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Crunch time inspires new Christmas plan

Breakfast this morning was a handful of chocolate covered peanuts and a couple of chunks of homemade peanut brittle. It's crunch time, and I'm not just talking about the Christmas candy. Seems I'm on the fly from the minute my feet hit the floor in the morning until I fall into bed at night, exhausted, aching and ho-ho-hoping to catch up the next day.

The traditional Christmas that most of us grew up with, whether it was part of family faith or a secular holiday, is getting the life squeezed out of it each year by big business marketing and our relentless consumerism. Stores can't push the Halloween merchandise off the shelves fast enough to refill them with the lights, tinsel, baubles and bling of Christmas; and the cash registers play their steady tune of ca-ching to underscore the buying frenzy.

Even the beloved holiday TV specials I grew up watching, Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, are broadcast before Thanksgiving. That's too soon.

When December finally arrives, we're all off and running in the annual Christmas derby. Charitable events, church and school programs, community tree lightings, chamber choir and concert performances — there isn't enough time in a week to attend even half of them, and if we skip too many we either feel like we're missing out, or that we aren't giving enough.

By the time I get around to gift shopping, or purchasing a few new strings of lights to replace the ones that are kaput, I'm picking through the leftovers and ready to give it all a rest. Forget trying to coordinate a single day, or even a few hours in a single day, when everybody in my immediate family can come together for a little bit of much needed cheer.

As Christmas approaches, I feel the mounting pressure to pull it all together — perfectly wrapped with a bow. With a few weeks to go, there are still no cookies baked, no presents wrapped and I find myself wishing more and more every year that I could just skip it all together.

So I have a new plan to take back Christmas — the fun, relaxing, family traditions of baking goodies and drinking eggnog, sitting around the fireplace sharing old memories and making new ones, actually having a minute to talk to each other, catch up with the kids and grandkids, and maybe give them a taste of what Christmas wonder was like in a slower time.

I'm pushing Christmas back, safely tucking it away in January, after the New Year.

Before anybody gets their Santa hat in a twist, I'd like to explain that I was raised in a dual faith household — sort of. Both my parents belonged to Christian faiths, but my father was raised in an Orthodox tradition. We celebrated his Christmas on or around Jan. 7, after having had our traditional Christmas on Dec. 25. It was a much quieter, more intimate celebration.

When I was a child, and life moved a little slower, it was great fun to have these two Christmases. The first one was not anywhere near the material driven extravaganza we have now, but even so, I think our second Christmas was a chance for my mother to enjoy the moments with a little less work involved and for my father, my brothers and sister and I, to enjoy more of my mother's time.

We spent a few of the approaching days cooking and baking traditional foods from our Serbian culture, including potica (bread filled with a walnut honey mixture), sardma (cabbage rolls) and roast lamb. We had a small, gift exchange at the breakfast table, just a little something that was held back from all packages under the tree a few weeks earlier; a tiny wrapped treasure on each place setting, waiting there when we came to the table still sleepy-eyed.

The early part of the day passed at a leisure pace. Later we headed over to my aunt's place, Molly's Tavern, for the extended family party. The pool table was covered with a large sheet of plywood and draped in white tablecloths. Delectable dishes were crowded on, each of my aunties and uncles bringing their specialties. We gathered as a family, but also welcomed regular customers, friends, and strangers to join our feast.

There was always a loaf of crusty bread with a silver dollar baked in. All of the cousins would line up while my uncle cut each slice, handing it over to anxiously waiting hands; we all hoped we'd be the one to get the lucky coin that year.

Long after dark we'd pack up and head home. We gathered in the living room to watch TV, our beautiful Christmas tree still sparkling with lights and tinsel well after all our friends and neighbors had taken theirs down. One-by-one, we'd nod off, our bellies and our hearts full.

Christmas in January; it's not a half bad idea.

Judith Liebaert writes for Positively Superior and the Duluthian. She is the author of "Sins Of The Fathers," a crime novel set in Superior, inspired by a true cold case. Find her online at judithliebaert.com.

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