Category Archives: holidays

Valentine’s Day. Oh Goodie!

I have no objections to Valentine’s Day in principle.  I think it’s rather nice to take a day to remember romance and sweetness and courtship.  Heaven knows, there’s far too little of any of that around these days.  What gets to me is the practice of Valentine’s Day.

  • It’s really nobody’s fault, but the date of Valentine’s Day, February 14th, does nothing to help matters.  If you live in most places in the northern hemisphere, February weather is typically dreary and cold.  Cold ranging from a damp chill to frostbite on exposed skin.  Am I the only one who would much rather tuck in under flannel sheets than satin ones?  Lacy satin or silk lingerie?  Umm…no thanks.  How about something in red flannel or fleece instead?  Oh, and socks, too, since my feet get cold.  You see, wearing anything from Victoria’s Secret would require me to hike the thermostat up at least 7 or 8 degrees, and I don’t see that happening.
  • The other bad thing about February is that it’s one of the sickest months on the calendar.  If you have kids, you know what I’m saying.  Your little ones are sharing a whole lot more that cute little Disney valentines with their classmates.  It is a challenge to focus on romance when at least one person in your household is stricken with a cold, stomach bug, strep throat, flu, sinus headache, and so on.  Parents would do much better sending their kids to school on Valentine’s Day with mini bottles of hand sanitizer to share with their chums instead of cards and candies.
  • Over the last few years, I have developed a real loathing for greeting cards.  This is the case for cards for any occasion, Valentine’s Day included.  Oh, the melodrama.  “Through all the years together, your love has remained unconditional.”  Really.  No ups and downs, no quarrels or disappointments?  And I run far away from anything that rhymes: “Love is a miracle, sweet as can be, that will always remain a complete mystery.”  Ahem.  I have reverted back to making my own cards like I used to when I was a kid and couldn’t get to the store to buy one.  Or I simply write a note.  Handwritten notes are by nature more intimate and show actual heart-felt emotion, so this is a good thing.  I don’t write poetry.  Sometimes I find a photograph that will remind Darling Husband of a sweet memory.  Or I’ll write a letter like I used to when we were just dating.  It may not be epic poetry written in ornate, looping script, but it’s sincere.
  • Gifts for Valentine’s Day are tricky.  A lot of men probably agonize over what to give that is both romatic and perceived as valuable.  Jewelry implies a serious commitment, and lingerie means something else entirely.  Stuffed animals…is there a woman who really wants a pink teddy bear??  Flowers are lovely, but you do know that the price of those arrangements mysteriously skyrockets around February 14th, don’t you?  For women, the options are limited.  Men don’t really want boxers with hearts on them–or heart anything for that matter.  I suppose some men might appreciate chocolate.  Let’s face it.  Ladies really have to get creative.

I tucked Darling Husband’s gift into his briefcase today.  It wasn’t at all expensive (free, in fact), but it did cost me a lot. It was terribly personal–a small piece of myself and so, a risk.  I’m more excited about his reaction to it than if I had given him something really elaborate and pricey.  Here’s my dilemma, though, his birthday falls fairly close to Valentine’s Day, which falls close on the heel of Christmas.  That results in a string of gifts.  How will I top this gift?  It’s likely I won’t.  Sorry, dear.  I promise I won’t get you a rhyming birthday card, though.

 

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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas…a Frasier Fir Hits the Curb

Merry Christmas!!  Is it still appropriate to say that on the 12th day?  In many countries, children look forward to celebrating Three Kings Day, when they will receive presents and treats from the Kings.  Feasts and festivals surround the occasion and often involve the communal packing away of Christmas nativities and decorations.  And in some parts of the world, Christmas will be celebrated tomorrow, January 7th.  Our Orthodox Christian brethren in Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, and elsewhere follow the old Julian calendar, which is 12 days behind the modern calendar.  Thus, their Feast of the Nativity falls on January 7th.

How strange it must be for those Orthodox Christians in the United States, and there are some.  I once worked with a guy who took his Christmas vacation just as everyone else in the office was returning from theirs.  I suppose one would have to become a really early shopper to plan a successful Orthodox Christmas celebration.  Imagine going to Target or Wal-Mart today in search of Christmas gift wrap or ornaments!  You might be able to score something at 75% off, but it would be the leftovers.  My Target, for example, had only hot pink Christmas lights left.  And what about a tree?!  The only way to have a real tree would be to put it up at least 2 weeks early, when the tree lots are trying to unload the last of their stock.  You could only hope it would last this long without shedding every last needle or bursting into flame.

