Tag Archives: holiday traditions

Tips for Adulthood: Five Ways to Enjoy Lockdown Christmas

jigsaw puzzle
Image: Ross Sneddon via Unsplash

Over on her wonderful blog, Gretchen Rubin is exhorting us all to make this Christmas memorable and special, even if it’s different. She’ll be celebrating by listening to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, buying a white narcissus, and making a graham cracker house.

Here in London, we are just entering “Tier 3” lockdown restrictions as I write this, which means – among other things – no going to restaurants or pubs except for takeout. But even if we were still in Tier 2, my family wasn’t going to be doing much anyway this year. Nor is anyone else.

Taking a page from Gretchen, I thought I’d share five ways I plan to make this holiday season special. These aren’t terribly original, but I hope they serve as inspiration for your own holiday cheer:

1. Read David Sedaris. I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided that if my family of four needs to spend a lot of time indoors over the coming weeks, we’d all better do a lot of reading . My husband and I got our kids several books for Hanukkah this year, including (without consulting one another!) David Sedaris’s new collection of essays, The Best of Me – one for each child! I suspect all four of us will devour that particular book, if for no other reason that no one can send up family life quite like Sedaris. And, let’s face it, we all need a good laugh right now.

2. Watch Love, Actually. On her list, Gretchen recommends watching some holiday films like Miracle on 34th Street or Elf. Personally? I incline more towards Love, Actually, another staple of the Christmas season. I watch it every year, largely because it unites the downright funny – Hugh Grant’s famous dancing scene in #10 Downing Street – along with the deeply touching – the Emma Thompson character weeping as she listens to Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. If you don’t know this film, do have a go, as we say ’round here. Delightful.

3. Do a jigsaw puzzle. When I was young, friends’ parents would phone up my mother and ask what I’d like for my birthday. She always told them to get me “a puzzle or a game.” I resented her for this, because I didn’t *want* a puzzle or a game. Fast forward 50 years and – in yet another sign that I’m turning into my mother – that’s exactly what I want. Jigsaw puzzles – especially large, 500- or 1,000- piece ones – are something everyone can participate in, but on their own time. You don’t have to be together to enjoy it, but, equally, you get to share in that collective sense of accomplishment as the pieces gradually come together.

4.Play a board game. When you’re ready to step away from your book or television set, I also highly recommend playing a board game. Board games are a great way to have “family time” that also entails focus. If you’re into strategy, I’m a big fan of Settlers of Catan – which can last for hours. This year, I got my daughter a new game called Dialect where you build a language. As my family spends half its time together arguing over who’s using which word correctly – (or not) – I felt this might be a good way to while away the days.

5. Drink your favorite tipple. “Tipple” means alcoholic drink and it’s another great British-ism. In the years since I’ve become a lightweight in the drinking department, I’ve become a real connoisseur of low-alcohol beers (which I define as beer with an APV under 4%, but most people classify as under 3%.) I’ve not been drinking too much this autumn as I’ve been busy with work. So I’ve amassed quite a collection in my “liquor cabinet” (which is really just a dimly lit cupboard in my laundry room.) On the principle that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, bottoms up!

Tell us some of your special plans for this unusual holiday season in the comments section…

Creating Holiday Traditions When You Live Abroad

Christmas tree ornament

Christmas tree ornamentI got an email from two of my siblings recently asking my opinion on a family matter. Apparently, one of our aunts used to send a tub of popcorn to each of her grown-up nieces and nephews every Christmas to share with their children. My siblings thought that this year, as our aunt passed away six months ago, my mother should carry on this tradition.

“Huh?” I responded. “What are you talking about? I never got any popcorn…”

The Cost of Living Abroad During the Holidays

I’ve lived abroad or 13 years. While there are many things to recommend expat living, one thing that’s never quite the same is the holiday season. You can institute new traditions within your own family, but you will always feel slightly bereft.

I was reminded of this when reading a delightful account of Thanksgiving traditions by New York Times medical columnist Perri Klass. Klass talks about how, once she had children of her own, she could no longer travel to her parents’ home for Thanksgiving. But she quickly found herself quickly replicating many of her mother’s Thanksgiving traditions, which ranged from singing the hymn “We Gather Together” before eating the meal to preparing the requisite Indian lasagne.

I could relate. Like Klass’s mom, my mother also hails from the so-called  traditionalist generation. On Christmas Eve, our family would light the advent wreath before dinner and recite the Roman Catholic hymn, “Drop Down Dew Ye Heavens From Above,” my mother intoning the refrain. After dinner, we would take turns reading aloud from the Christmas story in the bible. We didn’t read from the Good Book itself, but instead from a yellowed Life Magazine version of the story my mother must have obtained cerca 1947. Beneath each segment of the story, she had carefully inscribed a designated Christmas Carol that matched the text. So at the appropriate junctures, we would sing “Joy the World” or “Silent Night” in unison.

Afterwards, we hung our stockings and one of us read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas aloud to the rest of the family. As we got older and had our own children, the youngest available grandchild became the designated reader.

New Continents, New Traditions

I don’t do any of that with my own family here in London. For starters, my husband is Jewish, so we celebrate Hanukkah with our kids. The 24th is also my son’s birthday, so that has added a new element of tradition into the mix.  On Christmas Day, like all good Jews, we now go out for Chinese food and watch a movie. Plus, in England, you have the whole Boxing Day thing to contend with on the 26th. (Personally? I’ve had enough celebration by then, so I usually stay inside and read.)

I’ve managed to sneak in a few holiday rituals over the years. I’ve amassed a random assortment of dreidels and non-religious Christmas ornaments which I delicately array in a sort of Omnist collage on our dinner table every year throughout the month of December. (As a Jewish boy who attended a Christian high school, my husband is allergic to overly-Christian iconography.)

In keeping with my dual British citizenship, I also dutifully ensure that we have a sufficient supply of Christmas Crackers, so that we can all be a bit silly at the annual Christmas Eve/Hanukkah/Birthday celebration. I also try to attend at least one Carol service a year at a random church of choice. Last year, I went to the local Unitarian Church. The alter featured a chair made entirely of conch shells, while doll-sized toy Unicorns adorned the windows. It all felt oddly appropriate.

Renewal

I don’t think I’ll ever quite recreate the intense holiday traditions of my youth. It wouldn’t suit my family. And and at this point in my life, it probably doesn’t suit me either.

But the virtue of being part of an inter-faith, bi-national family is that you always have a chance to try something new. This year, for example, I’m hosting a “Christmas Drinks” cocktail party at my home for a bunch of friends from my old job. I never host large gatherings, but I’m really excited for this party. I think I’ll wear some reindeer antlers to mark the occasion.

I’m also making a huge batch of Christmas cookies with some Christmas Tree and Santa-shaped cookie cutters I inherited from the previous tenant in this house. He left them when he moved out, whether by choice or by accident, and I feel that I’m carrying on some of his traditions by employing them myself.

The holiday season will still be a patchwork of traditions. At the 11th hour, I’ll need to rush out and buy those special, slender candles you need to place in the Menorah. Hanukkah falls on the 23rd this year, so I’ve invited a friend’s son who enjoys cooking to prepare a special feast for my own son, who’s been away at college in America for four months.

There will always be a bit of sadness mixed in with the merriment. But as the Christmas carol of my youth, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, would have it, “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy…

Perhaps we’ll sing that too.

Image: Happy Holidays! By Michael Levine-Clark via Flickr

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