SYW: Winter & Holiday Traditions

Every week I look forward to Melanie’s Share Your World!

Yuletide SYW


Do you enjoy skiing or ice skating or if it’s warm where you are, hiking or enjoying outdoor sports? I have never been good at sports of any kind, really. However, as a kid I did go with my siblings or friends to local skating ponds. We all had ice skates. I would get cold pretty quickly, sooner than the others. The best part was going home and warming up our frozen feet in front of the fireplace, while drinking homemade hot chocolate!

One of my sisters and my brother used to downhill ski, and my sister got pretty good at it. I was always confined to the “bunny hill.” I wasn’t very good at stopping which of course was a problem since I sometimes stopped by running into someone or something! Good thing I wasn’t going very fast. However, every time I went, I did experience momentary exhilaration during my descent down the hill. More fun for me was sledding – that was a popular pastime among my friends in the neighborhood. Also making snowmen or snow forts. For a short time, I enjoyed cross country skiing, but I didn’t pursue it enough to get very good. But at least stopping was a lot easier! Again, I always looked forward to warming up back inside afterward with hot chocolate.

That said, I really have never been a fan of winter. I don’t tolerate the cold well. As an adult, it’s nothing but inconvenience and drudgery – cleaning off the car to go to work or before going home. And then shoveling. My husband would get on his snow blower, but my job was to clear the porches and steps. Sometimes we had to use the shovels to chop a layer of ice under the snow.

Admittedly, there are many opportunities for beautiful photography in winter. I have a great collection of photos of icicles and scenes of freshly fallen snow.

Do you give to charities or homeless that you might encounter, during this time of year, more than you do otherwise?
I get more solicitations at this time of year but I have to pick & choose. I have a few charities that I give to consistently. As for homeless people, I don’t usually give homeless people money on city streets, but here in the suburbs, there are certain intersections where individuals go between the cars waiting at a red light to try to get money from motorists. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t. More recently, I did. How generous I am depends on how secure I feel in terms of money. Right now I have some to spare.

In normal times, I get volunteers from my church to either provide food or work at a homeless shelter site. Different churches take turns every week manning these sites and serving food that is donated. But of course, right now these shelters are closed, so I feel sorry for those people who depended on them.

What is the most enjoyable activity you engage in during December?  Is it a tradition for you and your family?
I used to love decorating the Christmas tree. I have a lot of ornaments that I have acquired over the years, souvenirs of different places and different times. After I persuade Dale to put on the lights, I play Christmas music while decorating the tree.

We haven’t had a tree the last couple of years – last year we had just moved and we needed a smaller tree which we didn’t get; and the year before that we were overseas at Christmas. So this year I really want to find a tree – real or fake – that’s about 4-5 ft. tall for a good price so I can enjoy those ornaments again.

Our Christmas tree in years past

I also love getting together with family for dinner, gift exchanges, Christmas cookies, and carol singing! Here’s a collage from Christmas 2016:

What changes will C-19 bring to your festive celebrations this year?  
Thanksgiving was a preview of holidays to come – the two of us sat at our little table alone and ate the Thanksgiving dinner we ordered for dinner here at our senior community. Afterward, we connected with several family households on Zoom, to chat and play games. I think Hanukkah and Christmas will be the same. The weird thing is that this year I’ve bought more “real” gifts than I have in the past – usually I give gift cards because I have no imagination, lol! So now I have to mail those gifts to people I would normally see. For our kids, we will probably go to their houses and leave gifts on their porches, and they will most likely exchange gifts with us then. (Besides, we usually give them cash.) But we probably will get together with my sister and brother-in-law, who live in this community too, at least on New Year’s Eve, which is our traditional wine and game night. We usually play Scrabble. If we do Zoom, we’ll have to do a game like Categories that doesn’t require any shared equipment.

GRATITUDE SECTION (Optional of course):

Please share a good will wish for the world!

There is good news on the horizon: vaccines for Covid-19, and for Americans, a new administration with actual leadership will be taking office in January. In light of that, my message is:

There is light at the end of the tunnel.
May it arrive in 2021!
Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, listen to scientists, and count your blessings during these dark times.

#JanuarySquare 9: Hanukkah Lights

Hanukkah overlapped with Christmas this year and at North School Park in Arlington Heights, we met a rabbi at the Hanukkah (Chanukah) display of a menorah lit up for the 5th day of Hanukkah. (It’s hard to see but the light immediately to the left of the middle candle, called the shamas, is also lit.)
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For those of you not familiar with Hanukkah, it is the Jewish celebration of a miracle that happened long ago when the Maccabees (a prominent Jewish band of rebels) took control of Judea when it was under Syrian rule. They planned to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem. Under siege, they had oil only to last one day, but by miracle, it lasted eight days. The special Hanukkah menorah has nine candles. The one in the middle, usually elevated, is called the shamas, and is used to light the others, adding one during each night of Hanukkah.  The lighting of the candles is a ritual which takes place each evening of Hanukkah at sundown, during which special prayers are said. (Although I am Christian, my husband is Jewish, and we celebrate both holidays.)