I’m proud to say that my Christmas tree still stands today.  My outdoor Nativity remains lit.  In fact, we are the last house on the block with Christmas decorations still fired up, although my cedar garland didn’t make it this long.  We got lucky this year.  With Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays, the municipal trash collection schedule permits us to keep our tree these last days of Christmas.  Sad as it sounds, we are dictated to by the city waste management, which will only collect discarded Christmas trees on the 2 regular trash pick-up days after Christmas.  Miss those and your alternatives are hauling the tree to the landfill yourself or chopping it up into a 4 x 4 pile for pick up with other yard debris.  Tyranny, I say!!

That’s the price we pay for living in suburbia.  In past years, when we lived on the edge of woods, we would drag our tree into the woods, where it would become part of the natural habitat.  We could go the extreme route our neighbors took one year.  They held a tree-burning party in the middle of the cul-de-sac.  Of course, they were lucky no one called the police of the fire department.  You need a permit for that sort of thing, after all.

To any other die-hards out there, a very merry Twelfth Day of Christmas to you and yours!

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O, Tidings of Comfort and Joy

It is 2 days before Christmas, and like most everyone else, I have lots to do.  The best I can do today is a post of random thoughts on the holiday, my own preparations, and various observations.

  • The number of days remaining until Christmas is inversely proportional to the number of hours your cat wants to spend in your lap.  That was for the math-y types out there.  Here’s how it works:  As the number of days until Christmas decreases, the hours with kitty in lap increases.
  • If you are loaded up with inspiration but lack motivation, avoid home decorating blogs in the week prior to Christmas.  Yes, it’s fun to see what incredibly creative people do with greens from their own back yards or coffee filters or feathers.  However, those of us who have spent the last several weeks focused on surviving through Christmas concerts and college applications only feel like slackers when they compare this creativity to their own meager attempts to deck the halls.
  • Since when has the classification of Christmas carols become so broad?  If a song mentions a gift or winter, is it Christmas Carol worthy?  Joni Mitchell’s “River” is a huge downer that has nothing to do with Christmas.  “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music mentions snowflakes and mittens, so it must be about Christmas, right?
  • I’m pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of Nativity Scenes as part of outdoor Christmas decorations in my neighborhood.  I don’t recall seeing so many last year.  I wonder if it’s due to the impending societal collapse that’s sure to come in the New Year, or if people are just finding Jesus now in anticipation of the Mayan End-of-the-World prediction for 2012.  Whatever the case, I say, keep them coming!
  • Midnight Mass is at 11 pm.  I know midnight is late, but come on.

Wishing you joy and true peace as you celebrate the birth of the Savior.

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Just Stop It: Admonitions for the Season

I know.  I know.  Peace on earth, goodwill toward men and all that.  Really, though, there must be some things we all agree are tacky and unsightly during this festive time of year.  I posted not too long ago about some rules for Halloween.  Naturally, I have some thoughts on what is and is not appropriate for Christmas.

Do you have one of these in your yard?  Then you are already an offender.  And this cheery Santa with his elf isn’t even the worst inflatable out there.  I have seen–with my own eyes–Santa in a hammock under a palm tree, every imaginable cartoon character decked out for Christmas, and even an inflatable nativity scene.  9 times out of 10, people don’t anchor these things properly, and they end up doubled over like Santa with severe abdominal pain.  Even worse, though, is when they look like this:

This looks like the aftermath of a drive-by shooting.  So…if you are going to commit yourself to an inflatable, why wouldn’t you keep it inflated??  Yeah, you can operate lights on a timer so they go off in the daylight.  An inflatable is a round-the-clock thing.  Otherwise, get out the crime scene tape.

Hey, ugly Christmas decor isn’t limited to outdoors, either.  I was at one of those high-end type discount retailers a few weeks ago and spotted some truly awful specimens.  I suppose someone finds them oh-so-chic, but this pair just frightens me:

I think they are meant to be reindeer, but where these were made (Taiwan, Bangladesh??) perhaps the native language confuses reindeer with giraffe.  I guess you could call this one the cuddlier version:

Notice how soft and huggable it looks in that neon green velvet.

Perhaps where you live, it’s cold enough for cozy hats and scarves.  Around here, we are just beginning to see some chilly temperatures.  Nevertheless, it seems like I can’t go anywhere without seeing one of these hideous things:

Have you seen these animal hats?  Mind you, these are actually hats for adults.  With fur.  And ears.  How can I put this nicely?  If you are over the age of 10, you have no business wearing a furry hat with animal ears and long, draping…what are those?  Arms?  Grow up, people.  It’s not cute on you; it’s disturbing.  And even if you are an elementary school age youngster, who told you that sort of hat was appropriate attire for church?  And I’m not referring to:  “It’s cold outside.  I need to wear a hat to church.”  Unless you worship in the great outdoors in near-freezing temperatures, TAKE OFF THE HAT!!  In other words, this is NOT the perfect gift.

