Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar: Christmas Eve

I'm giving my grandma a break from my incessant interviews. Afterall, it is the holidays. Oh, and I'm sorry about the lack of photos. My photos are on my computer, but I left the power cord back in Texas, but I will add photos later.

I have never really thought of my family as being a family big on tradition, but as you "melt and merge" new families together, you realize all the small things that go into making the holidays wonderful for your family. My family always gathers together on Christmas Eve to listen to Christmas music ushered in by radio personality Delilah. We sit around the Christmas tree and open one special gift. When we were really young we got to open up a set of pajamas, but as we got older we received an ornament. My grandma Mary Ellen usually comes over to take pictures and gives my mom an ornament. Afterwards, my little brother and sister put their homemade gingerbread cookies and Pepsi out for Santa (The Pepsi thing started when my other sister and I were younger because we are lactose intolerant and apparently Santa is too.). They then sprinkle their reindeer food on the front lawn and run off to bed where they pretend to sleep. Everyone else stays up super late trying to cook and get the rest of the presents wrapped. We also set out the presents from Santa creating a picture perfect scene.

Last year, My mom gave me all of the ornaments that I had been given throughout the years to place on my own tree. All the decorations match on my tree, so instead of putting them on my tree, I put them on garland throughout our house. Ben and I decided to take up the old tradition of giving pajamas to each other on Christmas Eve. We really enjoy the pajamas because we stay in our pajamas all day on Christmas.

For the first time last year we had a dinner on Christmas Eve in addition to out Christmas day dinner with all of my mom's side of the family. Everyone came over to our apartment and I hosted our Christmas Eve party. I made bread and fresh Crab chowder with plenty of sides. We ate yummy food and opened presents from each other. This year we are doing something similar with Ben's family. They have their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, so we will be going over to my brother and sister in-law's for dinner tonight. I'm still unclear on many of their other traditions, but I will report back with more details later.

Advent Calendar: Deceased Relatives

I am writing this post in snowy Minnesota right now. My husband and I are visiting his family to celebrate a white Christmas, which is certainly something we wouldn't get in Texas or with my family in Arizona. I will certainly write more on my trip later, but I need to catch up on my Advent Calendar stuff.

It was rather ironic that the post for the 22nd was on deceased relatives when that happens to be my grandmother's birthday. I called to interview her about her relatives on the 21st because I didn't want her to start her birthday on a somewhat melancholy note.

It turns out that my grandmother has two people whose deaths affected the holiday season. The first and most notable for my grandmother was her Aunt Eliza. My grandmother lived with her aunt after her mother passed away when she was four months old. This aunt raised her until she was 12 years old and most of my grandmother's previous stories reference her. Although Aunt Eliza died in the summer, her death impacted that year's Christmas. My grandmother went to live with her aunt Carrie in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Aunt Carrie understood how tough it must have been for my grandmother and her siblings to leave their "mother" so she tried to compensate during Christmas time. Aunt Carrie asked for plenty of input from the kids about their previous Christmas traditions. She made all of the same food and bought plenty of gifts. The kids had so many presents and different kinds of food that it turned out to be a wonderful Christmas. They really enjoyed themselves that year. Aunt Carrie successfully carried out a Christmas that allowed all of the children to enjoy every last moment and not experience the sadness that seemed pending.

When my grandmother was all grown up and married with kids her father passed away on New Year's Eve. She knew he was sick, but she had no idea that he was terminally ill. He died from cancer at age 59. My grandmother never really got the chance to live with her father and get to know him except for a few months when she was in her late teens. After her mother died her father remarried a woman who did not want his children around, so they were shipped off to family who would take them in. When he died my grandmother received a phone call from her sister notifying her of his death. They didn't really do too much to remember him except talk on the phone together. She didn't cry and she didn't dwell on things that she could not change. She accepted his unexpected death and continued on her with her life.

