST on stockings. Always a good time, those stockings. Then we get to the Santa presents, which we open one at a time in age order. And we have to pose for a picture with our present in between. It's quite the ordeal. Once the Santa gifts are done, we go get breakfast from the kitchen. Cinnamon rolls and chocolate milk and/or hot chocolate are the norm. Then we bring it all back into the family room, and begin the present opening. One at a time. In age order.
When all is said and done, we have "fashion shows" to make sure everything fits, eat more, and nap.
There you go. Those are the C family Christmas traditions. Intense, no? Every year someone tries to change something, and usually, they do not have success. The rest of us protest. Why? Because we love our traditions. A lot. Heaven help our own families when we start this all over again.

The Christmas Eve Story

We do take normal pictures, I's the most complete, recent, NORMAL Christmas picture I have. =)
Hope you all have fun traditions. If not, MAKE SOME!!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 5: Spirit

So sorry for my lapse in days, things were crazy what with a birthday and service projects and weekend.... But I am here now, and have a plan.
I gave a talk in my church on Sunday about the true spirit of Christmas, and I thought that for today's post, I would share it with you.
When I was a child, I was so excited by everything about Christmas. Christmas lights, Christmas songs, Christmas trees, Christmas cookies, letters to Santa, everything. Not much has changed as I’ve grown up. But there was one year when I was about ten that I was terrified of Christmas being completely ruined.

For one, it was raining. It shouldn’t rain on Christmas.

For two, we were changing our Christmas Eve tradition by going over to someone else’s house for dinner and the Nativity. You just don’t mess with tradition.

And finally….because when we got back to our house on that rainy, nontraditional Christmas Eve, all of the lights were out, the garage door wasn’t working, and we did not have a house key.

I was horrified. All of our presents were inside the house. The stockings, the cinnamon rolls, the Christmas cookies, the new pajamas we hadn’t opened yet…how could it be Christmas if we didn’t get to have Christmas?

Thankfully, one of my parents has to have a window open if the temperatures are not sub-arctic, and so their window was cracked. My dad hoisted my brother up onto the roof and he crawled to the window, lifted it open, and promptly fell into the room. He opened the front door and we all went inside, and Christmas was saved.

I’ve thought about that Christmas Eve a lot since then. I knew that it would still be Christmas even if we were trapped in our car, in the rain, without any of my normal Christmas stuff, but that meant very little to me. I wanted the stuff.

Time and time again as I remember that Christmas, I remember another Christmas. One that was also different.

We had finished dinner and were getting ready to put all of the presents under our tree when my parents told us they were changing things. We were all to go to our rooms and find three things we could give away. Confused, but obedient, we did so. When we came back down, they told us there was family in our ward who would not be getting Christmas presents. They asked us to look at our toys and see if we would be willing to give them to this family. We agreed, and in some cases ran back upstairs to get something better, and then got in the car and drove to the house. To this day, I do not know the family’s name, and I could not tell you where they lived. But I will never forget going up the porch, sneaking just as quietly as I could, and leaving my presents on the porch with the rest of the toys, food, and other presents, ringing the doorbell, and then running for our lives back to our car. That was a Christmas I treasure, not because someone else got to get stuff, even though they did. What I treasure is the feeling I had as I ran back to the car, knowing that I had given something without expecting anything in return. It wasn't the stuff; it was the gift.

Christmas is not, and has never been, about “stuff”, though we tend to forget that amidst the hustle and bustle of the season.

It brings to mind one of my favorite movies, and stories, of Christmas. The Grinch. In trying to ruin Christmas, he stole everything from the Who’s. Every hint of Christmas was gone. Then he waited for the reactions on Christmas morning and found that instead of mourning their loss, they rejoiced. “He hadn’t stopped Christmas. It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same. And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so? It came without ribbons, it came without tags, it came without packages, boxes, or bags!” And he puzzled and puzzled, til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more”.

It does mean more! Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior, to rejoice in his life and his ministry and the miracle of the Atonement, the greatest gift of all.

