Simple Gifts – Holiday Traditions with Dogs

Yes, I know Christmas is manipulated by retailers looking to get into our wallets.

Man decorating Christmas tree while Golden Retriever sleeps on the couch

It looks like you've got everything under control here. Wake me if you need me.

And I realize it’s probably a solstice commemoration to which Jesus, Santa, Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch have been added on.

I know its cultural significance is so great in the U.S. that it has led to Hanukkah being seen as a more important holiday here than it would normally be in the Jewish calendar and has served as a convenient anchor for Kwanzaa.

And I also understand it’s a time that causes a great deal of stress and sorrow to people who struggle to meet the expectations (their own and others’) for the day.

But what can I say? I just love it.

As long as things stay simple.

Dogs as enforcers of simplicity

Having dogs in my life has helped me keep Christmas simple.

  • While a dog will enjoy any gift you give her, she doesn’t surf online for things to ask for or write blackmail demands letters to Santa.
  • When you’ve had a pair of dogs who have eaten two couches, a vinyl kitchen floor, and tried to chew their way into a cedar-lined chest, you don’t invest yourself too much in “stuff.”
  • You can only make so many dozens of cookies when you spend most of your time tripping over living, eating, landmines furry little feet.

The balance for me comes from creating traditions that make the time feel special without overwhelming us with duties.

Family traditions

My mother’s not big on tradition. I don’t think we’ve ever celebrated any holiday the same way twice. And no one knows anyone else’s birthday because we’ve never celebrated them on the actual days.

But I enjoy tradition and having special things to look forward to. So I’ve been trying to create my own.

The tree

Here in the North when it’s so dark for so long (I have no idea how my Arctic friends handle it), it’s a thrill to see twinkly white lights on a fresh Christmas tree.

Man attaching baled Christmas tree to bike cart

Give my baby a couple of strap clamps or a bungee cord and he can haul just about anything.

My favorite tradition is going out to cut down our own tree.

Back when we lived in Philadelphia and got an eleven footer, because that’s what our high ceilings called for, it was hard work.

But I’ve learned to scale back. And this year, getting rid of our only car meant we couldn’t go out into the country to cut down our own tree. But I was able to bring one back on my bike.

Decorating the tree isn’t the chore I remember from my childhood. Back then, we began with bringing the box down from the attic and sticking fake branches into a green pole.

That was followed by the obligatory arguments over the non-working Christmas lights. And when the tree was finally decorated, my mom would decide she didn’t like its placement after all and would ask for my help to move it.

Every year, the Christmas tree fell on my head during that move.

Gee, I guess I was wrong. We did have a Christmas tradition. You’d think that big scar on my forehead would have reminded me.

Golden Retriever under Christmas tree

Gee, this looks like a good place for a nap. Thanks for putting this pretty blanket down for me to rest on.

Decorating the tree in my home is a more contemplative experience. As each ornament comes out of the box, we talk about where it came from and remember the person who gave it to us. Every year we laugh at the dark-skinned, Little Drummer Boy Mike’s mom gave us “because you like black people.”

It was her funny, peculiar, and yes, prejudiced way of saying, “Listen, I think it’s weird that you live in a neighborhood where you are a different race from nearly everyone else around you but I love you anyway.”

And decorating and laughing and talking while Honey sleeps on the couch or sniffs the ornaments or lays down on the tree stand cover is part of the fun.

The day

When you don’t have kids or a large family, opening gifts under the tree is much less momentous.

I start the day by making a special breakfast to enjoy before we open our few gifts. And afterwards, Mike reads Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory out loud. It’s one of the best traditions ever.

The day is slow and quiet. There’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. It’s nice to take a leisurely walk with Honey in our academic ghost town.

Eventually I’ll make a big dinner so we have lots of leftovers to take us through the rest of the week.

My parents will join us for dessert but they like to go out on Christmas. I think they really miss the kosher deli back in Maryland that always had a crowd on Christmas day.

I get a giggle at the thought of my folks leaving their evangelical church service to enjoy Christmas dinner with their Buddhist and Jewish neighbors. And I find the idea charming in its own way.

Extending the season

I think there’s a human need for light and joy in the middle of winter. I see New Year’s as the end of the Christmas season.

Ithaca has a weird New Year’s tradition: every year, dozens of volunteers coordinate flipping light switches on and off in two Ithaca College towers, changing the pattern of light in the windows from one year to the next at exactly midnight. If you’re really curious, you can see it on You Tube.

We can see the towers from my street and sometimes we’ll host a Ten Minute New Year’s party.

We set up a table on the sidewalk and put hot cider and snacks out for the neighbors and anyone else who happens to be walking by. As far as I know, it’s the only dog-friendly New Year’s celebration in town. And it reinforces the idea that we live on the coolest block in a very cool city.

This year’s gift – an update

This year was unusual for us. We were gifted with the presence of a foster puppy for a short two weeks.

mixed breed puppy

Good luck, Scooter! We enjoyed having you visit us.

I took Scooter to the SPCA on Wednesday to be neutered. He spent the night at the adoption center and was found by his forever family the very next day.

Scooter was at the adoption center such a short time I didn’t even get to see his picture on the adoption website.

Scooter’s new family lives near a local ski resort. I think he’ll have lots of chances to enjoy climbing and views from high places.

I’ve always known I could not do any volunteer work with dogs unless I had my own dog at home when the foster dog went back. And I hoped my dog would be able to help with the responsibilities of fostering.

Honey was a perfect companion to Scooter. And I’m so thankful to have her at home with me this season and all the time.

