FPQ #108: Do We Need a Special Day to Celebrate Love?

FPQ

Fandango’s intro to this week’s Provocative Question: Valentine’s Day is just four days from today. This coming Sunday is a day that people in love all around the globe — well, okay, in the United States, for sure — celebrate love and romance. So my perhaps not so provocative question this week is all about Valentine’s Day, how you feel about it and how you plan to celebrate the day.

Here’s my question….

How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? Do you consider it to be a special day, one where you express your deep love and appreciation for your significant other? Or is it just a commercialized “Hallmark Holiday” where you feel pressured to spend money on cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, and/or expensive dinners in order to stay on the good side of the one you love? Either way, what, if anything, are your plans for Valentine’s Day this year?

I do believe in Valentine’s Day as a way to celebrate our love for others. Some people need to be reminded to remember loved ones or to say “I love you.” Those who don’t express themselves well verbally can get a card and a small gift. My husband, Dale, used to get me flowers every year.

Actually, Valentine’s Day isn’t like other “Hallmark holidays” – it has a long history, although the facts are a little uncertain. One story says that Valentine was a priest during the Roman Empire. Emperor Claudius II forbade young men from getting married because he thought unmarried men made better soldiers. The priest thought this was unjust and continued to marry young lovers in secret. He became a martyr (either this priest or another religious figure, the Bishop of Terni) when he was imprisoned for performing these secret marriages. He was held in the home of a noble, and there he healed the noble’s daughter of blindness, which caused him to be considered a saint. Before he was tortured and put to death on February 14, he sent the girl a note signed, “Your Valentine.”

St. Valentine – downloaded from Google Images

Whatever the story or legend, Valentine’s Day began to be associated with love during the Middle Ages, and St. Valentine became one of the most popular saints in Europe. When selecting a date to celebrate this saint, some believe Feb. 14 (originally Feb. 15) was deliberately chosen to correspond to the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, celebrating the Roman fertility god, Lupercus. Unlike Valentine’s Day, however, Lupercalia was a bloody, violent, and sexually-charged celebration of animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and coupling to ward off evil spirits and appease the god of fertility. To learn more about St. Valentine and Lupercalia, go to the History Channel’s website page about the history of Valentine’s Day.

There are what I would call Hallmark holidays (like “Sweethearts’ Day” and “Grandparents’ Day”), but Valentine’s Day is not one of them.

However, I have a special reason to “believe in” Valentine’s Day as a special day – it’s Dale’s birthday! So I have a special valentine all of my own!!

Dale and me in Amsterdam, January 2018

It’s not necessarily fun to have a spouse with a birthday on a special day like Valentine’s Day. It’s hard to get restaurant reservations for that special birthday dinner, and some places have special menus and the cost is higher! If you’re like me, who tends to forget to do things until the last minute, you’re out of luck calling around to get reservations on the actual day of Valentine’s Day. I look for that special combo Valentine’s Day birthday card, and I can usually find one or two. But generally, I give him two different cards and a gift more appropriate for his birthday than the token gift I would give for Valentine’s Day.

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A popular Valentine’s Day gift is candy. Especially if you are a woman looking for something to give your spouse or boyfriend, candy is usually the default. But neither Dale nor I need to have such temptations in the house! I could get flowers for him – after all, why shouldn’t a woman get flowers for a man? Men like flowers, too, at least most of them seem to. But if I got him flowers and he decided to surprise me in the same way (since candy is a no-no), we’d have too many flowers and it would seem more like an even exchange than something special. I think this is why neither of us bothers to buy the other one Valentine’s Day gifts anymore. I have to find a gift for him anyway.

It used to be a double whammy when I was teaching, because invariably there would be a Valentine’s Day party for the kids, and parents would bring in all kinds of goodies that I generally found irresistible. That would be after hustling the night before to sign a Valentine’s Day card for each student from the packs of 10 or 12 that I’d bought at a store. I didn’t usually worry about providing treats, because parents usually did that, but I generally would get at least a bag of candy so I could give one or two pieces to each child along with the card.

