Sunday, December 9, 2012


Clemens Pfeiffer, Vienna

The Advent Season

The season of advent marking the start of the Western liturgical year began on 2 December, making this the second Sunday of Advent.  It precedes Christmastide, the traditional 12 days of Christmas running from December 25th until January 5th. In the early middle ages this was a period of fasting, running in some areas from St. Martins Day on November 11th until Rose Sunday, or the third Sunday of Advent.

How We Celebrate

Over time we have greatly simplified Christmas in our house.  I used to be the type of Christmas celebrant whose home could easily be seen from low earth orbit, we have since toned it down considerably and I now decorate the house in a colonial fashion, with simple white electric candles in the windows.  We have also changed the focus of Christmas in our living room from the Christmas tree, which is now small, to a mantle display featuring a creche, and small lighted ceramic buildings that my wife collects... a small village as it were.  Not sure what I'm planning to do this year, as the space over our mantle now contains our television.  The great thing about flat screens is the TV is no longer the central feature of our living room, and when off is relatively unobtrusive.  What I need is some kind of box that turns it into a collection of classical paintings.

So, How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

If all goes as planned, I'll have gotten the Christmas decorations out and up, and will have figured out what to do with the mantle this year by the time you read this.  So kick back, grab a hot toddy or a glass of eggnogg, and share with the rest of us how you celebrate Christmas at home.  Do you have 150,000 lights stressing out your local electrical grid? Or are you more subdued?  Any unusual Christmas traditions handed down through your family?  We always had a Bayberry candle burning on Christmas Eve when I was growing up.  I'm not exactly sure why.  But every year my mother lit the tall green taper and I remember that no one was allowed to blow it out, it had to be left to burn down and go out on its own.  Every year I recall going to bed on Christmas Eve with a candle sitting in the kitchen sink because my mother was afraid it was going to burn the house down. So, anybody fasting these days?




viburnum said...

“A Bayberry candle burned to the socket brings health to the home and wealth to the pocket.”

Whether that's folk wisdom, or marketing by the candle-makers IDK, but real ones run about $8 - 10 each, most are Bayberry scented paraffin. It takes a lot of berries to make one candle.

viburnum said...

When I was very young, Christmas always came as something of a shock. Except for a strand of colored lights on the railing of the front porch there was never a decoration in sight. My parents, my aunt, and grandmother, who lived with us, transformed the house overnight. Our tree sat on a platform surrounded by a model village and trains, with presents piled on the floor around it. The sights, scents, and sounds were magical.

That was the beginning of a rather overwhelming and exhausting day. There was almost never a time when the house was quiet as most of my fathers many brothers and sisters, even the ones that weren't speaking to one another ( an old Irish tradition ) would come to see my grandmother.

I tried to keep the surprise factor when my kids were little, but that only worked when they were very small. These days, when stores start putting decorations on display before Halloween, kids are bouncing off the walls by Thanksgiving asking "When is it going to be Christmas?"

Always On Watch said...

I worked for hours last night on addressing Christmas cards. Like Mom, I send out a lot of cards!

Mr. AOW and I used to put up a Christmas tree covered with mostly handmade decorations that I got as gifts from my students over the years or made myself; I typically avoided using breakables and tinsel because of the cats.

But since 2009, Mr. AOW's hospital bed has taken up that space always dedicated to the Christmas tree. We really miss that tree and now have a tabletop tree -- one of those LED trees about 3 feet tall including the base. This little tree can't hold any ornaments, but I do add a strand of lights to it.

I do still put up a lot of decorations in other places in our house. See some of the photos toward the bottom of this post. The mantle and the piano room get a lot of attention! And every room gets at least a few decorations.

My mother passed down a tradition for displaying Christmas cards received. Note how the cards are suspended from a string in this photo.

The other family tradition: the Nativity scene. As a kid, I picked out every piece in our local 5-and-dime store Peter Pan. Cheap stuff back then, but now each Nativity figure is a collectors' item.

We've never been all that ambitious about putting up outside lights on our own little house. However, once in a while we put up a strand or two. This year, however, a friend and I put up some blue-white lights around the posts and along eaves of the front porch.

Mom didn't use Christmas candles very often, but I'm not sure why. I usually do -- evergreen or bayberry -- but probably won't light them very often this year because we have a kitten in the house.

Oh, one more family tradition: the annual Christmas Eve family buffet followed by the family gift-exchange and carol sing-along with me at the piano. Mom used to host all that (Ham required!); after she died in 1987, I took over until 2009. Now, one of my cousins hosts the buffet and gift exchange. But our family is shrinking! All of Mom's generation is gone as of 2010, so Christmas Eve isn't as wonderful as it used to be. Besides, as I get older, I find that I just don't have much Christmas energy!

On Christmas Day or on Boxing Day, we go to our neighbors' house for a feast and a dessert party.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Here's how our family celebrated Christmas when I was a child.

And now even we nonbelievers still carry on this winter holiday tradition.

KP said...

