Yes, I know Christmas is manipulated by retailers looking to get into our wallets.
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 demandsletters 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, landminesfurry little feet.
The balance for me comes from creating traditions that make the time feel special without overwhelming us with duties.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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