Okay, so here’s a little bit of a lighter post, and probably the last of 2011.
It’s mid-December, and I’m guessing you’ve noticed the overwhelming commercialism of the holidays. For some reason, it seems crazier every year. Huge wreaths on storefronts, giant ornaments hanging in malls, Santa pub crawls downtown, it’s just insanity. So I wanted to take a moment and countdown my top 10 favorite Christmas memories. Here we go…
10) Christmas Lights. Every year growing up my mom would gather us into the minivan (often with a few other families as well) go on a hunt for the best “Christmas house” in town. For awhile it was the crazy, well-lit house in Marinwood (San Rafael), but then in junior high we discovered an even brighter house in San Marin (Novato) in which we could actually walk into the house. Every single room in the house was ornately decorated with a completely different famous Christmas scene. And they had a gigantic cat…so yeah. Christmas lights were pretty great. Every year (sometimes during Thanksgiving, as in 2011) our family still looks for the best Christmas lights in whatever town we’re visiting. This year it was Lexington, Kentucky’s famous Kentucky Horse Park Christmas Light Tour. A bit expensive, but they did have a star wars Christmas light exhibit. Well played, Kentucky. Well played.
9) Christmas Movies. There’s just too many to pick one. Some favorites of course are It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, A Christmas Story, The Santa Clause, A Muppets Christmas Carol, Eight Crazy Nights, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Die Hard, Home Alone, Love Actually, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Man, those are some great freakin’ movies. And beyond the films alone, there are so many great memories that go with watching those movies with close family and friends.
8) The Dass family Christmas Party. It was the annual winter event each year for our church and it was a great time indeed. Almost all of my friends would be there, usually there was some sort of romantic, relational drama between a few of us, there was a sweet white elephant gift exchange, and there was grandma’s pepperment punch. Holy crap that stuff was good.
7) Christmas with the Reeds. Last year I was blessed enough to spend a December weekend in Mount Shasta visiting (my girlfriend at the time) Hannah’s family. It was a bit nerve-wracking meeting everyone for the first time, but I remember feeling right at home even just a few hours after arriving. We played board games, saw Christmas lights, went to mass together, ate delicious food (thanks again, Janie!), made gingerbread houses (much to my chagrin), and watched 8 Crazy Nights. What more could you want out of a weekend? It was simply wonderful. If you haven’t met the Reeds, then you’re missing out. I don’t think they read this blog, so I don’t feel like I’m sucking up in saying this. They’re a great family that loves each other very genuinely and it’s obvious to anyone who spends any time with them that they want others to feel the same closeness and safety they feel in their home. Seriously. Tyler’s coming to visit. So should you!
6) Helms Family Christmas Party. When I was five years old, my parents threw a little Christmas party at our casa. One of the few traditions we do have in our family is that we do not put the little baby Jesus into the little baby manger of our nativity scene until Christmas morning–because that’s when the kid was born, obviously. So occassionally people would walk by the nativity, wshere I would usually be playing with the cool shepherd and wise men action figures, and one of the onlookers asked me, “Say, charming little boy, I see that there is child in that there manger. Goodness gracious. Where could he be?” (paraphrased). I haved a vague memory of this next moment, but my mother tells people that I turned quickly to the guest and snapped, “Why, in Mary’s uterus of course.” Laughter ensues. I guess the son of a doc/nurse can’t say “womb.” Oh well…I was right at least.
5) I gotta go with “A Christmas Story.” I know I already mentioned “Christmas Movies”, but man, this one’s just a little different. I love that movie. We weren’t big on traditions in our family, but I remember watching this movie multiple times each year. The fishnet stocking leg lamp, the pole-lick, the crazy dogs next door, Ralphie’s winter getup, the Ovaltine ad, the Chinese food restaurant, Scut Farkus??? Man. That movie is chalk-full of nostalgia. I know it’s probably meant for people who grew up in the 60s, but it’s somehow managed to be nostalgic for just about every generation since then. Can’t wait to fool my kids into thinking they grew up in the cold war era too.
4) Christmas in Sharon. The last four years I’ve spent at least 3 days in Sharon, MA over Christmas break. The Tiller family have made me feel more at home in their house than I have anywhere in years. I have so many great memories with that family, taking the dog for a late-night stroll, heading over to the Andrades for some chocolate milk, watching the Pats’ game, using “cheat-y” words against Linda in Scrabble, destroying SubZero with Nate and Embie, making fun of Mary, making yellow snowmen cookies. Man. Just some great times.
3) The Real Christmas. I know this one should probably be #1, and it would be if this list was “The Best Things About Christmas List” or something along the lines, but it’s not. In slot #3 of “Ben’s Christmas Movies” I gotta go with all of those memories of going to church with my mom and brother and seeing the living nativities and learning all about the original Christmas story in Sunday school. Each year at home, we would also read through the story in the Bible (pick your gospel!) as a family. It was great to break through the overwhelming annual façade of the Christmas festivities. I get just as caught up in all of the gift-giving and getting as the next guy, but it was nice (and still is nice) to spend time with family, read about the birth of Christ and be reminded why we still celebrate the day.
2) Christmas with Family. Whether it’s been spending Christmas in Novato with my brother and mom, or in Chapel Hill with my dad and brothers, I couldn’t imagine having better memories of Christmas mornings throughout my life. I’ve been extremely blessed to be able to have spent time with family every Christmas* throughout my entire life. It’s been amazing. My mom’s always done a fantastic job of creating a warm, nostalgic atmosphere in our home surrounding the holidays while also balancing out paying homage to the Reason for the season–we usually opened presents on Christmas Even and made a birthday cake for Jesus on the 25th. The older I get the more I realize just how unique that really was. Definitely a time in my life I’ll always carry with me and hopefully take some aspects and mold them into my kids’ Christmas traditions.
*There was one Christmas that I spent alone in my apartment, sophomore year of college. It was terrible. But that’s another story. And I did get to spend time with family after Christmas day that break.
1) Christmas with Hannah. I just got married in October and we’re already planning our lives out. We’re planning our vocational futures, thinking of kids’ names, what traditions we want to start, et al. We couldn’t be more excited to have a family and figure out how to meld all of our own family’s traditions into our new family. And one of those specifically we’ve talked about a lot recently is how to start some great Christmas traditions within our family. As of right now, it’s all pretty up in the air, which in a way is the most exciting part. For now, we’re visiting her family in Mount Shasta and it’s lovely. Several movies a day, plenty of athletic endeavor, some intense hangout time, great photographic opportunities, and some amazingly restful amounts of sleep. It’s delightful. I’ll be missing my brothers, sisters, dad, mom and other people directly related to me no doubt, for now though, Christmas in Shasta is pretty stinkin’ great.