Last but not least, a word about LED Christmas lights.  Yuck.  That’s the word.  I don’t care how much energy they save; they are just plain awful.  I don’t care if the box says the light from that string is “Warm.”  There’s nothing warm or inviting about it.  Did you ever see the classic Tom Hanks movie “Joe Versus the Volcano?”  (It’s hilarious in an “Office Space” sort of way.)  LED Christmas lights remind me of this scene:

I know the idea behind them is all of this “green” business.  In this case, green is what you get instead of that cozy glow of incandescent Christmas bulbs.

So there you have it.  My top gripes for the holidays.  Well, at least for today.  Does that make me a Grinch?  Perhaps under the glow of your LED lights it does.

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Where Are You, Christmas?

“Where are you Christmas?  Why can’t I find you?”  I’m sort of a fan of that Faith Hill song, although I really dislike the scary live-action Grinch movie it came from.  Welcome to the first week of December, and I can’t seem to get into the spirit of the season.  Cue the Alan Silvestri song: “It’s the spirit of the season/ you can feel it the air/ you can hear it if you listen/ everywhere so much care like a prayer.”

Hmmm.  I wouldn’t exactly call what I have been hearing since late October “so much care like a prayer.”  Yesterday, I saw a Wal-Mart commercial on TV.  It featured a catchy tune with children gaily threatening their parents to hurry up and get downstairs because Christmas morning is here at last.  The corresponding video shows the little cherubs forcing their sleeping parents’ eyes open.  Wait.  It gets better.  Did you happen to catch the “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” on television Tuesday night?  Too bad I missed it.  Maybe that was exactly what I needed to get me into the Christmas spirit: models wearing only underwear prancing up and down with wings strapped to their backs, all to the holiday musical stylings of Kanye West.

Perhaps if I started decorating the house I would find some Yuletide cheer.  As ever, mine is the only house in the cul-de-sac still sporting mums and pumpkins on December 2nd.  My neighbors have all plugged in the Christmas lights, and they seem to have opted for bigger and brighter this year.  Wreaths in every window, lights lining the eaves, perfect net lights adorning every shrub.  One wonders how they do it with only one freaking outdoor outlet.  Think of the money they must sink into extension cords.  I just can’t get beyond the 3-prong, 2-prong thing.  How is it that I always end up with incompatible lights and cords and outlets?

SuzyQ reminded me the other day that it’s time to start working on the annual family Christmas letter.  She’s right, but I’m wondering what’s the point.  Last year I think I received about a dozen Christmas cards.  I know I sent out a lot more than that.  I put a lot of effort into writing that letter, writing a personal note in each card, and addressing them all for the mail.  In return, most of the cards I get are those photo cards with pictures of people’s kids (Cute, but I’m not friends with them) and a signature.  I do have one old friend who hand-writes paragraphs about her family every year.  God Bless Her.  Maybe that’s why I bother.

So I see that on Monday night, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is scheduled to air.  Perhaps that’s what I need.  First of all, Snoopy always makes me happy.  Secondly, it’s hard to “Bah Humbug” after hearing those famous lines by Linus:

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 host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'” That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

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The Eve of Thanksgiving, or Franksgiving

At this moment, I should be up to my elbows in pie crust, bread dough, and cake batter.  Instead, I’ve decided it’s much more important to update you, my dear readers, on the latest from suburbia as Thanksgiving approaches.

At my house, the guest bed is waiting to be made up in anticipation of visitors.  A 15 lb. turkey is thawing nicely; I hope it’s big enough.  My menu for tomorrow is traditional and simple.  Family gatherings are stressful enough without wondering if a new recipe will go over well.  As much as I would like to decorate and set a gorgeous table, I’ll settle for just the good china on the table and clean bathrooms and a tidy family room.

In my neighborhood, folks are getting an early start on their Christmas decorations.  Last night, as I returned home from a Thanksgiving prayer service, I counted 4 homes with Christmas lights blazing on just the few streets that make up my usual route.  Nothing new there.  In fact, I wrote a post about it last year.

So what’s the deal with “Franksgiving?”  I discovered a fascinating piece of history about American  Thanksgiving that I’m sure I was never taught in school.  According to Wikipedia:

Abraham Lincoln’s successors as president followed his example of annually declaring the final Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving. But in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke with this tradition.  November had five Thursdays that year (instead of the usual four), and Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving rather than the fifth one. Although many popular histories state otherwise, he made clear that his plan was to establish the holiday on the next-to-last Thursday in the month instead of the last one. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate. Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy’s), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving back a week to expand the shopping season.