Good timing, Finntann. We are going out today to shop for our Christmas tree. We decorate with small colored strands of lights and many ornaments collected over decades of time. Everybody (wife and two daughters) has a stocking that is laid out over the top of a couch near the tree. Mine was hand made by my grandmother 57 years ago who came over from Ireland on the boat and through Ellis Island in the 1920s. She knitted one for each of my two brothers and sister as well as we were born.

We lightly decorate the front of the house with a single strand of colored lights and whites lights around windows. I love it.

On Christmas eve we have a ham, and turkey dinner. For the last twenty years we have also included home made tomales from a close family friend.

This is my favorite time of the year and is filled with exceptional family memories.

Merry Christmas to all readers and our hosts!

Z said...

it would take too long to describe the family traditions here but suffice it to say some of that changed for me when I married my German from Munich. Suddenly Christmas Eve because the 'big event' and presents were opened that night. Also, suddenly a large part of my coffee table, which is quite big, was covered by a big wreath with advent candles in it, which bugged me.
Now that he's gone, how I'd love to be 'bugged' and whine about the wreath taking up almost half of my table again!
Mom still has Christmas for 30 or so of us on Christmas Day and we all open family presents that day.

I'm largely scaling down decorations. In our family, our homes usually make the Andy Williams CHristmas special look under decorated!, but not so much these days. And it feels good to rely more these days on the creches . I have a Santa collection, so those always come out, however.

Stepdaughter's flying up from her sailing trip...she's in Buenos Aires now and will be here this Tuesday, the 11th. We'll get the tree together. She stays 2 weeks and that helps me feel a bit cheerier about decorating again.
Mr Z's passing zapped the commercial aspects of Christmas a bit out of me and I found myself relying on the true meaning of CHristmas; a good thing.

I loved hearing your traditions, Finntann. Thanks...nice post.

FreeThinke said...

Rich memories from the Ghost of Christmas Past will comprise most of my Christmas Celebration this year. I have a little tree I will freshen up, and put on display on Christmas Eve -- an old family custom miniaturized -- I've never liked too see too early signs of celebration. There's a colorful Dellarobbia-style wreath I hang on the front door. One or two poinsettias, a spice-scented red candle and a pine-scented green one, and a large bow in the center of the mantelpiece will be about it.

As I've gotten older, I no longer need "things" and even the idea of a great big dinner doesn't interest me much anymore.

Most of the people who really meant a great deal to me have died off. What little family I have left -- mostly the sons and daughters of cousins -- live in far flung locations. They have busy lives of their own and too many children to support none of whom know me at all. And frankly, sad though it may be we have little in common and little interest in one another.

In latter years I have often read Dickens' A Christmas Carol aloud to myself sitting in one of the big wing chairs. That may sound very strange, but it never fails to bring back wonderful memories of my father and mother both of whom read to me when I was small. The were gifted at this, and nothing has ever quite equalled the enthralling magic spell they cast when they read Dickens and other great things of that quality to me while we sat by the fire in our old home.

These days the text is available on the computer and may be adjusted to 18-point type, which is a big help to my impaired vision, so if I continue the custom this year, it will very likely be right here in front of this ugly machine. Too bad the fireplace and the my father's old wing chair and the fireplace can't be part of the ritual anymore, but at least I can look at them, and remember how things used to be.

Why would I read aloud just to myself?

Somehow, it makes the wonder of Dickens' glorious descriptive style much more acute, and the pleasant memories attached to it more vivid.

Years ago I used to make handwritten cards with home made verses illustrated with magic markers. The effort of producing about a hundred of these each year was prodigious, but it was a great way of passing the time in preparation for The Great Day, and I liked to think of it as a better kind of gift than something store bought.

I also thoroughly enjoy listening to much of the great music available on YouTube from places like Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City and the music from Brigham Young University and St. Olaf's in Northfield, Minnesota, and various European concert halls and cathedrals.

At its best Christmas really should develop into an INNER thing anyway. My parents and teachers planted good seeds. I've been enjoying the harvest for a long time.

May Abundant Good Cheer be with You at Christmastime and all throughout a Glad New Year!

~ FreeThinke

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

Christians, one day closer to perfect than the rest of mankind.

J.O.B. said...

We get all decorations up on December 1st. From the time I was a child, i have never had a fireplace in my house. My Mom use to have me decorate the patio because that's where Santa would come in at. It is a tradition U have passed on to my Daughter. We also bake cookies on December 23rd, to put out the next night. We also have Max (Elf on the Shelf).

jez said...

FreeThinke: get a kindle!
It retains many of the advantages of paper (DON'T get one with a back-light, insist on e-ink), but you can set the font-size as you wish and read comfortably from your favourite chair. All the out-of-copyright classics are available for free. Not as good as buying large-print editions of everything, but undeniably convenient. I've been using mine for Sherlock Holmes on the train. :)

viburnum said...

Indeed! I have a Nook ( same thing only different ) and love it. Buying books is cheaper as well since you're paying to download them, not for the paper and ink.

For the classics there are sites like and for free.