Growing up, Christmas was my absolute favorite time of the year.
It wasn’t really the gifts, though that was of course exciting. It was everything about the season. It was the chance that we might actually get some temperature changes (I live in a part of Florida where the temperature rarely drops below 70), the chance that the wind might snap and snarl a little- and maybe even get a flurry of snow. It would mostly likely melt before it touched the ground but for a few seconds, you could hold a snowflake against your hand and call it real.
It was the food- oh my good God, the food. In my family, Christmas is the season for three times as much baking as any other time of the year. Cookies- drop cookies and rolled cookies, iced/decorated cookies, gingerbread and ginger snaps, snickerdoodles, and countless other kinds- and Swedish tea rings, lefsa (which my grandfather insisted on calling shoe leather), cinnamon buns with orange vanilla icing, cakes and cheesecakes, and so many pies- pumpkin and apple and cranapple and blueberry. There’s ham and ham gravy- which every year my brothers threaten to drink straight from mugs- and stuffing and sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes and various other veggies and breads. For weeks, the entire house smells AMAZING, and every time you take a breath everything just comes rushing in. And, of course, there are leftovers, so the joy just continues.
It was the decorations. My family never really went overboard with the decorations. We very rarely did house lights because there was no one to safely put them up and we didn’t do the lawn decorations because they were expensive (among other reasons), but the decorating of the tree was a tradition. Mom would carefully unpack and unwrap each ornament and almost all of them had a story. Some we’d made when we were little; some were passed down through the family. My mother is a firm believer in a balanced tree- she would put the hook through the cord and hand it to one of us, and as we paced around the tree to find the perfect place to hang it, she would remind us of the history. We had an entire herd of clothespin reindeer, some of them from us, some of them from when she was a kid. And then there’d be the tinsel battle. Tinsel is a Very Serious Matter in our household. Mom usually just forbid us to touch it so she could do it herself because the way we did it drove her crazy. My brothers would take handful and just toss them up, so the tinsel got all clumpy and messy and looked like a decoration fairy had gone on a binge purge. I’d take handfuls of it as well, but I’d drape it so the strands clung slightly together at the ends, giving the tree a cobweb effect. Mom, on the other hand, put in on strand by strand. While we never did any outdoor decorations, every year on the weekend before Christmas, we’d go out driving and just marvel at some of the amazing things other people did. There were some houses that must have spent a fortune on their power bills for December, but it had to be worth it. Some of them went far past decoration to sheer art. There was one house I will always, always remember because they put on a whole show- including timing the ripple of the lights to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Carol of the Bells by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
It was the shopping. Not so much the buying stuff as the shopping experience. I’m not a shopper- I tend to walk in knowing what I need, go right to it, get it, and get out. But when I was little, I loved trolling around the mall either with my mom or my friends because there was just so much to see! And most of the stuff I wanted to look at I didn’t actually want to have, I just wanted to look at it, to admire it. Or, me being me, to laugh at it upon occasion. When I was younger I didn’t tend to notice the grumpy people that come out in droves during this time of year; what I noticed was the people being friendly and cheerful, the ones who would go out of their way to help others, the ones who always had a smile for everyone around them and were all about brightening people’s days.
It was the ritual. Filtering through all the other things there was ritual and tradition, things we did a certain way every year because the way we did them was just as important as what we were doing. There was the light of the Advent candles and the reading of the scripture. There were all the rituals for baking and cooking and getting the house ready for company. There was even the ritual of hiding the presents and laughing at my brothers as they tried to wrap things. They’ve gotten better at it, but for a long time they just divided everything into two stacks and brought half to me and half to Mom to wrap for them.
It was the family, of course, wonderful and exasperating and lovely and obnoxious as only family and close friends can be. We had our card games, our movie marathons, and my brothers and I being as we are, more than a fair share of beating the crap out of each other in video games.
More than anything for me was the music. I grew up in music. At church, in the car, in the house, in the stores, my mother and I always sang together and Christmas music was our favorite. Words can’t even express how much I loved the music.
Whether taken individually or as a composite, Christmas was the time of year I constantly looked forward to.
And then I grew up and went to college and started working retail, specifically at a craft store, and I grew to pretty much loathe Christmas. I couldn’t stand to listen to the music anymore and the stench of cinnamon pine cones in concentration meant I couldn’t smell or taste anything else. I saw a few cheerful people but I had to deal with many, MANY more grouches, and I didn’t have the time to just go browsing and see All The Things. Plus, I was a broke college student, so after selling other people decorations all day, I couldn’t afford to put up my own decorations in my apartments and I wasn’t home to be able to put them up with Mom.
After three years, and three miserable Christmases, I left the craft store and started working in a bookstore. We still get busy and we still get more than a reasonable share of grouches, but the whole atmosphere of working in a bookstore is different. It’s taken a little while, but I’m back to loving Christmas and everything about it.
Even the grouches.
SO- to celebrate, I’m giving away two prize packs.
Prize Pack 1: an ARC of Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, paperback copies of Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini, plus some fun swag from multiple authors and a handmade bracelet.
Prize Pack 2: an ARC of Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, paperback copies of City of Bones and Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, plus some of that fun swag and a handmade bracelet.
Want to know how to enter?
Just comment below and tell me your favorite part about this time of year. It doesn’t have to be about Christmas, just the time of year. Don’t forget your email address so I can contact you! Entries will be accepted through the end of Saturday, 17 December, with the winner announced the next day.
And stick around! On Friday, 2 December we’ll be having a special review post as part of Leah Cypess’ mini-blog tour. Cool prizes from the individual blogs as well as an overall prize for the tour, so check out her website for more info!
Until next time~