Saturday, December 01, 2007

Thinking of Christmas

With December (and the first big snowfall of the year) here, my mind is turning to Christmas. This will be the third one in a row that I'll be an ocean and a continent apart from my parents, and it's making me sentimental.

As a child, I enjoyed Christmas more than any time of year. Now as a parent, I try to pass on some of the same traditions that made the season so special for me.

What I'm thinking about in particular right now:

1) Bing Crosby and company.
Bottom line, folks: It ain't Christmas if there isn't any Bing. My dad is of the Rat Pack generation, so I grew up listening to all the greats on his reel-to-reel tape set, almost exclusively during December. Our first married Christmas, my husband bought me a Bing Crosby Christmas CD, knowing that I'd need it to feel at home that year. I still have it, and we listen to it more than any other Christmas music.

I'm a bit like my older sister in that for years it was hard to listen to contemporary artists singing the "classics." I'm sorry, but Nat King Cole OWNS "The Christmas Song." Don't even try roasting chestnuts to anyone else.

As part of the Bing phenomenon, I watch White Christmas every year. My middle daughter has caught the bug, and it's one of her favorite Christmas traditions.

2) Pulla.
A Finnish sweet bread flavored with cardamom, pulla is not strictly a Christmas food (you can buy it at any bakery all year long). When I was growing up, December was the one time of year Dad always made pulla in beautiful braided rings. (Ironically, Mom is the Finn, but Dad was wearing the apron. Go figure.) Now I always make pulla for my family during December. The kids look forward to it, begging and pleading for the day to come when we can make pulla and they can create their own braids with the dough.

3) My first Finnish Christmas.
In 1984 my family headed over to Finland for three years on a church assignment. That first Christmas, we tried to hold onto some of our U.S. traditions while incorporating some of the Finnish ones. My biggest memories from that year: the straw and wood shaving ornaments covering the tree (gotta get me some of those one of these days) and opening half our presents Christmas Eve and the other half Christmas morning.

For the uninitiated, Santa makes his Finland stop on Christmas Eve, when everyone has big family parties. He comes in person, hands out presents, and after he leaves, they're opened. This makes for a very long day for kids; it's much easier to just wake up and open them. Splitting the unwrapping into two days was our attempt at keeping both countries' traditions.

The timing for the Finnish Christmas Even may be due to the fact that Santa's official headquarters are up by the Arctic Circle on a mountain called Korvatunturi. (I'm not making this up; check it out. I've been to Santa Land and seen the reindeer.)

4) My blue toy typewriter.
One of the best presents I ever got; I was about 8 at the time. The royal blue manual typewriter had a real ribbon and it worked just like the real thing. I ran that ribbon into the ground. Preview of coming attractions, for sure.

5) Mom's Better Homes and Gardens Trees
Our trees were always stunning. Mom would buy ornaments on clearance after Christmas, planning for next year's tree, which always had a theme. Sometimes she had Dad flock the tree, such as when we used the silver and pink decorations (a stunning tree, seriously). Whether we had Asian fans or gold garland, the tree was a sight to behold.

I struggle with what to do with our tree each year. I love the beauty of the trees I grew up with, but at the same time, I also want to showcase the Popsicle ornament my son made in second grade. We compromise--it's sort of color-coordinated (two alternating schemes), but we always slap on all the fun homemade and special memory ornaments on top of that. On top is my gorgeous bronze star hubby bought for me several years ago.

6) Moments of quiet solitude throughout my life.
I can remember sitting in the living room as a kid, the only lights being the white glow from the tree. Or the years when I had little babies and would sit and rock them by the tree. There is something mesmerizing and calming about turning off the lights, plugging in the tree, and gazing into the boughs.

I'm already making a list of the must-do traditions for this year. You can bet that everything above will be on that list, plus a few more.

Mom and Dad, wish you were here.


Julie Wright said...

ah Christmas as a child. For me it was Sprite with a twist of lime and pink popcorn while dad and I scooted up the big chairs to the fire so we could read and snack at the same time. We never turned on any light except the tree lights. That with the fire were enough to read by. And mom's decorations . . . sigh. I miss that too. I hope my kids miss home at the holidays when they get big. It sounds like your childhood was fabulous. And how cool they gogt you a typewriter!!!!!

Jenna said...

It all sounds lovely. Except that I took my kids to the North Pole, and it was in Alaska. We have pictures to prove it. North Pole, Alaska, with candy cane lightposts, reindeer outside in a pen, and the official workshop with Santa and his elves. So, I don't know where you were sista. :) I go back and forth with the theme tree too, and then when I had a big house we did TWO trees: one with a theme, and one that was child heaven with all the memories.

Tristi Pinkston said...

We've got some stuff in common, Annette -- I love Bing, I adore Nat, I watch White Christmas every year without fail, and one of my favorite Christmas things to do is to turn off all the lights and just look at the tree.

Sigh -- I love this time of year.

Anonymous said...

My boyfriend and I are struggling (in a good way) to incorporate our traditions this holiday season. He wanted to serve Thanksgiving dinner "buffet style," and I adamantly opposed. In return, I'm holding off on the Christmas decorating until at least next weekend to keep things a little toned down (not like I had time anyway...)


Luisa Perkins said...

What a great list! One tradition from Patrick's family that we have kept up is putting real candles on the tree. The tree obviously must be very fresh, and the candles are only lit on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Night. It's a stunning sight.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Tristi stole my comment. Seriously, that's exactly what I was going to say. I can't stand other versions of White Christmas especially. It's gotta be Bing.

Momo Fali said...

A themed tree? I think I love your Mom, and I think my husband won't like that I want to start a new project.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely lovely list! Thank you for sharing with us. :)

I suppose I'm fortunate, stress-wise, because there is only one tradition that I adamantly follow with my family, and that is the watching of the Christmas Classics. Ever since I was a kid, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town are movies my family would curl up on the couch together to watch. I'm so happy I can share the same tradition with my own family.

Now it's even easier for us to have time to follow tradition, because we can just pop the movies into the DVD player. This season, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Frosty the Snowman and four more holiday classics are all available in one beautiful keepsake package: The Christmas Classics DVD Box-Set. It even comes with a bonus music CD! You can buy this wherever DVDs are sold, but it's also available at I only know about it because I work with the company, but it's something my family and I will treasure for many holiday seasons to come. I hope you can share the magic with your family as well. :)

Happy holidays!

Anonymous said...

i am with you sister on the bing! my favorite Christmas song is bing's "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." my hubby bought that CD and we play it over and over. thanks for reminding me of it, kathleen :)

Don said...

We solved the tree decorating dilemma by picking up a second small tree on on after-Christmas clearance on year.

The big tree got all of the color-coordinated lights and ornaments, and functioned simply as a decoration in the formal living space.

The smaller tree got multi-colored lights and was an ornamental free-for-all. We set it on a table in the family room, and piled the presents around it.


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