Christmastime is the end of my favorite time of the year. From the beginning of September, through the New Year, I feel like the Universe is my oyster! I love the snow and cold, I get to celebrate my birthday, and all of my favorite holidays are lined up across those four months. Christmas just happens to be the cherry on top of the delicious sundae that is autumn and the milder winter months.
When we returned from our four state sabbatical, we had just about two weeks to prepare for the holidays, and another couple of days after Christmas to prepare for our next big trip. Fortunately I had begun preparing for the holidays as early as Black Friday, and all of the items I had purchased online as gifts were waiting for me at my parents’ house when we got back from Montana. Wrapping everything up the night of our return, I was more than halfway done with all of my Christmas prep, and feeling much less stressed about the holidays than in past years.
For the two weeks leading up to Christmas, I returned to my old job at Pandora jewelers, to help out over the craziest weeks of the year, and to get in a few last pay checks before leaving for our longest trip yet. While working in retail is never all that pleasant over the holidays, the ladies I have the pleasure to call my work-family make up for any customers with crap attitudes we may have to deal with during the holiday season. We all even exchanged Christmas gifts, and I managed to take most of them with us on our post-Christmas trip, or use them before leaving.
Although Christmas is my absolute favorite time of the year, this year it felt off. It felt like something was missing; because there was, in fact, something missing. Or rather, someone. The loss of my cousin Brooks weighed heavily on all of us over the holidays. But the community who knew Brooks, as well as some who only just learned about him recently, continued to surprise us with their kindness and generosity.
In Chicago, several days before Christmas, my Aunt and Uncle invited their pastor over to lead them in a small, private Mass. As a great friend of the family, he obliged, and helped them celebrate Mass as a family, in the peace of their own home. Just as the pastor was leaving, there was a knock on the door. Outside, hundreds of people had crowded into the street in front of their home to sing carols. As they sang their final song, the sound of hundreds of tinkling bells filled the air. Every person in the crowd held a bell on which they had attached little hand-written notes about how Brooks had touched their lives. The crowd had brought the bells because, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” I wish that I could have been there, to witness such a magnificent act of human kindness and love.
Back home in Colorado, we were shown our own kindness, by complete strangers no less. Leading up to Christmas, my sister Lindsay had been searching local liquor stores for a certain brand of wine from Oregon. Brooks Wine. After checking everywhere local, she contacted Brooks Wines directly, two days before Christmas, asking if they distributed to anywhere she might have missed. She explained why she was looking for their wine in particular, and they responded almost immediately. They had actually already received an article about Brooks, and knew his story; but they did not have anywhere local that carried their wine. In a show of extreme generosity, they sent a package containing a bottle of their Pinot Noir, and a bottle of their Riesling, as well as copies of the history of their vineyard and other small tokens, overnight, completely free of charge. Because of their overwhelming spirit of giving, we were able to toast in Brooks’ honor at Christmas dinner, and again as we celebrated the New Year a couple of days later. I cannot express my thanks enough, to the owners and vintners of Brooks Wines. They sincerely made our Christmas special.
Now, as I try and clear the tears from my eyes and stem my runny nose, shall we try and cheer things up a bit? J
On Christmas Eve, I unfortunately had to work. Luckily, the store was only open until 6pm, leaving everyone enough time to get home for dinner with their families. Once home, I found myself with the yearly rush of last minute things which needed doing. The living area needed vacuuming before presents could be gathered from all over the house, and put under the tree. Stockings needed to be hung on the mantel. An occasional unlabeled gift needed to have its recipient deduced and a label added. All small details which need to be done each year.
With most everything done, we all sat down to our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of Chicago deep-dish pizza, sent direct from the source by my Aunt and Uncle each year. As we tucked into our pseudo-Italian feast, we made sure to check another of our traditions off the list, by watching A Christmas Story. Every year, we sit down to watch Ralphie on his quest to getting his ultimate Christmas wish; an official Red Ryder carbine action BB gun. Having seen it almost two dozen times, we all have it memorized, and spend most of the movie quoting along with the actors. (What can I say? I come from a family of nerds!) Once the movie ended, it was time to tuck into bed, and wait for Christmas morning!
Every year, we always tell everyone to arrive by a certain time, and every year we end up starting an hour later than we planned. So, after getting up to be ready by 8:30, I made a cup of tea and threw How the Grinch Stole Christmas into the DVD player. Then, after that one ended, I threw in The Year Without a Santa Claus for good measure. Finally, about ten minutes in, everyone started arriving, and we got the show on the road. As per usual, the late arrivals and the timer for breakfast in the oven coincided, and we all tramped into the dining room for brunch.
Of all of the meals I’ve eaten, Christmas brunch is still the one I look forward to most every year. Coffee cake, egg casserole, sausage, bacon, fruit salad. Each piece so small, but by the time I finish, I am always stuffed to the gills. Before we moved into our tiny house, I asked my mother and grandmother for all of our family recipes, so that I will never be without them. The egg casserole and coffee cake will always be one of my Christmas traditions, no matter where I go.