Republicans decried the change, calling it an affront to the memory of Lincoln. People began referring to Nov. 30 as the “Republican Thanksgiving” and Nov. 23 as the “Democratic Thanksgiving” or “Franksgiving”.

Huh.  Who knew that retail craziness extended all the way back to The Great Depression?   After all these years, then, retailers still push the limits to get even more shoppers in the door on Black Friday.  I can’t get too excited about various stores deciding to open their doors at midnight instead of 4 or 6 a.m.  I kinda feel bad for the store employees, but they’ve got to realize by now that working in retail brings crappy hours.  Get over it.  Military members, first responders, medical professionals all get stuck working on holidays, too.  I don’t feel at all sorry for the people who want to be first in line at the doors of Wal-Mart.  Yeah, they probably have to eat their turkey dinner at 8 a.m. or even the day before Thanksgiving to win a place at the front of the line.  If saving a hundred bucks on a flat screen TV means more to them than enjoying the holiday, that’s their problem with priorities, not mine.

I’m not a die-hard Black Friday shopper.  I have lined up outside of Target in the past.  It wasn’t pleasant.  People were either jovial and giddy or downright nasty jerks.  It rained and was cold.  I had my sister with me to make the best of it, though, and we did manage to snag the items we had our eyes on.  I haven’t made up my mind about this Black Friday yet.  I think the forecast is for rain, so I might have an easy decision.  You most certainly will NOT find me in the line snaking around Wal-Mart.

Now the mixer and flour bin beckon.  I leave you with the words of George Washington:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits…[may we] then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country…, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence,…for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness,…for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

May we be truly thankful.

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Some Random Post-Veterans Day Thoughts

Veterans Day fell on a Friday this year.  Hot Dog!! A 3-day weekend!!  That’s the widely shared sentiment, right?  The media generally pays lip service to veterans on this national holiday, and this year was no different.  News shows aired some moving stories about aging World War II veterans as well as currently serving vets.  Sports broadcasters took a few moments to recognize those who serve.  All levels of government and most schools closed in honor of the day.

The cynic in me knows, however, that a 3-day weekend for Veterans Day really means a weekend getaway, a shopping extravaganza, or at the very least, 3 straight days to sleep in.  A Tuesday Veterans Day, on the other hand, is just an interruption in the week.  You can’t make any big plans because you have work or school the next day.

I try to do something meaningful each year on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, etc.  This year, I dragged the whole family to daily Mass at 7:30 a.m.  Our parish church had a special celebration in honor of veterans along with a flag raising ceremony at the parish school.  I live in an area with a huge concentration of military families, both active-duty and retired; and my parish has experienced the loss in combat of several parishioners during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Mass was fairly well-attended for such an early hour on a Friday morning.  It got me thinking, though:

  • Where are the young veterans?  Perhaps many of them had to work if they don’t hold a government job.  Certainly in my area, though, the number of folks who either work as civilians for the government or serve on active-duty is enormous.  In a parish of 2000 families, only a handful felt this was an event worth attending?  Of course, this is a question asked by many veterans organizations, too, according to this Fox News story.
  • Are older vets more proud of their service than younger ones?  At church that morning, many white-haired veterans donned their old uniforms for the occasion.  Those who were not in uniform wore jackets or pins or ribbons announcing their service affiliation.  Young veterans don’t often do this.  You just don’t see them sporting “Proud to Have Served” apparel.  And most young active-duty service members are loath to put on a uniform when not on duty.
  • Speaking of uniforms, I saw a veritable timeline of uniforms on Friday morning.  One old chap wore his green Service Uniform with the pants tucked into his boots.  This seemed unusual.  I think it has something to do with being a member of an air assault unit.  Incidently, I have since learned that the green Service Uniform has been phased out in favor of a blue version.  No more olive army green??  The new blue uniform was on display, too.  You can always count on the Marines to appear smartly dressed, and the Marine dress uniform never seems to change.  The Navy Service Dress Blue is pretty consistent as well.  Air Force uniforms are a different story altogether.  They change every few years, bouncing from commercial airline pilot look to Army copycat to a WWII throwback style.  Good luck with all that.
  • Military discounts for Veterans Day are great…except when they aren’t.  I shopped at an XXI store (I think this is part of the Forever 21 brand.) over the weekend.  When the clerk saw my military ID, he stated that they were offering a 15% discount for military in honor of Veterans Day.  The catch was that if I took the discount, the merchandise would be considered Final Sale–no returns.  What’s with that??   Strings attached?
  • Finally, if you are the President of the United States placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month: GET THERE ON TIME!!

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