Category: Christmas/Holidays Unplugged

Redefining Christmas

By , December 22, 2008 8:51 pm

As a child, I remember Christmas being so exciting that I could hardly sleep the night before. We’d have a tree, Christmas stockings and yummy turkey.  My Dad would always design a “trail” for me –  a treasure hunt with clues – to lead me to my biggest present.  Dessert was always my mother’s homemade Christmas pudding with lots of thick cream, almond paste cloaked Christmas cake, and tiny, flaky mince pies (my parents were from England).

As an adult, I managed to spend most of my Christmases at home with my mother and sister (my parents were divorced by then) where it would always be the same as I remembered (minus the trail).

This will be the fourth Christmas since the death of my mother.  Each year, my sister and I have struggled with how to make Christmas like we remembered.  For a variety of reasons, the first two years were fairly miserable.  Last year, I just ran away from it all and ignored Christmas as much as I could.

This year, I feel brave enough to try it again.  It will be different.  My sister and I have decided that we can’t recreate the same thing without my mother.  Those days are gone.  I need to do something new (but with a few old elements?).

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time (at least a year) may remember last year’s  Christmas/Holidays Unplugged series, so perhaps you know of my internal struggles.  I want to create lovely memories and traditions for my children, but hate the commercialism and lack of any meaning.

I think that writing that series of posts really helped me prioritize and come up with a plan.  A “year off” from Christmas helped a lot too.


The plan this year is as follows:

– Tree: Thin tree that needed to be cut from our property anyway – read more: An Ugly Christmas Tree.

– Child Presents: Christmas stockings plus one gift each for the kids from Santa, and a few from us.

NOTE:  Without TV, my kids don’t really have specifics on what they want…which is wonderful and difficult at the same time.  They sat on Santa’s lap at our town Christmas tree lighting and both asked for “a surprise.”  I wonder how many kids do that?

– Adult Presents: Christmas stockings all around.  I do the children, my sister and my husband.  My sister does her significant other and me.  I love the challenge of finding cool little things that they might like that would fit in the tiny space of a stocking.  It seems fun and not commercially excessive.

Otherwise, we are not doing adult gifts this year.  We are all in the very fortunate position (especially fortunate in light of this year’s economy) of being able to buy whatever we need, and I hate shopping out of a “need to buy something” mentality.

In lieu of gifts, each adult will do a donation to charity for each other adult (to that other adult’s favorite charity).  I have even gotten a few other relatives on board with this (even for the kids) which certainly lightens the gift receiving (and giving) burden, is much more in the spirit of the season, and makes me feel that we are actually doing good for the world rather than doing good for Walmart.

– Food: I think I’ll get a small, fresh turkey from our local market (but I’d better get on that right away, especially since the weather is forecast to be lousy).  I’ll try to keep it somewhat simple because I want to enjoy the day and not spend it mostly in the kitchen as I remember my mother doing.

Of course, if I can’t get to the store for food, we’ll be having leftovers for Christmas.  But snowed-in with leftover pasta might actually make for a completely fun and memorable Christmas!


This is my overall plan.  It may need refining next year…or maybe I’ll just want to run away again.  I don’t know.  I’ll tell you all how it goes.

Good luck defining (or redefining) your celebration.  Happy holidays to all!

An Ugly Christmas Tree

By , December 18, 2008 9:47 pm

I have been feeling very un-bloggy lately, hence my silence.  Do I really have anything interesting to say?  Does anyone care?  Is it worth my precious time writing?  Hmmm….  Big questions.

So please excuse my absence, but let me talk now about our Christmas tree.  It is ugly, yet beautiful.  Humble, yet profound.

First a bit of background on my eternal Christmas tree angst.  I have always hated the thought of cutting down a living tree to decorate my house for a few weeks and then toss out (even if recycled into mulch).  If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have a tree at all.  But the tree, and all the ornaments that are rediscovered year after year, are so much a fun and memorable part of a child’s Christmas, that I hate to deny them that.

Yes, we could decorate a ficus, but the idea of singing carols and sipping cocoa around the Christmas Ficus just doesn’t have the same cozy appeal to it.  And since I am the kiss of death for houseplants, I’d simply be substituting a fir tree death sentence for that of a ficus.

I have done living trees before and then planted them in the yard (when I had a yard that was not packed full of pine trees already).  That was lovely, but they can only be inside for a few days, are heavy, and here – pine trees grow like weeds.  No room for more!

For the last 6 years I have had an artificial tree.  It was easy, three pieces to put together and lights already on it, but Christmas seems artificial enough to me in so many ways, without a fake tree too.  Plus, it always felt kind of nasty to touch and probably oozed all kinds of chemicals.  Not very Christmassy.

