Tag Archives: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thought for the Holidays

Well, we are certainly in the swing of the holidays now. So I thought I’d share this gem that was sent to my by my daughter, L. I could not have said this better than Leisl Shillinger in her article in the New York Times did.

The winter celebrations are upon us, bringing with their glee the return of insecurities like: Is your centerpiece of the right niveau? Should you drape the banisters with balsam fir, or is boxwood more current? Which breed of artificial bird is trending to clamp among the boughs? And will you be able to hold your head up if you have not personally raised from poulthood the turkey that graces the holiday table (as Martha Stewart suggests) or hand-pressed the apple cider with which you braised the brisket?

Never before have so many worthy options for decorating and entertaining presented themselves to conscientious householders. Long ago, our grandmothers unhurriedly flipped through Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s to update their eggnogs and hunt patterns for tree skirts. Ebenezer Scrooge contended with the Ghost of Christmas Present, who forced him to witness only a handful of other people’s fetes. But modern-day hosts are subjected to thousands of images of strangers’ holiday rituals, through television and magazines but especially on social media, where every fireside post competes to be merrier than the last. All of which serves as a constant reproof that, perhaps, we’re not nearly as festive as we mean to be.
Today’s revelers can find themselves treating the season like the year’s ultimate performative act: evidence of our prowess at directing the theater of home, proof to ourselves and others that ours is indeed a wonderful life. But in the quest to make the occasion camera-ready, we can lose sight of the fact that the personal is more important than the perfect this time of year, and that established traditions are more memorable than ever-escalating fabulousness. You can scour Kinfolk to come up with a thrillingly austere ‘‘vegetal garland wall,’’ or check out YouTube for how to create a gingerbread house as intricate as an Uffizi fresco, but in the end, these punctuations won’t create memories for your kids. What they’ll remember instead is the festal continuum — the idiosyncrasies and permanent patterns of each household’s tradition that give the holiday both meaning and resonance.
In other words: Not only do holiday preparations not have to be back-breaking, it can be better when they’re not. One of the most warmly remembered American Christmases on record took place in a modest cabin in the Midwest in 1870, without dove-studded white pine garlands or candled wreaths. Laura and her sister Mary woke that holiday morning to empty stockings at the fireplace — until a family friend knocked on the door. He had intercepted Santa, he told them, and forded the raging waters of the Verdigris River to bring the girls their gifts: two tin cups, two candy canes, two little cakes and a ‘‘shining bright, new penny’’ each. ‘‘There never had been such a Christmas,’’ Laura Ingalls Wilder exulted. An equally memorable American Hanukkah took place a century ago amid similar simplicity, in an apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — described in Sydney Taylor’s ‘‘All-of-a-Kind Family’’ series. Five sisters grated potatoes and onions for latkes, and polished the brass menorah to await the lighting of the candles. Each of them got two pennies — an absolute fortune, in their eyes. ‘‘It was the time for gladsomeness,’’ the author explained.
So, as you muster your décor, mixing in, if you wish, some — but not too much — innovation, keep your focus on the gladsomeness. The memories you make have more to do with spirit than substance. That which is recorded on the heart is, alas, not Instagrammable.

Be thankful, be thoughtful, be merry, be happy, be calm.


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Filed under advice, Christmas, holiday


whether it’s food, songs, dance, decorations, travel or even jokes, my favorite part of the holidays are the traditions.  simple things that serve as touchstones, moments that connect you with others and all of you with the generations.   

we grew up celebrating st. nicholas day on december 6th.  (my mother was from austria where they celebrate st. nicholas day and my father’s name was nicholas)  on the night of december 5th, we would raid dad’s sock drawer for the biggest sock we could find and lay it out by the fireplace for st. nicholas to fill.  (in austria, they use a shoe, but we always used a sock) in the morning we’d find the sock stuffed the same way:  an orange in the toe, some nuts, some chocolate, a candy cane and a small toy or two, maybe some other kind of funny gift.   

it was like a christmas hors d’oeuvre, just a taste of what was to come in just a few short weeks.

in some ways it was better than christmas (yeah, i say this as an adult…) because it was just a little nibble, not an all-out banquet.  

aside:  as a kid, i was a huge fan of laura ingalls wilder’s little house on the prairie books.  in one book, laura describes a christmas when they got an orange and a candy cane (and i think something pa carved) and i remember being amazed that laura got the same kind of things that i got in my st. nicholas stocking. (we didn’t get stockings at christmas) 

st. nicholas day kind of marked the real beginning of the christmas season.  after december 6th, we would start cracking the walnuts for mom to make the potica (a bread with a filling made of walnuts, raisins, honey, cinnamon and butter) and look forward to our annual shopping trip into los angeles.  

c and i continued the tradition of st. nicholas day with our three children.  c got a kick out the kids raiding his sock drawer (i swear he even bought certain pairs so that that kids would have the perfect st. nick sock)  there’s a great train/toy/hobby store near us (nicholas smith www.nicholassmithtrains.com – unfortunately you can only buy train related products on-line but the store has so much more) where c and i would find the best tiny toys, stocking stuffer items for the kids.  yep, you guess it, picking them out was as much fun as they had playing with them. 

i went to catholic school as a kid, so it wasn’t unusual to find other kids who also celebrated st. nicholas day.  not so for our three, so i’m pretty sure they didn’t much talk about it with friends.  (i remember one teacher telling j that he wasn’t allowed to share that he got a visit from st. nick because not everyone else in the class got one.  hmmm.) 

everybody’s grown now and there are no little ones for st. nick to visit, so our tradition is dormant for now.  it’ll be back again.  with the simple pleasures of an orange, some nuts, a candy cane and a small treasure.


Filed under Christmas, family, holiday, tradition