It’s Almost Christmas, Friday Five
Dec 20th, 2007 by Sonja

I haven’t played along with the RevGals Friday Five in a long, long time … but this one really caught my eye. So I thought I’d throw in my two cents for the day. Here’s the challenge from RevRodH:

I have debated with myself for weeks about today’s Friday Five.

* Self 1: It should be deep and theological.
* Self 2: But it’s almost Christmas, it should be fun and warm and sweet.
* Self 1: But your last Friday Five was sort of silly. You should show your more serious side.
* Self 2: You worry WAY too much!

So after consulting with my fourteen year old daughter, we’re going playful, pals o’ mine! I love stories, so I hope you’ll tell some about your favorite Christmas memories.

1. What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave:

This was the best all time Christmas moment ever. I don’t remember our respective ages … but I think I was in my early teens (say 13 or 14 … about the age that LightGirl is now). My next brother was about to turn 11 or 12 and my youngest brother was about 10. So this is about my youngest brother. He gave his Christmas list to our mother as we all did. There were several items on it … as all of ours had, but nothing stood out very much. My other brother and I decided to pool our resources and get him one of the items on the list, but we didn’t think too hard about it. It was just one of the items. We bought it and felt kinda good about it, but we were not attempting to get the “best” one or anything. We wrapped it up and felt a little bad, because it was very small and it came from both of us. But it was costly, so we just hoped he would know that.

Now, what you have to know about my youngest brother is that he is very tall. He’s always been tall for his age and when he was young he was very gangly. And at this time in my childhood we didn’t have any money for first hand furniture … we had cast-offs and lived in an old Vermont farmhouse with insulation for wallpaper. It was pretty stark, but we were generally speaking well-fed and happy. We heated with wood so the livingroom was always warm around the woodstove.

I can still remember the moment that my brother opened that gift. It was over 30 years ago. But it is still crystal clear in my mind. I can see him and where he was sitting on that old green sofa … between the woodstove and the window. He was all folded up because it was low to the floor and he carefully pulled the Buck Knife from it’s box, cradled it in his hands upon his knees and said over and over again, “Buck. Knife. WOW!” His eyes were huge and it was all he could do. Stare at that knife, cradle it in his hands and gasp. In my memory this went on for about 15 minutes. More likely it was two or three. But it made a huge impression on me. We still tell the tale between us siblings with huge foolish grins on all of our faces, about the gift with unexpected rewards for all of us.

2. What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.

Christmas morning Candy Cane Bread … yummy sweet bread made in the shape of a candy cane braided around maraschino cherries and apricots … served warm with confectioner sugar icing on top. I’d post the recipe … but it’s long and complicated. Hmmm … I’ll think about a link to a .pdf document. I have to give credit to my mother-in-law for this tradition. I don’t know where it came from before her, but I love it … so does everyone but LightGirl. She gets to start her own tradition when she has her own family. Ha!

Oh … I couldn’t stand it … I “need” those extra points 😀 LOL.  Here is a link to download the recipe.

3. What is a tradition that your family can’t do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.)

Having a big tree … as I discovered this year when I proposed having a small, living tree and was thoroughly ridiculed for it. It’s become a family joke. LightHusband has taken to calling me Moses because I want a “burning bush” as he calls my proposal for a small living tree to go with our reduced Christmas. So, apparently, my family cannot go without a big tree with all … every last one of the ornaments out, every last year.

4. Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the “work” of the holidays. What happens at your place?

Well, this is the first year in a long time that I have not been directly involved in anything churchy around Christmas. I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. My parents are coming to visit, but we realized too late that it should have been the other way around, we ought to have made plans to go to them. Eh … such is life.

5. If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected… what would it be?

Take my children and all the money we spend on Christmas and go to the local women’s shelter in January. When we get there, we’d sit down and find some families to befriend and walk with. I’m tired of Christmas and all of it’s pressure, both sacred and secular. It’s just too much. We ask too much. We do too much. We want too much. We don’t love enough. I’d want to love more. That’s it …

Phone Home
Dec 20th, 2007 by Sonja

Way back when … when was it now?

Oh yeah, back when I still had hope and faith in the political system of this country. That would be about 4 years ago. Maybe a little longer ago. It was back when Howard Dean’s campaign for president was gathering steam and before the powers that be in the Democratic party put their foolish heads together to decide that he was unfit. What a bunch of nincompoops. They chose John Kerry as the heir apparent. Because that was a good choice to run against George Bush. I said it then and I’ll say it now … idiots. So, it was late 2003 and I had some hope in our political system.

I joined a few of the grassroots political organizations that were popping up all over the place. I had hope that they might actually change some things around here. Iowa and then New Hampshire dashed my foolish hopes. And the election reminded me of harsh reality. But that’s another blog post.

In any case, I stuck with my memberships … but my activity was reduced to cynical and jaded readings of the e-mails that came through my in-box. One came through today from I usually just skim it in preview and delete them. But this one caught my attention. They are raising money to send phone cards to the troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and elsewhere. Okay, you got me now. I’m a sucker for the troops. I may despise the war, but the troops are another story altogether. Being the wife of a disabled veteran and having been married to the Army for umpty-ump years … I know the drill.

So I clicked through to see where it would take me. It took me to their donations page which also had an introduction talking about phone cards for troops. To best of my knowledge they are rounding up donations which will then be used to purchase phone cards for our service men and women in foreign lands. It will also be used to bolster the rolls of Eh … okay. Two birds, one stone. I get it. But I’d rather just get phone cards, so I did a little bit of searching … very little. I found two places that you can get phone cards for service men and women serving abroad in far away places. One is through the military’s post exchange system. You have to be military or retired military to purchase here, but this is by far the best buy. And it will get the cards into the hands of the troops the quickest and most efficient method possible. But … there is the caveat. Second is through the USO’s (United Service Organization) Operation Phone Home and they will get cards to the service men and women very quickly as well.