She’s my most precious and simple gift, every day.
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  1. Hey there!

    What great news about Scooter! 😀

    We love your blog so we’ve nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award. You can read more about it on our latest post.

    H and Flo

  2. Wonderful news about Scooter and I love your holliday stories, the ornament one is hilarious.

    I am also impressed with the tree bike haul. My husband and I use are bikes a lot and drive very little we considered going car free but we really need the car to take the dogs to parks and hikes and the vet.

  3. Sounds wonderful Pam. It feels so much more like Christmas when it’s about the time you spend and enjoy together.

    So glad Scooter found his furever home in time for Christmas!

  4. That’s terrific news about Scooter! And happy winter seasonal celebration with pine needles to you.

  5. Happy news about Scooter – what a great Christmas present for him to have found his forever home! Your Christmas sounds very much like the ones Rod and I spent together with the dogs in the Poconos – quiet and peaceful. Now that we’re in the Winnebago and far from our families we’re making some new traditions – no more fire in the fireplace, but stringing lights around the RV in shorts and flip-flops has turned out to be a great trade-off. :-)

  6. I like simple when it comes to holidays and it sounds like maybe that is your tradition. With a house full of large plants not only is there no room for a Christmas tree, but it will tend to blend in with the jungle that already exist. lol We haven’t had a tree since we got Brut. But this year we got a couple of small table tops and added only lights. My two favorite things about Christmas, trees and lights. We really my husband and I just look forward to spending time together with all our furry and feathered friends.

    So great to hear about Scooter!

  7. How awesome that Scooter was adopted so quickly!! Merry Christmas, Scooter!!

  8. There IS a Christmas season – the 12 days of Christmas (yes, they are real) start Christmas Day (or Eve) and end on Jan.5 (if you count Christmas Eve) or Jan 6 (if you start Christmas Day) – I start Christmas Day because Jan 6 is the Feast of the Magi, commemorating the Three Kings visit to Jesus; I also made it Justus’s birthday (he will be two!). So, celebrate!
    Love the idea of your being able to be car-less; I live in the country w/minimal public transit plus the dog rescue so can’t go there but as to paring down the house? Oh, yes! The first floor is becoming all dog and my plan is to make the 1/2 upper story my room and space :).
    Happy, happy Scooter! Congratulations – surely, Honey helped prepare him for his new home.

  9. i love this post. it’s a glimpse into your life, a quiet moment in a manic season.

    i had a look at the towers but it was so blur, i couldn’t see the moment. i also read the story. it’s BEAUTIFUL *sigh* and i’m red-eyed from it. you read this on Christmas morning? boohoo. x

  10. What? Whaddaya mean we don’t write letters to Santa?

  11. I really enjoyed reading this post:-) Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  12. Love the pictures of your enforcer of simplicity seeking the practical benefits of those typical Christmas activities.
    Great news about Scooter, it sounds like he found a great place!

  13. Hi, Angela! What a lovely post, written with your typical humour yet oozing warmth and festive feeling…We’re not slaves of binding traditions either, although there are a few constant elements to our Christmas (which, just like yours, ends after New Year). To me, it’s never about the presents, I already have everything I could ever ask for.

  14. What a beautiful post Pamela. It sounds like you do have a lot of tradition in your holiday. It just doesn’t involve all the hustle and bustle that drives the rest of us crazy. I love the idea of going to get the tree, making a nice breakfast and the walk with Honey. Honestly, that’s all I would need to enjoy the day.

    My congrats to Scooter on his new family. I suspect you are a much better foster parent than I. Lady will be my third foster failure. :)

  15. I love your idea of holiday traditions! I’ve longed for simpler traditions in our own family for many years. My parents divorced when I was seven years old. Since that time, there have always been two Christmases for me. It was alright because my Dad’s family, being Scandinavian by origin, celebrates on Christmas Eve while my mom’s family celebrates on Christmas Day. I thought it was the jackpot as a kid!

    After I got married, however, things got harder. My husband is the oldest in his family, and my in-laws think I hatched out of an egg with no family to worry about whatsoever. No matter how hard I tried, they wouldn’t make life easier for us by working to coordinate family holidays. It finally took us telling them one year that we wouldn’t be able to make it for them to start compromising. Now, both of my parents are remarried to other people. Hubby and I find ourselves with six family Christmas parties to juggle every year. I’m so relieved at this point to say that three of them are behind us and there are only three left to go! I’m hoping that this year, we won’t have to celebrate Christmas Eve by dragging a dead deer across my stepgrandmother’s lawn, too!

  16. Ack! No car??? I forget people live in places with things like public transportation and sidewalks. Savannah proper has a bus system but it doesn’t come out to where I live.

    We have always had holiday traditions…but this year I work Christmas Eve and Christmas day so I won’t be going home for the holidays. I think i’m heading to the movies as my new tradition!

  17. this was a great post!

    honey helps you in much the same way desmond would. scooter, meanwhile, is soooooo freakin cute. i don’t know how i ever could have fostered him and then let him go. oh man.

    also, props on the no car thing, especially upstate in winter. i went to school in albany and could barely walk to class in the winter–i definitely would have busted my bum big time on a bike!

  18. I am just now enjoying some stress-free quiet time since Thanksgiving…whew. Hope you and yours are having a wonderful day (quiet like me)! Merry Christmas to you!

    So happy about Scooter! He reminds me so much of a little doggie named Ham Skillet, who’s looking for a home in Richmond. I think I will check on him at the shelter this week…