This year I came up with what I think is the perfect solution, for us anyway.  We have so many trees on our property and, as I said above, Ponderosa pines literally grow like weeds here.  After a good rain, hundreds of seedlings miraculously appear as you can see in this picture:

Despite my aversion to tree cutting, we are in desperate need of thinning a bit.  Fire safety is a HUGE issue here, especially after our close call in 2002.  Plus, the smaller trees sap the meager nutrients and scarce water from the more mature trees leaving them tall, but thin and sickly looking.

I don’t want to get into a forest management lecture or debate here, but the truth is that we really need to take out some of the smaller trees that are growing close to the larger ones before a fire does it for us.

So, with that in mind, I had the idea to cut a small one down and make it our Christmas tree.  It would eventually be cut anyhow, but at least this way it would go in a blaze of richly adorned glory and be much enjoyed and remembered.

We picked a thin one growing near a mature one and all went out to “help” my husband with the cutting. Despite a bad back and even worse weather that day, he got it done.

Then, “we,” as in my husband – under my direction – cut it in half.  The original tree was only about three inches in diameter but probably 16 feet tall with all the branches at the top.  We ended up with an 8 foot tall tree that fits nicely in our tall living room.

It was so thin and light that the kids were able to carry it into the house themselves.

The cats thought it was wonderful having their very own tree lying in the middle of the front entryway.

Here is the final result:

It is rather a spindly, thin, pathetic tree, but Ponderosas don’t have a very thick array of branches, especially when young.

However, as my daughter said:  “This is my favorite tree ever because you can see the ornaments!”  Yes, you can.

This is my favorite tree ever because, although it may not be perfect, we chose it and cut it ourselves, gave it a “new life,” and it cost no money!

I don’t want a perfect Christmas, I just want one the the children will remember fondly, and I hope that they might remember this.

(You can read more about Christmas tree options here: The Great Christmas Tree Dilemma)

Happy Holidays!!
(“…brought to you by ___”)

By , December 3, 2008 8:03 pm

This is a post I should have written about two months ago. Two months ago when all the cheap plastic decorations first made their way into the supermarkets, Walmarts, Kmarts and Any-Other-Marts in the United States. Here in the U.S., shoppers have been regaled with muzak versions of The Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night since well before Halloween (October 31st) this year.

Now that we have finally gotten that pesky little Thanksgiving holiday over with, the commercial Christmas onslaught can begin in earnest.

On my Thanksgiving cross-country trip, I realized what I have been missing without TV for all these years. Ads. Hundreds and thousands of ads promising me the best Christmas ever (what is that anyway?) if only I purchase a new Best Buy flat screen TV, or Macy’s cashmere sweater, or Zales diamond necklace, or _______ (insert advertised product in blank) for my loved one.

I had forgotten what it was like. Although I had a fabulous trip, I was quite relieved when I was finally home and able to retreat to the refuge of my quiet house to end the commercial attack on my psyche.

And here comes the part that I should have written about three months ago when I first detected the initial stirrings of faux holiday jolliness in the stores:

Since many readers are probably new to Unplug Your Kids, I should let you all know that last year while suffering a holiday existential crisis, I wrote a series of posts entitled Christmas/Holidays Unplugged in which I explored alternatives to the traditional American commercial holiday experience.

I know it is a bit late now that December is already here, but if anyone is in need of a bit of inspiration, or encouragement, or alternative holiday ideas, then hopefully you might enjoy some of these posts.

I have listed them all here and linked to them so you can click on what sounds interesting to you. I hope that someone will find this helpful! 

(Also:  If you find a topic interesting, be sure to read the comments too since readers often left their own wonderful insights and suggestions.)

1) Merry Christmas

2) Unplug The Christmas Machine (a book review – very inspirational book if you are disillusioned with Christmas/Hanukkah)

3) Making a List and Checking it Twice (what does your holiday really mean to you?)

4) Holiday Prep – Part 1 (Introduction)

5) Holiday Prep – Part 2: Help! Holiday Prep Makes Me Miserable!!

6) Holiday Prep – Part 3: Help! I Love Doing it All, But How Can I Find Time to Do it?

7) Celebrating Advent

8) Commercialism in Your Mailbox?

9) A Holiday Linky Assortment

10) The Great Christmas Tree Dilemma (Real? Fake? Living? What else?)

11) Buy Handmade

12) Donate this Year Instead of Gifts

13) Santa Lists and Sponge Bob (dealing with kids’ gift requests)

14) Combating Commercials (fighting the effects of toy ads)

15) Help!  Too Much Stuff!! (ideas for cutting down on the amount of “stuff”)

16) A Post as Small as a Stocking Stuffer (“nice toy” stocking stuffer ideas)

(Thanks to Everystockphoto and phtographer”tandemracer” for this photo. View license terms here.)