Then after the festivities at school, I’d go home and…there’d be candy or possibly a birthday cake. Fortunately, I am not teaching anymore, and being retired, it’s our job to sit back and let the kids do special things for us! In fact, our daughter has already warned us that she plans to make her dad a cake this year, which she hasn’t done the last few years. (But she’s all domesticated now that she’s married – she or her husband often cook special dishes for us.) That said, instead of being able to get together and share it, she’ll probably have to drop it off over the fence of our complex and we’ll be stuck eating the whole thing! I shouldn’t complain – everything she cooks is great and often quite innovative, but I seem to be in a perpetual struggle to lose weight!

My brother-in-law celebrates Valentine’s Day every year by performing “Singing Valentines” with his barbershop quartet. I don’t know if they will do it this year, but I will miss seeing it in our community dining room (which is closed due to Covid). Anyway, it’s a great surprise gift for someone’s special sweetheart and the group earns quite a bit of money that day!

Whatever the case, although we should celebrate love every day, I think it is a wonderful thing in these always challenging times to have at least one day called Valentine’s Day.

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The Final Days

It is Christmas Day and I am finishing up Tourmaline’s Countdown to Christmas!

Day 23: Gathering
We have been warned by Dr. Fauci and the CEO’s of our senior community, to STAY HOME and not go to gatherings! But we are sort of obligated to go to a gathering of seven people on Christmas Day. Our daughter and son-in-law are cooking and our son-in-law’s brother and niece have come from Florida for the holidays. (Probably not a wise thing to do this year, but there was nothing we could do about it!) Also our son will be there; otherwise he’d be alone for Christmas which would worsen his depression. So we are going to sneak out and employ mitigation methods while there – masking wearing, social distancing, etc. We had a COVID test last week and it came out negative. I may go and have another one done after this Christmas Day gathering!

At The Family Reunion Who We Introducing Jokes - FamilyScopes

Day 24: Presents
Some people have the tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve. My family’s tradition was to open just one gift on Christmas Eve, so I tried to choose wisely. In my favorite Christmas movie, Love Actually, there is a scene in which a family is gathered around on Christmas Eve to select one gift to open. We see the mother (who has already accidentally seen her husband buy a gold necklace at a department store) reaching for a small square box under the tree that she believes to be the necklace. Although she had just recently had a conversation with her husband about how much she loved Joni Mitchell, she tries hard to hide her disappointment when the gift turns out to be a Joni Mitchell double CD. Her husband, unaware of her knowledge of the necklace he bought for his secretary, smiles and says, “for your emotional education.” Holding back tears, she excuses herself and goes upstairs to her bedroom to cry.

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Here the mother, played by Emma Thompson, is smiling as she looks at the rest of her family on Christmas Eve.

Emma Thompson reveals real heartbreak behind her iconic Love Actually scene
Here she is wiping her tears in her bedroom.

Day 25: CHRISTMAS DAY! Food
Traditional Christmas dinner food is a lot like Thanksgiving food. At this moment, I can hear Dale rattling around in the kitchen as he prepares his green bean casserole. We are sneaking out to go to our daughter’s house for Christmas dinner, because she and her husband are cooking and there will only be seven of us there. The main dishes they are serving are beef Wellington and ham. Meanwhile, my mouth waters just looking at the wonderful cookies my niece baked for us! This is her gift to us every year and I always look forward to it! There are standard holiday shaped sugar cookies, wreaths made with corn flakes and marshmallows (dyed green), and my favorite: chocolate brownies with peppermint frosting, which I have already talked about in a previous post for this challenge. Don’t they look scrumptious?!

31 best Christmas jokes for kids: the funniest festive children's one-liners

And now the Countdown to Christmas is done!
Thank you, Tourmaline, it was a lot of fun!
I’d like to end with some holiday cheer:

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

SYW: Holiday Cookies, Drinks, and Magic

SantaSYW

Melanie has a new set of holiday-related questions for her weekly Share Your World.

  • What is your favorite type of cookie (they’re called biscuits in Europe I believe)?
    If you mean Christmas cookies, it would be a tie between the sugar cookies in different shapes with frosting and a brownie with peppermint candy frosting (not technically a cookie, but my niece makes these every year as part of her gift of cookies).