The rabbi we met at the park invited us to visit his congregation for a Hanukkah party the Sunday after Christmas, which we didn’t do because we had other plans already. The rabbi went to his car, which had a glowing menorah on top!
Hanukkah is also known as the “Festival of Lights” which fits the topic of Becky’s January Squares challenge, _____light.

SYW: Animal Talk and Questions to End the Holiday Season

Share Your World is a weekly set of questions hosted by Melanie at Sparks From a Combustible Mind.

Do dogs ‘talk’ (communicate) with their own species? (credit to Marilyn of Serendipity)
Not just dogs – I think the members of every species communicate with each other. It’s not necessarily with their voices. Dogs are known to leave their “calling cards” by peeing on trees and lawns. Doing this is like sticking a post-it-note up on a public bulletin board for all to see. Anyone who has a pet knows the different kinds of sounds they make. If my cat hears the sound of a cat fight, she is immediately on alert – her tail and fur on her back puff up. Dogs bark, whine, growl and make other sounds to express themselves; cats meow, caterwaul, purr and make funny, soft noises at animals outside; loons have a variety of calls. Many people have heard recordings of whale “songs.” So yes, I think dogs, like other animals, communicate with their own species as well as with others.

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Have you ever had to work on Christmas Day?
No, fortunately not! I have never been in a job that requires someone to be on call all the time. Our daughter, whose birthday is on Christmas, is not so fortunate – I told her she was lucky never to have to work on her birthday, but in fact, she did used to when she had less seniority at her job as an apartment building manager.

If someone gifts you something that you immediately loathe, do you pretend to really like it anyway or are you brutally honest about your opinion?
I don’t loathe any gift and always try to show my gratitude for receiving it. I received, this Christmas, a gift from a friend – it is a small wood burning set. Original, I’ll give her that! She said it’s because I am “branching out” in my creative crafts – I’ve been drawing and painting more lately, that’s true. But don’t give me anything to burn! I will either cause an accident to myself or others, or at the very least mess it up. What I usually do with gifts like this that I have no use for is to keep them to give to someone else later, someone who doesn’t know the original gift giver!

Which popular drink, found during the Christmas season most often, is called “milk punch?”
Spiked eggnog perhaps? I have never heard the term “milk punch” so I’m just guessing.

How many ghosts show up during “A Christmas Carol?”

Are you all about the holly and jolly or more about remembering the alleged ‘true’ meaning of Christmas?
Both. Christmas, like other holidays, is a time for celebration with friends and family. So that’s jolly, at least among my family and friends. The holly – decorating. Yes, I do that. But I also always put up my main creche along with all the small ones I’ve collected from around the world. Right after Christmas, I put away all the wrapping paper and cards, but the creches stay up until January 6. This is a remember that Christ is the reason for the season.

Please share a memory or thought about the holiday season if you’d like, whatever kind of celebration you may observe.
In spite of my husband being Jewish (and we do light the menorah each night of Hanukkah), s
omething we, like many people, do is the tradition of driving around looking at lights. We actually haven’t done this for a couple of years, but this year we did, just Dale and I. We moved during the summer so we now live in a different community, and we decided to check out the holiday lights of Arlington Heights.

The entrance to North School Park in Arlington Heights, which has a lot of things that are lit up for Christmas.

North School Park also has dreidls and Hanukkah decorations on display!

Some Arlington Heights house decorations

This house is near where we live and is really over the top! They fill their yard (in front and on the side) with those blow-up figures, of every type and description. I think they add more each year. This year, they had three dragons alongside their house!

We (Dale, me, and our kids) used to always go to a neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago called Sauganash, but after doing that for several years in a row, we realized that although the rich people who live there do decorate their houses and yards lavishly, they don’t change them much, so year after year we saw basically the same decorations and we stopped going there. While we are driving around, wherever it is, we tune our car radio to a station that dedicates about 6 weeks (just after Thanksgiving to just after New Year’s Day) to playing holiday songs, mainly popular tunes, not religious ones. We sing along with the ones we like and complain about how often they play the ones we don’t!

During my childhood, my family used to drive around our home town to admire decorations. There was one street that was famous for its original decorations, particularly one house, which did something different every year, so it was always a surprise. One year we went there and saw that that house had no lights up on the house, or any other decoration except a big lit up sign in the front yard that said SCROOGE. I’ve never forgotten this!