Postcard From Puerto Vallarta

By , January 2, 2008 11:58 am

(Photo: Sunset from our balcony)

Christmas in Mexico was like a drink of cool water on a sweltering day. Especially in this year of extensive Christmas ruminations and soul searching.

It was almost like it wasn’t Christmas at all, which was fine with me for this year. The hotel had minimal decorations, a nativity, a few discreet Christmas trees and tasteful bows here and there…and NO Christmas music!!

The day after Christmas we went to a Mega hypermarket (the Mexican equivalent of a super Walmart) and there was not one single Christmas decoration to be seen. Astonishing! Did the elves whisk it all away at midnight or (more likely), were all the American-style plastic Santas, talking trees and inflatable snowmen simply never there to begin with? I suspect that Mexico does not engage in the same commercial Christmas orgy that takes place annually here in the US.

What a relief! This Christmas stillness allowed me to gather my thoughts and I feel I might actually be able to face the Holidays at home next year. I thought about all my Christmas/Holidays Unplugged posts and all your helpful and inspiring comments (thank you all so much for helping me!). I can do this. I can make the holidays what I feel they should be. After all, I can’t keep running away, can I? I do want my children to have happy Christmas traditions and memories other than airports and hotels.

As for the non-contemplative side of the trip. It was nice, but for someone like me who is always cold, I thought the weather was a little cool. Even the natives said it was cold. I can’t complain too much since it was high 60’s to low 70’s (Celsius: about 20 to 23 degrees) while here at home it got down to 2 degrees (Celsius: -17) and snowed.

The kids swam like crazy little fish despite the cool temperatures, and I got some reading done. I didn’t blog at all, although I used the lobby computer once for five minutes to moderate comments.

The trip down was fairly smooth, but the trip home was an adventure. First we lost the keys to the rental car. After searching the hotel room, the car, and the luggage for an hour, we eventually found them in an odd little drawer in the room (thank you youngest daughter!).

Upon arriving at the airport, it took half an hour to return the car and the line to check in was REALLY long. It was also slow-moving because they hand-searched every single checked bag since they don’t have x-ray for that there. We also discovered that the airline had moved the flight time earlier by two hours and had not notified us (thank you US Airways!). The security line was down the hall and around the corner, and that was BEFORE you even got to the giant maze of ropes. Fortunately we had factored in time for lunch in this whole process, bye-bye lunch.

I have done a lot of traveling in my life and I am a firm believer in the “everything happens for a reason” school of travel thought. Fortunately my husband is the same way. We thought perhaps we were simply meant to spend another night there. There are certainly worse places in the world to be stuck! Despite entering our zen-like travel state and planning on another night in Mexico, we somehow miraculously made it to the plane. We were the last ones on, but we were on. Upon arrival in Phoenix (only 42 degrees, 6 Celsius!) we were starving, tired and crabby so we wisely decided to spend the night.

The next morning, feeling much better, and after breakfast and a little fun shopping at the Ikea in Tempe, we headed home.

I didn’t take many photos, but here are a few:

A little restaurant:

An impressive field of Tequila Agave (Agave tequilana) used, of course, for making tequila:

My youngest daughter going for a brief Christmas Day walk, or rather “a drag” down the beach with her Dad before I had to carry her back to the hotel (for some reason she didn’t like the sand!):

Art shot – Town square, old mining town of San Sebastian:

Rock slide in front of us that shut down the road (for only half an hour though) on the way home from San Sebastian. Note the boulders in road and the dust cloud!:

Feliz Navidad!

By , December 20, 2007 8:54 pm

Well, I have spent a lot of time trying to publicly gather my thoughts about the Holidays over the past two months with my Christmas/Holidays Unplugged posts. I hope they have been helpful to you. I know they have been helpful to me.

I think I have made some progress this year (fewer gifts, very few cards, thoughts about what the holidays mean to us, etc.). But this year, we are doing something different. We are going away on vacation over Christmas, to a warm beach in Mexico.

I am looking forward to it, although the last time we made this trip the baby got a cold and was miserable, she was only interested in eating sand on the beach, and the airline lost the suitcase with all the baby stuff in it. This time though, it will be better.

I am hoping that “a year off” will give me time to put all my new thoughts and ideas in perspective so that I can be better prepared to have the kind of Christmas I want next year.

It will also be good for my blog addiction since I will be without a computer. I might be able to check in once in a while to moderate any comments, but I probably will not post.

Happy Holidays to all! And I’ll see you in 10 days or so!

(Read all the Christmas/Holidays Unplugged posts here)

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