So, if you still have some money to do a good deed may I gently suggest that we have many military families in this country who would love to speak with their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters … well … you get the point. They hardly ever get to phone home and this would be a blessed gift of grace.

Military Card USO - Operation Phone Home

Standing Against the Tide
Dec 20th, 2007 by Sonja

I love the beach and the ocean. It’s always been a favored spot of mine. We haven’t been in a very, very long time. There was a time when we went, along with several other families, every October. It was an annual retreat to the Outer Banks. That has gone by the wayside now for a variety of different reasons, almost all of which point to a new season in our lives. I will have to find a new time and place to visit the ocean each year.

Stand against the wavesWhen I was a child one of my favorite things to do was to stand about knee deep or so and let the waves buffet me. I wanted to see how long I could stand before the outrushing tide swept the sand out from under my feet and I no longer had a foundation on which to plant myself. Could I curl my toes around enough sand to make a stand? Me against the elements! The horse she saith into the trumpets ha ha! And I played that game with myself for many long minutes, until the temptation of the waves and my brothers became too much and off we’d go to swim or build castles in the air or something equally delightful.

As an adult, I’ve tried this but it’s lost much of its charm. I’m stronger now and more adept. I can stand now in the face of all but the most outrageous waves. In fact, the waves that it takes to knock me down as an adult are really quite dangerous and I should not be standing out in them. The ocean holds other charms for me now.

I was reading through the blog-o-sphere this morning and came upon this at Bill Kinnon’s place:

One writer against Christmas went so far as to say that the shopkeepers for their own commercial purposes alone sustain Christmas Day. I am not sure whether he said that the shopkeepers invented Christmas Day. Perhaps he thought that the shopkeepers invented Christianity. It is a quaint picture, the secret conclave between the cheese-monger, the poulterer, and the toy-shop keeper, in order to draw up a theology that shall convert all Europe and sell some of their goods. Opponents of Christianity would believe anything except Christianity. That the shopkeepers make Christmas is about as conceivable as that the confectioners make children. It is about as sane as that milliners manufacture women.
— G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, January 13, 1906.

Bill, in dry spot, was quoting the inimitable Chesterton. Fancy that. It kinda got me thinking though. I had a conversation yesterday with BlazingEwe about the nature of stuff and why we have so much. And why we think we have to have more. Why we like to shop, etc. We have these sorts of conversations regularly. Because we both know we have too much stuff and we feel assaulted by the messages to get more all the time. I commented on Bill’s post that shopkeepers might not have invented Christmas, but they surely feast upon it. Yes, they do.

This quote got me thinking about the ways in which we attempt to stand against the tide as adults. Chesterton is both pithily correct and yet, wrong. We’ve long known that in the aftermath of the Depression and WWII, the shopkeepers did get together and consciously (or perhaps not) decide on the path of planned obsolescence in order to create markets and economies and desires for their products in the masses. It’s a very symbiotic relationship and this did not happen overnight, nor was it done in a vacuum without the consent and knowledge of said masses. We may like to pretend we didn’t know, but we know. We’ve bought into it on some level.

So what have we done? Over the years, the decades, the generations, we’ve allowed the powers and principalities to tell us and we’ve told each other that the way to express our love for each other is to buy bigger and better gifts for each other. We’ve done this. No one else has. We can point to the manufacturers, the advertisers, the shopkeepers, etc. But in the end, we have met the enemy and he is us. Gifts keep getting bigger. Credit card debt gets deeper. The advertising gets gnarlier. First it was radios. Then it was televisions. Now it’s big screen televisions complete with play stations. Or complete kitchen makeovers. The giving is enormous. There is jewelry, clothing, automobiles. Using one’s credit cards will allow one to compete for prizes such as the perfect gift (that will cause the special someone to swoon). ( Lest you think I’ve been watching too much television, a good friend has been working retail this year and many of my examples come from her.)

Now before you think I’m a grinch (though I am 😀 ), I don’t have anything against gifts to express our love. I just wonder if we haven’t derailed a bit. I wonder if there isn’t some other way that we can express how we feel about our loved ones. I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods with LightGirl. And in that series Laura Ingalls Wilder revealed an entirely different cultural expectation for love and how it was expressed. It was seen over and over again, not just during their several Christmas celebrations, but during the thick and thin of their lives. And … no, I’m not advocating a return to the prairie. I’m just thinking about how they expressed themselves to one another. The gifts they gave each other were rarely physical. When they were, the gift had a special significance that revealed something about the recipient’s character or the relationship between the giver and recipient. The gifts revealed a level of thought and care that are rarely seen these days.

As I reflected on Bill’s GKC quote, the things that have been disturbing me about Christmas giving were put to rest. I’m relatively unconcerned about whether or not a gift is handmade. I don’t care about how much or how little is spent. I want to know that the giver spent time and care thinking about me. Just as I spend time and care thinking about the people that I give gifts to. Giving is akin to a spiritual ritual for me and I don’t enter into it lightly. It is one of the places where I continue to curl my toes into the sand and attempt to stand against the tide. I still can’t keep my feet. I get knocked around fairly regularly by the waves. But I keep getting back up and trying again. It feels just about as useless as standing against the ocean, but she saith into the trumpets … ha ha!

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