As I tried to extract the details of these deaths from grandmother's memory I found out about a key characteristic within my grandmother that allowed her to survive tough times. Optimism. Optimism keeps my grandmother from getting bogged down by events. She doesn't dwell or lament that which she cannot change. I suppose her ability to live in the present and her unfaltering optimism in all that she does helps her get through some of the tough things that she has endured. I never even realized the difficulties that she encountered throughout her life. She doesn't tell her stories as if things may have been difficult or trying. She always looks back with fondness and optimism. When I try to press her about feelings or difficulties she brushes me off and says "Natasha, you can't dwell on that sort of stuff, you acknowledge it and continue on, but you don't dwell."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Calendar: Carols and music

When My grandmother was a child she would go over to her cousin Amy's on Christmas day. Cousin Amy enjoyed carols and listening to the kids sing them to her. She inspired the kids by making them feel important and like "grown ups" because she made sure their voice was heard. Choosing what carols to sing in a time when children were supposed to be seen and not heard really empowered my grandma Katie. While they sang carols, cousin Amy played along on her accordion. No wonder cousin Amy made such an impact, who wouldn't be inspired by someone who could play the accordion?

These Christmas music sessions instilled a life long love for Christmas carols in my grandmother. When she started a family of her own they spent Christmas Eves sitting together, enjoying food, and singing carols. One year Grandma Katie decided that the family would sing and act out the "12 Days of Christmas" together. The whole family had a great time laughing at each other and bonding as a family. Apparently, my grandmother got so busy directing the kids and trying to make sure that everyone remembered their parts that she ended up being the one forgetting which part she was supposed to be singing. In the end it didn't matter because they all had a ton of fun "hamming" it up together.

My nuclear family never put a big emphasis on singing with one another, but I think that's only because none of us can actually sing :) It will be interesting to see the role that music plays in my new family. Ben is quite talented when it comes to anything having to do with music. He writes his own music and plays really well by ear. He was even the organist in our church. Unfortunately, he thinks I'm tone deaf. Perhaps everyone else will sing, and I will be relegated to shaking the tambourine or something.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar: Stockings

My family has always had a lot of trouble keeping track of our stockings. We would always have about a billion different red and white stockings floating around our Christmas stuff. We would take glitter and glue and write our names in cursive on the stockings, but without fail by the following year some of the glitter would come off. By that point a stocking would be missing and we'd have to buy a new stocking for someone. The dog would get an old stocking with somebody's glitter remnants. Every few years we would end up buying and redoing all new stockings because we couldn't stand the slight variations in red coloring, size, or texture.

The stocking fiasco still continues yearly at my family's house, but I can't stand that sort of uncertainty. I mean, the suspense over whether or not your stocking is MIA is almost too much to handle. Plus, there was a fair amount of stocking hijacking going on. It is amazing how a little squinting and creative peeling of glitter glue can make the name Natasha look like Brittney and vice versa.

Last year I seized the opportunity to rid myself of the stocking conundrum by buying beautifully embroidered stockings from Pottery Barn. Yes, I spent a little more initially, but the happiness that the matching orderly stockings brings me is priceless. Maybe I'm bland and boring for not making my own or making sure everybody has something different, but I'm alright with boring. Boring is aesthetically pleasing.
My stockings look like they are straight out of a warm and inviting catalog photo...and they are!!! I have the peace of mind that when I have children I will not have to spend forever searching through piles and piles of stockings to find one that only kind of matches. Nope, that won't be me because I can't do kind of matching. It must match exactly (did I mention I have OCD?). When the time comes I will just hop on my computer and go to the Pottery Barn website and fill out my order that will ship to me in 5-10 business days. When the time comes to get another stocking there will be no fight over glitter pen colors, no arguing over the prettier imitation velvet, and no lost stockings. Just a couple taps on the enter button and I will have another perfectly matching stocking. The simplicity of it all kind of makes me giddy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Continuing the Food Theme

