Christmas Eve Under the Arches 

(I wrote this for a newspaper contest when I was 14 and won, and now I’m making you read it, suckers, because I just rediscovered it in my basement excursions.)

Our family doesn’t have strict or ornate Christmas traditions. I’m not going to tell you about some fascinating cultured experience. After all, the Grimms are pretty much your average bunch of Americans. But one family ritual stands out above the rest in a quirky example of an unconventional Christmas.

That famed night sneaks up and we head for the Christmas vigil Mass as the stars prick the dark sky. After the Mass has ended and frazzled parents are chasing their giddy offspring in all directions, we have one destination that is set in stone: McDonald’s. Our car pulls up by the kiddie play place and the four of us emerge into the brisk night air, headed for the Golden Arches. Dressed in our Christmas finest, we slide into a vinyl seat and eat our meals from paper gags.

The Grimm clan has chosen Mickey D’s for Christmas Eve dinner ever since we moved to Tallahassee about seven years ago.

I think it was my father who suggested it as a joke, but the slightly insane tradition stuck. While many families are devouring beautifully prepared dinners in their dining rooms, we sit in a plastic booth and unwrap our Big Macs.

There are slight variations on the routine, because time alters traditions slowly. When we were younger, we insisted on playing on the slides and ball pits after popping off our little patent leather shoes.

Only forfeited when the weather was bitterly cold, we had the little plastic playground to ourselves and played to our hearts’ content. As tastes change, the meal we choose from the menu also changes. And alas! We kiddies are no longer devastated by not getting the toy we hoped for in our Happy Meals.

But many customs still withstand. Dad always teases us with the threat to take us back to church for Midnight Mass if we don’t behave. Mom always insists that we order whatever we want and top it off with big gooey sundaes, providing we clear our plates (so to speak). It’s quite an experience to munch calorie-laden food and shoot straw papers at your family while enjoying the fast-food restaurant that is so uncannily devoid of anyone else, much less a very cheery family like ourselves. The roads are always nearly deserted at 8 o’clock on Christmas Eve, and as the four of us coast home we absorb the vibrant holiday spirit bedecked on all the houses, and think of the morning to come.

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(Just a couple years after writing this contest entry, I met a boy I eventually married, a boy whose Christmas Eve birthday changed my traditions forever. These days, our family is divided between three states. My sister is vegetarian and doesn’t eat much McDonald’s; I have three children who already eat too much McDonald’s. But our family still manages to get ourselves to Mass, somehow, and we are still a very cheery family. Merry Christmas.)

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The Discipline of Christmas Cards

Since Pippin was born five years ago, I’ve been sending out photo Christmas cards each year. It’s an opportunity to take stock of what’s happened in the year, of what’s worth reporting, as I sift through pictures from the year and maybe add a message. It’s an opportunity to be grateful.

If you’ve had a new baby this year you can combine the Christmas card roster with birth announcements or baby gift thank you cards. And if you haven’t had any babies in this or any year STILL SEND ME A CARD. I want to see your face and I will leave your card hanging for an embarrassingly long time. (You can even take hilarious pictures of yourself with your pets, like my sister does.) Whatever you choose, you’re giving a little beauty to the people in your life.

It doesn’t have to be a big and expensive ordeal. Use your Google address spreadsheet. Buy postcards — they’re less expensive and require cheaper stamps, and you don’t have to write a long personal message. Timeliness isn’t that important. Send 12 Days of Christmas cards, or new year cards, if you’re getting a late start this year. If you get an early start next year, you can buy a voucher or get 50% off deals around Thanksgiving.

Watch a movie and knock out the whole set, or challenge yourself to address five a day. Sit beside the fire listening to Christmas music or a good audiobook.

Put in the effort and start your year off right — not with more stress but with a small, thoughtful hello to the people who have touched your life this year.

Your friends will be glad you did.

Do you send Christmas cards?