    Outside of holiday season, it’s homemade chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven!
    I don’t bake cookies in general, so we buy Tates – their chocolate chip cookie is thin and crispy.
We buy boxes of Tates like this at Costco. At other places, they come in smaller bags, but there are more varieties.
  • If you could choose one age and remain that forever, what would it be and why?
    65 – young enough to still have the energy and drive to travel and explore new things, and also be eligible for retirement and Medicare.
  • Do you have a traditional drink during the holiday season?
    Not this year, because we are not gathering as usual with our family, but normally it is Jolly Jolt. Jolly Jolt is basically warm apple cider with cinnamon cloves. My sister prepares it in a large coffee pot and everyone helps themselves! This year, I suspect it will be Cooper’s Hawk’s Winter Red wine, which we have a bottle of in our garage – also best heated.
    NV Cooper's Hawk Winter Red, USA, Illinois - CellarTracker
  • Are you able to still believe in holiday magic as you did when you were a child?
    No, not really. Warmth, maybe, magic, no. When I was a kid, holidays like Christmas were always extremely exciting. We kids got to do the fun stuff, like picking out and decorating the tree, helping put up the creche, and singing Christmas carols. As an adult, there’s the work side of it – things don’t magically happen! I do very little decorating, except to put up my collection of creches and hang a Santa Claus on the door. Usually I have a Christmas tree but haven’t had one for the last three years. I do more decorating if we’re having guests.

    The most magical and exciting moments during my childhood were early Christmas mornings. My dad put up a portable screen so we couldn’t see into the living room until my parents got up. So we kids would climb partway up the stairway to peek over the screen to find our stockings and all the presents my parents had added during the night. This is what I think about when I’m asked about holiday magic!

    Now I look forward to simple gatherings of families and friends, noshing, drinking Jolly Jolt and playing games. It gives me warm feeling, but not the magic of childhood.

Gratitude section: I’m grateful to be alive and reasonably healthy! And I’m grateful that 2020 is almost over!

SYW: Winter & Holiday Traditions

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

Yuletide SYW

QUESTIONS:

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.

Countdown to Christmas

Tourmaline is hosting her first Countdown to Christmas challenge this year! Here are the themes:

I am admittedly lousy at keeping up with a daily challenge, so I am going to take this one by chunks, this time at least!

Dec. 1: Decorations
Many people here at our senior community put wreaths and other decorations on the doors and shelves outside their apartments. Last year when it was too cold to walk outside, I instead walked the halls of the apartment building and took lots of photos of decorations. I will probably do the same thing this year. Because of COVID-19, to get us into the holiday spirit, there is a door decorating contest, so there ought to be even more doors decorated this year!
Here are a few from last year. I especially like the ones that reflect different ethnic traditions.

I made this collage of some of the door wreaths.

Dec. 2: Family
I have a large family so we don’t all gather together. Mostly we get together with the kids and grandkids of my sister and brother-in-law, who live in this same community. Last Christmas, our daughter & son-in-law hosted the celebration at our old house (where they currently live).

Dec. 3: Traditions
We have several holiday traditions, such as putting up my collection of creches (Nativity scenes – I have quite a few), a Christmas tree decorated with lights and ornaments, and games – we always play some games! We also sing carols around a piano (if there is one). My sister has two Christmas carol games and we also love to play Charades and Categories. Last year our daughter and son-in-law had a new game for us, where everyone at the table takes turns unwrapping a large ball of cellophane full of little prizes. One person unwraps while another throws dice. When the dice come up as doubles, the person unwrapping has to stop and pass on the cellophane ball. It was frustrating and fun!

My brother-in-law unwraps while my friend Marcia rolls the dice. My sister Mary is closest to the camera.

I think we will have to forego the games this year, because we can’t get together – but maybe we can play Categories via Zoom!!

Thursday Doors: Leftover Holidays

Norm is back with a new Thursday doors post! He posted about a repurposed church in French Canada – check it out! My contribution this week is photos of doors taken while walking the halls of The Moorings’* main building on a cold day. All the apartments have identical doors, but what is interesting is what their residents put on their doors! Most of the ones I found this week were holiday decorations (especially wreaths – I was on the hunt for wreaths in particular) that their owners hadn’t yet taken down. I’m also throwing in a few that I took in December, before Christmas.
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This resident hung colorful decorations from the light fixture outside their front door!
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This door has an advent calendar with all its doors open. (Notice the “No Puffins – Alaska” sign!)
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Wreath collage!