Food during the holidays is a big thing for my family. A really BIG thing. We always have a billion different dishes for our holiday dinners and I always thought that that was pretty much normal, until I met my dear husband, Ben. His family does not really emphasize food during Christmas and Thanksgiving, which is something I will need to get used to. I mean, we are talking two different ends of the spectrum on the food menu thing. My family would use an excel spreadsheet to coordinate their holiday dishes, while Ben’s family sometimes didn’t even cook anything special on Christmas Eve or Day when he was growing up.
I informed Ben that Christmas without the dinner is not really Christmas. In fact, it is pretty much just a birthday, well, without cake. Like I said, pretty different. Of course, this piece of information is something Ben forgot to tell me before we got married. Not that our eternal marriage would have hinged on something like that, I’m just saying, it would have been nice to take into consideration. He has also failed to mention this detail during the last couple Christmases he has spent with my family. He actually mentioned very little about his family’s Christmas celebration besides the fact that they read Luke 2 on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t until our sister-in-law called a few days ago to tell me about their Christmas traditions (thank goodness she realized that I might need some prepping) that I found out they did things differently. I’ve been trying to prepare myself mentally for the change. Tonight we had our ward Christmas party and I made sure to eat plenty of turkey, ham, green bean casserole, and ham. I’m not sure if it will hold me over until next holiday season, but here’s to hoping. If not, we will just have to have Christmas dinner on Ben’s birthday.

In all seriousness, this will be my first Christmas away from my family and I’m a little sad, but I’m also excited to see Ben’s family and experience Christmas with them in Minnesota.

Advent Calendar Day 17: Christmas Dinner in Warren County

We have always had a really wonderful spread of food during the holidays. My mom would spend quite some time coordinating all the dishes. Calls would be made and items assigned. We usually have at least two turkeys, one ham and about a dozen side dishes (not including desserts) for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has been this way for as long as I can remember, and it seems that this abundance of food hearkens back to when my grandmother was a child.

My grandmother who grew up in a small town called Cedars in Warren County outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi shared with me her memories of food during the holidays. Christmas revolved around the big dinner and treats. The children would spend the day going from one house to another acquiring yummy desserts. Children would rush to my grandmother’s house where her aunt Eliza Winston would give away coveted pecan popcorn balls along with apples and oranges. My grandma would spend her time collecting goodies and would save a special portion of her day to go with her cousin Sunny to visit their cousin Amy. Cousin Amy loved to have the kids over and would lay out a white tablecloth and serve pie while the kids sang Christmas carols to her. After they visited all the neighbors they would go back home for a real feast, although I am unsure how they could possibly have room for any more food after all of those desserts.

Throughout the day Aunt Eliza cooked up a storm to ensure that they had a variety of food and treats. The preparations started a few months in advance when they slaughtered two hogs. Her Uncle would smoke the ham in their smokehouse. They would give away the meat of one hog to several families and keep the other for holiday feasts. Another interesting tidbit about their Christmas dinner is they would eat chicken instead of turkey. They had their own chickens that were big and fat. They would kill two chickens and stuff them for dinner. Along with the meat, they had an assortment of collards and plenty of desserts. They ate coconut, chocolate, and jelly cake. Each cake consisted of at least 3 layers. Sweet potato, pumpkin, lemon, peach, and apple are a few of the different types of pies prepared for Christmas dinner. They even had all sorts of roasted nuts. Aunt Eliza made her Fruitcake soaked in brandy the month before so that it would be ready in time for Christmas. My grandma is especially fond of the different candy they ate, Her favorite was a

sweet candy that she fondly remembers as a strip of fat, which sounds gross to me, but she explained that she called it that because the different colors made it look like fat. The candy is rather sweet in reality.

My Grandmother and her family didn’t have a lot of the material things but they certainly always had plenty of food.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Calendar: School Celebrations in Rural Mississippi and Germany

I have decided to focus mostly on my dad’s side of the family for these posts since my maternal grandmother is already covering that side of the family.

I really enjoyed listening to my grandma Katie tell me how her town celebrated Christmas at school. It felt particularly significant once I made the connection that her memories speak of a time before integration.