SYW: Christmas (and Hanukkah) for all the senses

These are the holiday-themed questions for this week’s Share Your World.

Do you enjoy receiving Christmas cards through snail mail?
Yes, very much, although I don’t get many anymore. This is partly my fault since I am always late with my cards and sometimes I don’t send any at all.
Peppermint-Candy-Cane-BarkDo you like the taste and/or smell of peppermint?
OMG, peppermint is my favorite! Since it is associated with Christmas, it’s sometimes hard to find peppermint ice cream at any other time of year. So I savor it when I can! It’s especially good when combined with chocolate.
What is your least favorite holiday side dish?
Creamed onions or anything with raisins in it
What is the coolest (best) gift you ever gave someone?
When I inherited some money and felt flush, I paid for a trip to Israel for a friend of mine, who wouldn’t be able to go otherwise. The trip was quite a bargain, cost-wise. We were going as a church group – it was Christian-focused, and I knew that it was her dream to go to Israel, regarding it as a spiritual journey. She was raised Jewish, but converted to Christianity as an adult. She had never been out of the United States except a couple of times to Canada, and with her income, she would never have had the opportunity to go abroad.  While in Israel, she was (re)baptized in the Jordan River. Here she is afterward – this is part smile of happiness and part grimace because the water was so cold!
dsc06901.jpgBonus question because I thought it was nifty: What is a Christmas song that makes you cringe? (Please insert the word “Holiday” for Christmas if Christmas isn’t your thing or bothers you or something)
When Melanie asked this question last week, I posted the lyrics of a dumb song we had to sing for our community’s choir performance. I would say this is the same song that makes me cringe. I also am really not fond of Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. I know it’s supposed to be funny, but Grandma dies!! I’m sure there are others that make me change the station on my car radio, but I can’t think of any right now.

Please share some of your favorite music around this time of year.
This is my favorite from the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky. It’s seldom included on antholologies or “selections from the Nutcracker.”

There are lots of versions of O Holy Night, one of my favorite carols. But I didn’t want a typical “pop” rendition, so I chose this one by Celtic/Classical Trio. I love Celtic music so I really enjoyed this version with harp, violin and a backup boys’ choir!

Angels We Have Heard on High has been one of my favorite carols since childhood. Here’s a beautiful version by Libera.

Here is my absolutely favorite song by Celine Dion, The Prayer, which on her album of Christmas songs she sings with Andre Bocelli. This is with Josh Groban, who is excellent too! This song invariably brings tears to my eyes.

Finally, here’s a popular tune – Mele Kalikimaka – with (the incomparable) Bing Crosby and gorgeous scenes of Hawaii. When my son was in preschool, they did a holiday show and this was what his class sang. They could barely pronounce the words, but they looked so cute swaying in their grass skirts!

I could post more videos because there are so many wonderful songs and carols for Christmas, but, in honor of my Jewish husband and the fact that Hanukkah starts tomorrow at sundown, I will end with a Hanukkah song. Added bonus: It has a latke recipe!! (Check out the Maccabeats on YouTube – their songs are upbeat and funny!)


December Squares: Ugly Sweater Time!

Becky is hosting her December Month of Squares with the subject time. It’s that time of year to attend holiday parties – get out your “ugly Christmas sweater!”

Wearing “ugly Christmas sweaters” to a holiday party has become an American holiday tradition. So much so that now stores are marketing ugly sweaters and other garish items of clothing. Today I saw “ugly” clothing for sale while shopping at Meijer, such as this skirt covered with colorful shiny bows with a golden garland fringe.
Maybe you would prefer to attend the party dressed in a Santa suit.

And here it is, the classic “ugly sweater!” (This is my favorite!)
I can’t help but include, in a nod to my Jewish family members, my stepdaughter at her bridal shower with a special gift: an “ugly” Hanukkah sweater!
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Time Square Challenge: Hannukah

Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights, takes place at this time of year and lasts 8 nights. Each night for eight nights, a candle is lit on the menorah, until, on the final night – which is tonight – all the candles are lit. If you are not familiar with the custom of lighting the menorah, there are eight candles, four on either side of a ninth candle, usually raised above the others. This candle is called the “shamas” and is used to light the other candles. So each candle represents time in the sense that the eight days of Hanukkah are “counted” by lighting the menorah candles.

I took this photo on Dec. 5, the fourth day of Hanukkah this year, of a menorah at Lutheran General Hospital Parkside Center, where I went for an appointment that day with my cardiologist.
This post is for Becky’s month of squares with the theme of Time.