My mother-in-law had a Thanksgiving Day tradition of stacking all her Christmas records on the record player spindle and playing them non-stop until New Years. That’s how we knew it was time to get ready for Christmas.
Even though retail establishments have been ready for Christmas for months, Black Friday is the day I start to get ready. (But I won’t go out shopping today. That would be crazy.)
I’ve probably already bought some Christmas presents. I hope I can remember what I bought and where I put them . . .
This is my process of holiday preparation:
- Now is when I make a list of all the people we want to give presents to, notated with gift ideas. My husband Greg and I divide the list and shop for our assigned people.
- Also, around this time people start asking me what I want for Christmas. So I have to think of something to tell them. One of the benefits of growing old is I either have everything I want, or I’ve lived without it for so long that I’ve learned to be content without it. I really don’t need anything. But loved ones appreciate a suggestion.
- Time to get out my Christmas jewelry: the jingle bell necklace, the snowflake earrings, the Nativity scene pin, and the wreath pin. I will be wearing these often in the next month.
- The next task is to send Christmas cards. When I was teaching elementary general music, there were years I didn’t send cards, because I was so tapped out with many concerts to prepare in addition to my teaching duties. I got home from work late every day and had no energy for correspondence. Happily, I no longer have that hardship.
I keep a Christmas card database with names and addresses. I print off mailing labels, so I can just sign the cards and put them in the mail (or hand-deliver to people I know I’m going to see). I usually buy Christmas cards on clearance. My favorites are the art cards from The Metropolitan Museum of Art store. You might want to request their catalog.
Go to Trader Joe’s and see if they still have any German Advent Calendars with a piece of chocolate for each day. (I may have already done this. Several times. I may or may not know what happened to said chocolate.) While I’m there, I’ll look for two other traditional German Christmas foods from my childhood: Stollen (a yeast bread with dried fruit and nuts baked in it) and Pfeffernüsse (round spice cookies covered with powdered sugar). These are mandatory. It is not Christmas if we don’t eat these.
- Then there’s the Christmas tree debate. My husband likes a cut tree—and he likes to put it up as close to Christmas as possible. (When Greg was a child, Santa put up the tree at his house when he delivered his presents.) I, on the other hand, think it’s wasteful to buy a tree that was cut down merely to decorate someone’s living room for a week or two. I’d be happy with an artificial tree that we could reuse year after year. When I was a mom-at-home, the tree was my domain. When I went to work full-time, Greg took over that chore with my blessing. Since I didn’t want the job of putting the tree up and decorating it (and taking it down and putting away all the ornaments), I acquiesced to Greg’s will.
Last year, the day we went out to the Christmas tree lot to buy our tree, the lot was closed, with no sign or anything to indicate what time it would be open for business. Not willing to wait around or come back later, I said, “They’re selling potted Norfolk pines at the grocery store.” Intrigued, Greg said, “Let’s take a look at them.”
Now, I have to confess—the previous year we bought a different potted tree with every intention of planting it in the yard after the holidays. Do you think I could have kept it alive until we got around to planting it? Maybe you’ve never seen my black thumb.
Norfolk pines have a high humidity requirement. They can’t be planted outside in the Arizona desert. But we bought a 3-foot tree, planning to try to keep it alive, this time inside. Greg named it Maurice. It drops lots of little branchlets (I don’t know if that’s a characteristic of the tree or if Zoe and Cloud, our cats, break them off when we’re not looking), but it’s four feet tall now, and it will be our Christmas tree this year.
- One more mandatory food item: homemade sticky buns for Christmas breakfast. I set them up the night before (they rise overnight), and the first thing I do when I get up Christmas morning is pre-heat the oven.
1 stick of butter, melted
¾ C. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ C. chopped nuts
1 package frozen dinner rolls
¾ package butterscotch pudding (the kind you cook, not instant)
Mix together: melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
Use a well-greased angel-food or Bundt cake pan. Place nuts in the bottom of the pan and distribute frozen rolls around the pan. Sprinkle the pudding mix over the rolls. Pour the butter/brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the rolls and cover the pan with a clean dishtowel. Let the pan sit on the counter overnight. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and carefully turn over onto a large plate.
Disclaimer: my children will always remember 1999 as the Christmas Mommy almost burned the house down. I made these buns for the first time in an angel-food pan and didn’t think to put the pan on a cookie sheet. As it baked, the brown sugar coating leaked out of the bottom of the pan and dripped onto the oven floor. Reasoning that it would be bad to cook the Christmas turkey in a sugary oven, I started the self-cleaning feature of the oven. Within minutes, the sugar ignited, the house filled with smoke, and flames shot out of the oven! My husband saved the day by turning off the cleaning cycle, and scraping the burnt sugar out when the oven cooled. The moral of the story: Put the pan on a cookie sheet!
- The most important thing I do to prepare for Christmas is meditate on the mystery of God incarnate. I think about what it must have been like for His young mother to endure questions concerning her pregnancy; how His parents became refugees in Egypt, fleeing the threat of His murder; about the pain and suffering He willingly endured for me, so that I might spend eternity in His presence. The peace of Christ be with you this season and always.