She grew up in a rural area of Mississippi during the thirties and forties. School celebrations turned into town celebrations inviting everyone to participate. Each family would contribute a few items to the after school party to make for a wonderful gathering. My grandmother’s family liked to bring pecan pies and cookies. Her brothers would climb up the pecan trees and shake the branches until pecans rained down upon the girls below. The girls would then pick up all the pecans and carry them home. At night they would stay up and shell the pecans, so their mother could bake with them during the day. My grandmother's mom (aunt) would chop all the nuts and turn them into delicious treats. They even grew their own peanuts, which they would make peanut brittle with and take to the party.

At the party everyone enjoyed the many delicious Christmas delicacies but the real fun was in the socializing. They participated in several different types of competitive games led by the teacher. They played games like potato sack race, family
board games, and this game where they would have to push an egg from one point to another with their noses. Apparently, games like the egg game were mostly for the boys because the girls were decked out in beautiful dresses. These dresses were handmade and consisted of very heavy fabric. In the absence of polyester, they would use a special kind of brocade silk and cotton to make beautiful winter dresses to adorn the girls with for this special occasion.

As for me, my earliest memories of school holiday celebrations are from my time living in Germany. We would celebrate Sankt Nikolaus day in early December. We would listen to the story of Sankt Nikolaus and leave our shoes lined up in the school hallway. Later when we went to get our shoes Sankt Nikolaus would have filled our shoes with candy and trinkets.

As I got older school holidays were getting phased out, so I don’t have too many memories of school holiday celebrations. I do remember that some of the schools I went to had a special store that the kids could go into and buy presents for family members. The gifts weren’t anything extravagant and were actually on the cheap side, but it made us feel happy to pick out gifts all by ourselves.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent Calendar Holiday Happenings

I know I haven't posted in a while, but I have decided to do this advent calendar thingy that my grandma told me about. Whatever gets me blogging, right? Basically, I am supposed to blog about a specific topic everyday until Christmas. I'm already starting 15 days late, so I'm already doing too well with this blogging commitment.

We have two birthdays that fall particularly close to major holidays in my family. Most of the time these birthdays don't receive the full celebration that others do, but in the last few years greater effort has been made to not let these birthdays get lost in the holiday shuffle.

My paternal grandmother celebrates both her anniversary and birthday in December. I think her birthday probably gets overshadowed most since it is on the 22nd of December. Her birthday usually gets swallowed by Christmas. Last year I spent my first year in Arizona since high school. My husband and I took that opportunity to visit my grandparents and see my grandmother on her birthday. My grandmother's excitement really showed throughout the day. I have to say my grandma looks so young and beautiful for her age and really radiates when she is in a happy smiling mood. We gave her a fun little game that we all played together a few times, which is sort of our thing. I am really glad that we took that opportunity to celebrate her birthday last year because I'm not there to celebrate it now. Being there for her birthday made me realize how time is flying by faster than I can even count. My grandmother is in her mid 70's, but in my mind she was always in her late 60's. Although I keep getting older, for some reason, I stopped my grandparents from aging about 5 years ago. I guess when I went off to college I sort of stopped the clock on everything that was happening back home.

My birthday happens to be the other holiday birthday. It usually falls around or on Thanksgiving. That has always been a really tough thing for me to deal with. Having my birthday on a holiday meant that I didn't get taken out to eat for a special birthday dinner or my own family gathering. We always had to celebrate my birthday on Thanksgiving, which meant that most people forgot about my birthday. It wasn't until my first year of marriage that we truly honored my birthday on a day other than Thanksgiving. I have to say, it is much nicer celebrating Thanksgiving day as Thanksgiving day, instead of trying to cram in birthday celebrations as well. Plus, turkey tastes much better without the existential crisis that accompanies age :)

Anyone else have holiday birthdays? How do you celebrate? I know some people don't put up the Christmas tree until after all the birthdays are out of the way. Other people celebrate the half birthday.