Pres. Monson: Brothers and sisters, this joyful season brings to all of us a measure of happiness that corresponds to the degree to which we have turned our minds, feelings, and actions to the Savior, whose birth we celebrate.

I firmly believe that the magic of the holiday season happens because for this period of time, we are more focused on Him. We are more kind to each other, we are giving and generous, we take up these traditions that are wonderful and peaceful, and we call it the Spirit of Christmas. We mourn when the season ends, and we always wish it would come back.

I learned a long time ago that we should keep Christmas with us all through the year. I never really understood how I could do that. And then President Monson said this in the devotional last week: “When we keep the spirit of Christmas, we keep the spirit of Christ, for the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit.”
Isn’t that what we promised when we were baptized and when we take the sacrament each week? That we would have his spirit to be with us? When we turn our hearts towards the Savior, and towards our fellow man, we will have the Spirit of Christmas because we have the spirit of Christ. Christmas should be a reminder to all of us of how we should be all year round.

A few years ago, President Monson shared this story, and I wanted to share part of it with you. In December of 1970, an ice storm came through the south. Passengers were stranded on their way home for Christmas. One gate in the Atlanta airport was particularly crowded. The last flight of the night, and probably for the next 24 hours, was to New Orleans and everyone was trying to get on it. Not many were having success. One who was unconcerned was businessman in a fine tailored gray-flannel suit, who sat working, knowing he was secured on this flight.

"A young man in military uniform, no more than 19 years old, was in animated conversation with the desk agent. The boy held a low-priority ticket. He pleaded with the agent to help him get to New Orleans so that he could take the bus to the obscure Louisiana village he called home.

The agent wearily told him the prospects were poor for the next 24 hours, maybe longer. The boy grew frantic. Immediately after Christmas his unit was to be sent to Vietnam—where at that time war was raging—and if he didn’t make this flight, he might never again spend Christmas at home. Even the businessman looked up from his cryptic computations to show a guarded interest. The agent clearly was moved, even a bit embarrassed. But he could only offer sympathy—not hope. The boy stood at the departure desk, casting anxious looks around the crowded room as if seeking just one friendly face.

Finally the agent announced that the flight was ready for boarding. The travelers, who had been waiting long hours, heaved themselves up, gathered their belongings, and shuffled down the small corridor to the waiting aircraft: twenty, thirty, a hundred—until there were no more seats. The agent turned to the frantic young soldier and shrugged.

Inexplicably, the businessman had lingered behind. Now he stepped forward. “I have a confirmed ticket,” he quietly told the agent. “I’d like to give my seat to this young man.” The agent stared incredulously; then he motioned to the soldier. Unable to speak, tears streaming down his face, the boy in olive drab shook hands with the man in the gray flannel suit, who simply murmured, “Good luck. Have a fine Christmas. Good luck.”
As the plane door closed and the engines began their rising whine, the businessman turned away, clutching his briefcase, and trudged toward the all-night restaurant."

What is Christmas really about? I turn to the simplest and truest words, which I learned from an unexpected spiritual moment in a Charlie Brown Christmas. He cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” And then his friend Linus says this: “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” “And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about him. And they were sore afraid, but the angel said unto them “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” And suddenly, there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, goodwill towards men.” Then he turns back and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

That is what Christmas is all about. It’s what it has always, and will always, be about.

President Uchtdorf, “We do not need a Christmas holiday or Christmas traditions to remember Jesus Christ, the Savior. … May each Christmas season remind us to lift up our voices and fill our hearts with joy and gratitude that Christ the King has come! Christ lives! He is real. He is our Redeemer at Christmas and always.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 4: Stockings