Commonplace Book, 42

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

 

What I’m fixing:

  • Still coasting on the kindness of others.
  • Suet, with the kids. Gross, I️ guess. But it uses up pantry odds and ends and seemed an appropriate activity for St Nicholas Day because, you know, generosity. We used:
    • melted bacon grease, beef fat, coconut oil
    • the last bits of: golden raisins, grits, oatmeal, sunflower seeds and chopped peanuts.
    • I read you could add cayenne to scare off other critters and since a friend recently found an opossum in our trashcan, we added some.

We poured the satisfyingly creepy brew into the silicone snowflake mold I thought would be awesome for compound butter (no) and set it on the porch to cool. Then we froze them, popped the pucks out and put one in the mesh bag you get with oranges or onions. Please don’t tell me if one of these ingredients will decimate the local avian population. The kids are so proud.

Classing up the neighborhood

What I’m reading:

  • 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest or Dad — found and shared by a friend. #4 and #5 made me laugh out loud.
  • How Chickens and Goats Are Helping to Stop Child Marriage
  • The Bear and the NightingaleI’ve been reading this Roo’s whole life (ha!) and can’t decide if it’s worth it or not. Anyone have an opinion one way or another?
  • A Christmas Carolwhich J is reading aloud to me and the kids after the dinner. I think Pippin is getting maybe 10-20% and Scout none at all, but we are communicating something we love, and it’s time we might otherwise allot to TV or more chores. Instead, we sit around the Advent wreath and then the fireplace and kids snuggle with us and we slow down just a bit, and if that’s all they take away from the reading this year, that still seems like a wonderful start.

 

In other news, occasionally Roo deigns to open her eyes now
This time last year:

    I’ll Be Home for Christmas

    You’re pretty burnt out by this point. You have one or two or five little Christmas elves actively undoing all you clean. Or you’re packing to go out of town and someone’s velvet Christmas dress doesn’t fit, nor will everything cram in the car.

    Either you have your Christmas presents ready to go and are trying desperately to find places to hide them, or you don’t have them yet and don’t know when you’ll shop without the recipients riding around in your shopping cart.

    Maybe your car is accumulating snow melt water on the floorboards as you drive from errand to errand. Maybe it’s not snowing yet, but the 40 degree rain is as bad. Maybe this was supposed to be your quiet, contemplative Advent.

    On the radio, in the car, in the stores, at your kid’s lame Christmas concert, are fairly ridiculous secular Christmas songs. They jar in your head hours afterwards. But some of the lyrics linger:

    “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

    I’ll be home for Christmas, where the love-light gleams.”

    Why are so many Christmas songs about home? It’s something I noticed while driving around snowy Western Mass a couple Advents ago, morning sick and homesick. Pip was in the backseat, J on a multi-state interview tour, Scout a tiny Charizard in my belly, and everything was in flux. The radio played, I drove to Target for pregnancy-craving beef jerky, I cried. There’s no place like home for the holidays, indeed.

    Maybe you’ve had Christmases like that, where nowhere in particular felt like home, or you longed for Christmases past. (“They’re singing ‘Deck the Halls’ but it’s not like Christmas at all…“).

    And now you have a home where the love-light gleams if only you could find it under half-written Christmas cards and cookie sheets that still need cleaning.

    Advent is about making room, in practical ways, in lofty, interior ways. We give away toys, carve out space for the tree, try to find a little extra time in our day. We make space for the people, like Mary and Joseph, who needed a comfortable place to rest.

    Embrace hygge. Embrace the shabby hospitality Mary extended to shepherds and kings alike. All you can do is what you must, as kindly as possible.

    Advent can’t always be contemplative and slow, or picture-perfect, either, and Christmases can’t always be white. But if we look real hard, I do believe the love-light is there, in our homes, in our churches. And our work, as homemakers, to amplify that light, to keep it alive, is nothing short of the work of story and song.

    “Make your house fair as you are able,
    Trim the hearth and set the table.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the guest, is on the way.”

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    Advent: candles, wreathes, take out, pajamas.