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Comfort & Joy

Coming together through traditions

I love getting mail, especially when it comes unexpectedly. Nothing brightens my day like a surprise letter or package waiting on the doorstep. Christmas is a time where this happens with heightened frequency. One week in mid-October, I found a large yellow envelope on my doorstep. Without a clue of what it was, I eagerly ripped it open. At first, I thought the package was empty. However, as I dug around, I found the gift stowed away in the bottom corner. It was a small, glass Christmas ornament from my grandparents embellished with the phrase “Our first Christmas as Mr. & Mrs. 2020.”

This Christmas bears a certain significance for me. It will be my first Christmas morning married, with just my husband and me. It will also be my first Christmas morning without my family, who lives in Georgia. Even though I am absolutely ecstatic to start brand new traditions between the two of us, there’s a part of me that is already mourning this transition.

Traditions, especially during a transition, are a powerful thing. We use them as a way to remember and hold onto the people our hearts are close to when our bodies can’t be. They help us find something constant within the chaos and can be a means of cultivating joy in times of grief. This year, the world looks wide-eyed to the holiday season, craving hope and healing from a global pandemic, natural disasters, and violent division. These five traditions can't fix everything, but they can simplify life for a moment and help us remember that some things don’t have to change.

Tradition 1: Christmas Parties

We start with this tradition because it is likely to be the one that bears the least resemblance to past years. With limits on gatherings, social distancing, and special regard to health concerns, large parties probably aren’t on the agenda. Still, that’s no excuse to cancel the fun altogether. Get a caravan of cars together to scavenge the streets for the best displays of Christmas lights. Host a drive-in Christmas movie watch party. Send out festive invitations and hold a virtual gathering. Or, keep it classic and have your core people over to celebrate the season. Whereas December is normally a blur of parties and obligations, we have the unique opportunity to size-down this year. We can spend concentrated time with the people we actually want to spend time with, and less time scurrying around to simply “make an appearance.” Use these unique, albeit frustrating, guidelines to reinvent Christmas parties into a tradition you’ll want to experience even after the restrictions are lifted.

Tradition 2: Christmas Music 

There are two types of people in this world. The kind that listens to Christmas music before Christmas and the kind who begins the fourth Friday in November and stops on December 26th. Regardless of your stance, Christmas music is known to elicit nostalgic sentiments. It can serve as a sedative or an excitant, depending on your need.

The first Christmas music dates back to the middle ages (pre-1700) with biblically-focused songs like “What Child is This” and “Away in a Manger.” The Christmas music movement, largely comprised of songs with secular lyrics, doesn’t pick up until the Great Depression Era. Iconic holiday staples like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and “Winter Wonderland” make their way into the mainstream as people seek a reprieve from the, well, depressing times.

The Guinness Book of Records has named "White Christmas" as not only the best-selling Christmas song of all time but simply the best-selling single, point-blank, of all time.  If you want to put this evidence to the test, there is a tradition that you and your loved ones can start this year: The Christmas Song Contest. My family and I would fight tooth and nail for the precious year-long bragging rights this game offers. The rules are simple: have every participant pick a song. It’s important to base your pick on what tune you think will get the most air time. Every time someone hears their song on the radio or television, they get a point. There just needs to be one witness who's also playing the game in order for the point to count (Digital witnesses are allowed). Typically, we started the game on Thanksgiving and announced the winner at 9 pm on Christmas Eve. Warning- if your family or friend group is remotely competitive, this will get intense.

Tradition 3: Decorating 

Everyone has their own ideas about what creates the best Christmas ambiance. Some prefer perfectly coordinated winter white and twinkling lights, while others' spirits come more alive with rainbow-colored bulbs and eclectic homemade ornaments. Whatever way you slice it, there’s really no wrong way to decorate. 

Christmas lights didn’t exist until nearly the 20th century when they were invented by an American named Ralph Morris. Morris was fed up by all of the haphazard fires that occurred due to candles nestled in tree branches, so he invented the first electric Christmas lights. The holidays have never been the same.

Though decorations are to be enjoyed all season long, there’s something special about the decorating process. It’s the perfect opportunity to catalyze the Christmas spirit in your household. Blast some holiday bops or play a classic film like White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life. You can add to the excitement by making an event out of purchasing ornaments or making paper snowflakes and popcorn garland.

Tradition 4: Gift Giving 

The practice of giving at Christmastime has its roots in a different holiday altogether. St. Nicholas Day, formerly held on December 6th, was a celebration with its roots in the 13th century. St. Nicholas was a bishop born around 280 AD that lived in modern-day Turkey. Known for his generosity and love for kids, he became the patron saint of children after his death. According to National Geographic, he was famous at that time for giving gold to daughters of poor fathers who couldn’t afford dowries. After the Protestant Reformation took place in the 1500s and saints fell out of the mainstream, the pageantry of Saint Nicholas Day was slowly but surely transferred to Christmas. 

Thanks to this one man’s kindness, people from all over the world still engage in the practice of gift-giving around the holidays. If you’re looking to cultivate new customs into your gift-giving circuit, we’ve got a few suggestions.

  • Wise Man Gifts: If your goal minimalism and meaning, this is the way to go. The practice sticks to a trio of presents in an effort to remember the 3 wise men who delivered presents to baby Jesus. Though this is a way to intentionally tie gift-giving back to the true meaning of Christmas, there’s no need to worry—  you don’t have to go giving all your loved ones frankincense and myrrh! 
  • 12 Days of Christmas: Contrary to the previous suggestion, this idea is for people who love quantity. Starting on December 13th, give a little gift to your significant other, child, friend, or whomever every day. Think small— fuzzy socks, chocolate, an ornament, and a sweet note are all ideas. You can mix in a few gag gifts as well to keep things interesting!
  • Socially-Distanced Gift Exchange: This is secret Santa with an added layer of mystery. Assemble a group of people and set a date and time that works for everyone to exchange. Then, using a free online secret Santa generator called Elfster (https://www.elfster.com/secret-santa-generator/), input all of the participants’ names so that everyone can be assigned a person to shop for. Each participant will be assigned a person to shop for (make sure you have everyone’s email address!) Ship or drop off the gift to your assigned person. Lastly, unwrap the presents and unveil the secrets during a virtual Zoom get together! 

Tradition 5: Baking 

Whether it’s sprinkled sugar, fresh gingerbread, chocolate chunk, or cinnamon snickerdoodle, Christmas cookies are a tradition that makes the holiday worth the wait— and the weight. Food triggers deep memories, largely because it involves almost all of the senses. It’s no surprise that the recipe cards of grandmothers everywhere make a great resurgence during the holidays. 

Christmas cookies (and really, cookies in general) started appearing in the Middle Ages when spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper were starting to become widely used, according to history.com. Exotic dried fruits and ingredients like sugar and butter were rare delicacies, so they were reserved for important occasions such as the annual winter solstice or Christmas feasts. Though cookies have evolved quite a bit since then (hello, refrigerator cookie dough), many of our favorite ‘modern’ Christmas cookies have the same prominent spices. 

Whether you make a homemade gingerbread house, leave a plate of cookies and milk out for Santa Claus, or simply indulge in a roll of raw Pillsbury dough, the team at Parker Lifestyle wishes you and yours the sweetest of memories this holiday season. 

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