I have no idea how the tradition of stockings at Christmas came to be. I'll leave that up to the Christmasologists. I'm guessing it has something to do with stockings hanging over a grate to dry by the fire, but that really doesn't explain how this:

became this:
...but that is neither here nor there.
When it comes to stockings, I have seen it all. I have seen cheap ones from a drug store, I have seen homemade stockings, I have seen quilted stockings, I have seen matching stockings, I have seen the most random assortment of stockings imaginable. It doesn't matter if you have your stocking embellished with your name in bold engravings or with cheap felt letters. I just love stockings.
Our family is of the mismatched version, but not by my mother's choice. The three of us older siblings have the same stocking, they were made for us by a friend when we lived in California as kids. Jenny got a cheap red one when she was born, mostly because Mom couldn't find anything she liked. But now that she can, none of us [even Jenny] will let her change them. We all love our stockings. Mom and Dad have had a few different ones over the years, but not us. When Erin, and then Carly, joined our family, they got stockings too. I have no idea how they feel about them, but I know for a fact that there is a cuter one waiting for Carly, if needed. And we bought stockings for the twins already, just because we could. Hey, you gotta get the cute ones when you can!
When we go to Baga's for Chicago Christmas, things are different. Each of the grandkids has exactly the same stocking style-wise, but each stocking picture is different.. [Okay, there are so many of us that someone has the same picture as you, but still.] Each of us also has our name written in silver glitter. The adults [meaning my parents, aunts, uncles, etc] has a different stocking than us. The kids that grew up in Baga's house have the stockings from when they were kids, except Tom, cuz they lost his. The in-laws [and Tom] have a basic red stocking. Everybody gets silver glitter writing. I can't remember what Erin and Carly have up there, but you get the idea. Kind of uniform, kind of not.
I have no opinion on what to do or not to do. I love my stockings. I love that they are a little bit different, a little bit the same. I'll probably keep that track for my future just because I think it's cool. But then, stockings are cool. And stocking PRESENTS are cool. Those are the first ones we open! Santa always knows just what to put in there!
I think this is adorable. How fun!
Now THIS is adorable! I'm getting all kinds of ideas.
Cute matching ones!
Basically, stockings rock. That's all there is to it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 3: Ornaments

I am terribly sorry that I did not have a post for you yesterday, but the workday just did not allow for pondering, and then after work I was at a dinner party for Sinterklaas, so it just didn't happen. But never fear, I shall avail you of my Christmas cheer today.
Last year, if you recall, we discussed both Christmas trees and Christmas lights. What we did not talk about was ornaments. You may not think anything of them, but I think a tree without ornaments looks oddly naked. An inside tree, anyway. A tree outside really has no need or cause for ornamentation other than lights. Unless you want to have ornaments outside...but I think the weather would have something to say about that. It usually does, and sometimes doesn't even like lights...
Sorry, moving on. Ornaments. Classically, we, like everyone else, had the colored glass balls that break easily and make a mess when they do. We also had ornaments that held significance, ie First anniversary of Mom and Dad. I'm not sure when the tradition started, but we started getting ornaments every year. Christmas Eve would come and each kid would get a new ornament just for them. We'd mark our initial and the year on the back, and then on the tree it went. We still do this today. We also have family ornaments for every year, some personalized with our names and some that highlight some of our journeying of that year. We kind of collect ornaments, I think.Our tree has a very hodge-podge feel about it, but we love it.
Example of an ornament we DO have. These are made by our friend Lorrie, who makes adorable ornaments. Check out Mistletoe Memories at
We also have some ornaments that will never be allowed to NOT go on the tree. One of those is "the pickle", which is a model of an Apollo spacecraft my brother made in school. Why is it the pickle? Because it is made from green Styrofoam. Nuff said. There is the bus ornament, which was made by yours truly in kindergarten, and due to the adorable yet goofy, COMPLETELY NORMAL kindergartner picture on it, the bus has become labeled "the short bus" and it is a reigning family joke that has yet to be funny to me, but that's how it goes, I suppose. I hide the ornament every year in the hopes that it will not make an appearance, but my sisters always find it and give it a place of prominence. Maybe this year I will succeed!
Now, I have no idea how other people do their trees. I've seen a ton of different ways. Some people just have their themed trees, all color coordinated and formal. Those are so pretty! I've seen trees like ours, with homemade ornaments and pictures and randomness. Those are so fun! I've seen trees with large, sparkly ornaments, trees with clear ornaments to reflect the light, trees with ribbon and tinsel, trees with birds [not kidding]... There is no wrong way to go when it comes to ornaments you use for your tree. What matters is that it works for you and you can be happy with your tree.
Isn't this pretty? Maybe someday I'll have a "pretty" tree, too.
All of my ornaments are so special to me, and it never fails to make me smile to pull them out, look at the year, and remember when I got them. I've started collecting ornaments myself, and I can't wait for the day when I can have a tree of ornaments that describe my life, and give out ornaments to my kids, so that they can enjoy them, too!
I love this picture. It's just so adorable and precious! I hope my kids have moments like this.
By the way, I set up a second tree this year, using the fake one we bought a few years ago but had yet to use, since we always go for real trees. I put it in the front room so that it could be seen from the street [don't you love seeing lit up trees from the street???] a decorated it with all of those colored glass ball ornaments. It looks so pretty!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 2: Colors