Finally, with everyone accounted for and fed, we let the festivities begin! As our family traditions dictate, stocking were opened first. Santa always slips a particularly special present into our stockings. For Ian, his extra special gift was the new kindle he had been after, and needed for our long trip ahead. I, on the other hand, got several hard-to-find Pandora charms from Europe. As we were all opening our stockings, I noticed my one and a half year old nephew Jax, sneaking into everyone else’s stockings, and hoarding their sweets. Kid is definitely his mother’s son. (Just kidding, Lindsay! 🙂 )
Anyways, on to presents! Each year I end up “playing Santa” as Randy from A Christmas Story would call it; and I began doling out the gifts from under the tree. But, before I got too far, there were two gifts in particular that we needed to put up front. My sister began by telling my grandparents the story of searching for the wine, and she produced the letter which the wonderful people of Brooks Wines sent, along with their phenomenal gifts to our family. With the collective tears flowing, my grandmother then pulled out the gift to them from my Aunt and Uncle. Each year, the Tonn Family of Chicago makes a photo album of the entire family, with a whole section dedicated to each member of the family. The cover of the album alone (a picture of Hunter, Griffin, Scarlett, and Brooks at the beach) had us in tears, and sent an ache through my chest. After taking a brief look at the album, we had to put the book aside, and tried to pull together a cheerful attitude for the rest of the day. Wiping the tears from our eyes, we dove into the merriment of Christmas.
With almost nine months of travel plans set into motion after Christmas, Ian and I had very few things on our Christmas lists, and a lot of what we did have on our lists were related to travel. That being said, we did get a few things we had to leave behind when we left for our trip. The one travel related item that I wanted the most, I was ecstatic to see when I opened it first; a new Fitbit. I have had a couple of these little devices in the past, one of which stopped charging properly, and the other was simply too large, as it was a hand-me-down from Ian. It’s been brilliant having a new one, which actually fits! Since I charged it, it has barely left my wrist!
While Ian and I were happy with the small pile of gifts we received, I was thrilled to see some of the gifts I had gotten for others as they were opened. I decided last year that I would try and stick to books or book related things for everyone, family and friends included, and there were some I was really proud of. I got my nephew three of my favorite Dr. Seuss books (Are You My Mother, Go, Dog! Go!, and Wacky Wednesday), I found my mother a Psych (one of her favorite shows) mystery novel, and I picked up a couple of books on mindfulness and destressing for my sister (who definitely needs them). One of the hardest people to shop for every year is my father, but this year I found the perfect gift for him, and even preordered it back in November. My dad is a huge fan of the band Rush, and they released a special 40th anniversary edition of one of their most popular albums, A Farewell to Kings. The only problem with his gift is that it was much more expensive than everyone else’s, so I let him know it was his Christma-fath-irthday gift. (At least I’m set for his gifts until next Christmas! Haha!)
As the afternoon wore on, and we opened the last of our gifts, we prepared for dinner. Though I do not hold it in such high esteem as Christmas Brunch, who can say they aren’t looking forward to a HoneyBaked Ham? Glazed carrots, green beans, Hawaiian rolls, and cranberry sauce; a smorgasbord of my favorite foods. Gathered around the table, we each raised a glass of Brooks Wine, and toasted to our fallen family member, Brooks. Though he is gone, we carry him in our hearts still.
With dinner over, and all of the gifts opened, we began the arduous task of cleaning up after a day of frivolity; bagging up discarded wrapping, cleaning up dishes, and finding homes for all of our new belongings. We wound down the evening by putting on Christmas Vacation, one of the last Holiday traditions we had yet to accomplish. As my grandparents prepared to leave, Ian and I helped them sort out their belongings, and made sure they didn’t forget to take their dog along home with them. When they had pulled away from the curb, Ian suggested that we go take a look at the Christmas lights around town. Since this was something he had never shown an interest in before, I agreed and we hopped in our own car, and took a spin around town. Though I haven’t been around town to look at the lights the past few years, I swear that this year everyone pulled out all the stops in dressing up their houses and lawns. Definitely going to add a trip around town to look at lights as another tradition we have to do every year! After meandering the streets for thirty minutes, we turned around and headed home, ready for a warm bed, and a nice cup of hot chocolate.
As far as Christmases goes, this one was probably one of my favorites. Though there are always small hiccups, like a finicky oven, or someone forgetting to take something home with them, this Christmas seemed to flow fairly smoothly, and was gone in a flash. Once we brought all of our gifts upstairs, and got ready for bed, it seemed like we were already in the mindset of our next big event, and our next trip. Though I was hoping to fit one last thing into this post, I think I’ve more than exceeded my average word count. So I guess I’ll just have to write a very short post tomorrow, and finish out our last special occasion in there!
Seeya later Geeks!