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The apartments also have little shelves outside the front doors, on which many people choose to display other holiday decorations!

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Charlie Brown Christmas tree towers over a small creche.

 

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Classic Santa!

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Traditional Norwegian painted wooden items

*For those of you new to my blog, my husband and I recently moved to The Moorings, a senior living community in Arlington Heights, IL. We live in a duplex, but I walk the long hallways flanked by apartments on days when it’s too cold to walk outside and I don’t feel like exercising at the fitness center.

 

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.

QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK 12-23-19:
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.

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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?”
Four.

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.

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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 Holiday Edition: On Beating the Holiday Blues, Jolly Jolt, Jesus’ Birth, and Christmas Music

Melanie’s weekly Share Your World this week is about celebration of the winter holidays.

Questions:
What’s your remedy for the Holiday blues?
Sing carols or if singing is not your thing, listen to cheerful holiday music. Go to a light show at your local botanic garden or zoo or wherever there is a holiday light show. Stay inside, curl up near the fireplace (or some other warm spot in your home) with a hot beverage and read a good book.
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Your favorite beverage (if it differs) during the holiday season? If it doesn’t differ, just answer the ‘what’s your favorite beverage” part.
In our family, the tradition is to serve “jolly jolt” on Christmas – this is hot apple cider with cinnamon and cloves, and possibly spiked with a bit of liquor – this is added to taste (rum, vodka, brandy, wine), so the children can enjoy jolly jolt without the liquor!
This one has been asked before, but what’s your take on pumpkin spice?
I like pumpkin spice, as in cake or cookies.
Is there is a person or god connected with your holiday?
Yes, the “son of God” or Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I was raised that “Jesus is the reason for the season” and while I do believe that and I love to celebrate and put up a creche or nativity scene in my house, I don’t actually believe literally in the story of Jesus’ birth. It just doesn’t make sense to me that three wise men followed a star or comet that led them to his birthplace or that angels appeared to shepherds and told them to go to Bethlehem to worship him.
jesus-birth.jpgI’m not even sure that he was born in Bethlehem, although I did go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem last January and was just as excited as anyone to see the place where he was supposedly born. In my opinion, Jesus was just a baby, born like any other baby and probably “worshipped” only by his parents and other family members. But it doesn’t matter – the Christmas story is symbolic and it is the spirit of the holiday that counts. As well as all the traditions having nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, such as Christmas trees, decorations, snow, etc. I enjoy giving gifts and also receiving them and I enjoy singing carols and spreading the love of the season to others. Love, family, friends – that is what Christmas is all about.
• Who are they and do you believe in them?
I do believe in Jesus Christ but not as literally the “son of God.” He had an earthly father and mother and was conceived like any other baby. Call me blasphemous, but that’s what I believe. He was a man of peace, a very pious Jew who nevertheless challenged the Jewish establishment; he was the Messiah, as it were. But to me he isn’t technically a god.
• If you do not believe in these people or gods, does the celebration/honoring of that being, bother you in any way (e.g., ignored, dismissed, angry, etc.)?
I believe in freedom of religion and respect everyone’s faith or lack thereof. My husband is Jewish and every year is bothered by the onslaught of commercialism and Christmas-in-your-face from October through December. I sympathize with his feelings in spite of thoroughly enjoying the season myself.

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My husband has this bumper sticker on his car; I used to also, on my old car, but have not bought a new one for my new car.

Gratitude:
Share a song that you enjoy during this Winter season (whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, The Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa and so forth.
It’s hard to choose just one. I enjoy Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs, and many secular songs of the season. I guess my favorites are Angels We Have Heard on High and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, as well as the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah. As a classical music lover, I enjoy Handel’s Messiah and other oratorios of the season, as well as madrigal groups singing medieval and Renaissance carols. I also enjoy singing a Christmas cantata every year in my church choir as well as the traditional carols and secular songs.

 

Here is a nice French carol sung sweetly by a children’s choir: He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child.

This song, Lead Me Back to Bethlehem, is from the cantata our church choir sang last year,  (but this is a different choir – we don’t sound this good!!) – I loved singing this cantata, called Lead Me Back to Bethlehem by Pepper Choplin.
https://youtu.be/vwWt-e1–xs