Now, now, don't shy away from this post just because I am going to devote the entire thing to colors. You have no idea what I am going to do with this thing, so just sit tight and
During Christmas, there are certain colors that are on display more than others, and I LOVE that. Let's take a look at some, shall we?
I think the red stuff is bold and fun and really adds something special to everything. Stockings can be red, and I think traditional stockings are. But sometimes, just sometimes, red can be a little scary.
Green is beautiful. Green Christmas trees, green ornaments, green sweaters [come on, you know you have one]. Green is a staple Christmas color and very rarely is ever a bad idea. However, green ornaments have trouble showing up on your green tree. Very sad.


White is gorgeous. I really don't know what else to say about it. I love when there are white details involved in the decorations of Christmas. This year, we have opted for all white lights outside, and it is BEAUTIFUL.

Silver and Gold:
Yes, both of them at once. They don't usually appear for anything else, unless it's glitter, but I LOVE having silver and gold as a major part of the Christmas color scheme. Sometimes it's just tacky tinsel, but STILL! It's soooo pretty.
So basically, any and all of the colors individually are awesome. But when you put them together:
Aren't they fun??? Honestly, the colors of Christmas are some of the best colors you are ever going to find. Take a look around, and see if I'm not right.
PS. A special shout out to a break-out color of recent years: BLUE!

I'm hoping for a long run with this one.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 1: Joy

To kick off this year's Christmas Countdown, I thought I would talk about something that is so important to the holiday season, but doesn't usually get talked about. It's the magic of the season, the feeling that everybody gets around this time of year, the imperceptible change that makes the whole adventure from Thanksgiving to December 25th worth it.
It's JOY.
The Christmas season, with all of its lights and sounds and smells, with all of the memories, all of the presents and shopping and food and songs, is not about any of it. It centers around the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are celebrating His birth, the wondrous miracle that it was. He came down to earth to save us all, to atone for our sins, to ensure that if we are faithful and repent we can return to live with Him and our Father in Heaven after this life. He brought--and still brings--peace to the broken hearted, comfort to the wounded, happiness to the mournful, and heals all hurts.
When we think of Him, when we remember His birth, His life, His atonement, His death, and His resurrection, how can we not be filled with infinite gratitude? How can our hearts not be filled with joy?
That is the magic of the season. Though you will never find a bigger fan of Santa Claus than me, he is not the reason we celebrate. Christmas is about celebrating and honoring the birth of our Lord and Savior.
My heart thrills with joy and a million other emotions every time I hear the words of my favorite Christmas hymn.
Joy to the World , the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Saints and angels sing,
And Saints and angels sing,
And Saints, and Saints, and angels sing.

Rejoice! Rejoice when Jesus reigns!
And saints their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more will sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He'll come and make the blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Rejoice! Rejoice in the Most High
While Israel spreads abroad
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God,
And ever worship God,
And ever, and ever worship God.

I promise to have some lighter, more fun posts later on, but I wanted to start this off right.
Merry Christmas. God bless. And JOY to the world.