Every week on Monday morning, the Council and invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum, short takes on a single timely topic, political, cultural or personal. This week’s question, with Christmas upon us: What’s your favorite holiday tradition or memory of holidays past? Feel free to add yours in the comments section.
The Razor: Sorry to disappoint, but my favorite holiday tradition occurred on the 4th of July. Although fireworks were illegal in my home county in Missouri, that didn’t stop my brother-in-law from driving us over the county line. There beneath canvas tents, Black Cat bottle rockets, Thunder bomb firecrackers, Jumping Jacks and hundreds of other types of fireworks could be bought in unusual quantities like “bricks” and “grosses.” 144 bottle rockets taught me the meaning of the measure “gross” – something that the Kid marveled at when I mentioned that fact as he was learning his multiplication tables.
Fireworks resulted in my first run ins with the St. Louis County Police Department. I remember being about ten years old talking to a cop when a packet of a dozen bottle rockets slipped from inside my shorts and fell onto the pavement. The cop didn’t hassle me for it; he didn’t even take them away. He just warned me to use common sense when shooting them off.
Unfortunately that just wasn’t possible. Being an adolescent with fireworks means that everything that can be blown up, will be blown up. Model airplanes. Army men. Even a few unfortunate crayfish met their ends strapped to Thunder Bombs and Black Cats. There were even a few bottle rocket fights and crude attempts to build “super bombs” by combining several firecrackers together. Amazingly I made it through adolescence without losing a finger or an eye, and my lust for explosives waned as I became a teenager and found other, more shapely pursuits.
Now my family in St. Louis lives in a fireworks-friendly county, and when I take my son to visit my people it always happens right around the 4th of July. I then revisit the stands and my youth through the sour smell of black powder and the bright lights and loud explosions on humid summer nights.
The Noisy Room: My favorite tradition is the live tree we get from the Boy Scouts every year. In fact, this year’s 6 foot beauty is the most spectacular yet. Then my husband puts on the lights (new LEDs this year) and he puts the angel on top. I then decorate the tree and reminisce over each and every decoration. We then watch Christmas videos non-stop for days.
I can remember as a kid, our small Christmas tree. It wasn’t real – we lived in a trailer because my dad was in construction and was very good at what he did. We traveled a lot. We loved that tree and we loved being together even more than the gifts. The best part was always family and still is. I loved watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.
Other than that, I love watching the snow fall and a fire. And last but not least, watching the cats tear up the wrapping paper.
JoshuaPundit: I don’t celebrate Christmas, but what I love most about this time of year is the way it effects people. They’re simply kinder, more cheerful and nicer to their fellow humans. They let the little things slide with a smile, saying ‘hey it’s Christmas.’
And it focuses people on love, family, hope and charity, perhaps the real message of the Gospels.
One favorite memory? Not earth shattering perhaps. A Chabad Hanukkah lighting outdoors/Hannukah party in Encino where a bunch of kids, mine among them, were all lighting their Hanukkiah (menorahs) on a table while everyone sang ‘Ma-Oz Tzur.’
I happened to be standing next to a rabbi I knew who had been ethnically cleansed from Egypt as a child and refugeed with his family to Israel after 1948. I was watching the kids sing and dance, and I looked at him and said, ‘You know, Rebbe, this is how we stick a thumb in the eyes of our enemies and tell them that we’re still here.’ He laughed and replied ‘Nachon’(exactly).
Rhymes With Right: My favorite holiday memory? It is a fairly recent one, only in the last few years.
When I found myself looking for a teaching job in 1997, I resolved to look nationally. To my wife, on the other hand, I made the promise that I would not take a job anywhere that we could not expect snow for Christmas. Sadly, that didn’t work out — my job offers all came from the Houston area, and Paula conceded that it would be for the best if I took one of them rather than face both of us being unemployed.
For several years we made it a habit to travel to my wife’s hometown for Christmas, but as she developed some health problems we realized that the long trip by car was beyond her. It was difficult that first year to not see snow on the ground on Christmas morning, and it did not get any better over the next couple of years. But then it happened — as we left the Christmas Eve service at our church and stepped onto the front steps, we saw a single snowflake fluttering down. In its wake came a flurry of other snowflakes, and we drove home on slick roads, looking at Christmas lights. We went to bed that night joking about what the morning would bring.
And then morning came, and I stepped onto the stoop to grab the newspaper. All I could do was call back to Paula to come join me. On our lawn, in Seabrook, Texas, was an inch of snow for Christmas. Perhaps I’ve not been able to fulfill my promise every year, but at least once my dear wife had snow for Christmas.
Old School: Ah, there is nothing like a traditional English Christmas, from the ham, Turkey or goose, the tree and the wreaths, and the Christmas pudding to the carolers, the singing of the old familiar hymns in Church and the excitement of Boxing Day, which unfortunately you seem to have missed out on in America.
Where I live in Yorkshire, such traditions still endure. Hard to pick a favorite, but perhaps the first Christmas with my wife is one of my more delightful memories.
The Glittering Eye: Let’s go with Christmas memories. Since Christmas is also my birthday, I have a lot of them.
Among the most memorable was one Christmas Eve. I believe it was the day before my 50th birthday. Both my mom and my wife’s mom were visiting us and it’s hard to imagine a more cordial group.
After early Mass on Christmas Eve my wife was acting a bit coy. Much to my surprise a limo showed up on our doorstep and whisked us off to Tru, back in its glory days at the height of its fame, to a dinner at the kitchen table, the primo place in the restaurant.
Not only did we get the glorious food and presentation for which Tru was famous, we got to watch the kitchen in operation. A wonderful evening, shared with the people I love the most.
There it is!
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Wishes for a very joyous and blessed holiday season from all of us at the Watcher’s Council!