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I’ve heard friends explain their method for deciding where to spend the holidays as a weighing up of traditions. Whose family has the stronger tradition? Which holiday is more meaningful to which partner? If both traditions are equally strong then there’s nothing to do but travel between the two households on the day (Christmas lunch at one, Christmas dinner at the other), or, if the distance is too great, alternate years. If one family’s Christmas tradition is more quintessentially unique and precious than the other, inevitably, that’s where the couple will go two out of every three Christmases. It’s a sensible enough method, but just would not work for Luke and me. Not for Christmas, anyway. I’d lose every time.

For Luke’s family, Christmas is a precious reenactment of childhood traditions. Although marriages and moves have inevitably imposed changes even on the stoutest of these traditions, basically Christmas is bursting with nostalgia every year. My family’s Christmas traditions on the other hand have, in recent years, come to represent the inconstancy of a changed family. In the past six or seven years, we’ve spent Christmas in a different location every year, with a different set of people, observing other people’s traditions more often than not (with a few remnants of ours preserved for good measure). And that’s okay. We’re okay. We’ve adapted. We always have a good time wherever we are.

Thanksgiving, too, has in recently years become a holiday in flux. Shared with in-laws in new towns, with neighbors in new cities, or sometimes with only one person in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday.

It wasn’t always that way. Thanksgiving and Christmas used to follow a prescribed pattern. Thanksgiving when I was younger was always at my Dad’s parent’s house, where as many aunts, uncles and cousins who could attend did. When I was a little older, Thanksgiving moved to our family’s cabin in the mountain’s. It could hold more people, and so more relatives and practically-relatives showed up. Sometimes we’d have over twenty people crowded around two or three tables. We’d play Christmas music, eat turkey and make my grandma’s famous mac n’ cheese. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we’d have our family Christmas, since chances were we weren’t going to see all these relatives again one month later. So it was great really. Two of the eatingest holidays packed into one weekend.

Oh, how sweet it is when the stars align just so (and people’s schedules, too), that everyone can come back to a familiar spot and create a new tradition that reminds us all very much of a precious old one. Like Thanksgiving at the cabin, with over twenty people crowded around tables, and turkey, and snow, and a fire in the hearth. Even better when there are new faces mixed in with the old, and new traditions (like an oyster bar in the yard!) to remind us that our traditions are strongest when they are infused with the new.

I hope you had a happy one.

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IMG_4518(a vegetarian’s dream is an Aix-en-Provence fruit and veg market)

How do you limit ten days of visual stimuli in Provence, several days of meaningful visits with family, and tenfold special moments captured in objects mundane and magical into just five few things? Like this and with difficulty.

IMG_4679(We’re all children again when someone gets the bubble maker out. This performance produced a solid 30 minutes hypnosis in all of us during a walk along the Thames.)
honeysuckle(my parents-in-law’s glorious honeysuckle bush. Have you ever seen those colors on honeysuckle?)

marseille pastis postcard(my favorite postcard from France, picked up as a little souvenir to keep on our fridge back home. Explanation below.)

pastis(While in Provence we fell in love (Luke for the first time, me for the second) with Pastis, the refreshingly anis seed flavored pre-dinner drink. But more than the liquor, we fell in love with the tradition of Apero. Way more than a pre-dinner drink, apero is about the time of time, the quality of the light, the relaxed atmosphere with friends and family, the ambiance. This postcard will be the little reminder of the commitment we made to institute the tradition of Apero in our own home.)

I hope you all have a great weekend. It’s my birthday today so we’re off to a barbeque!

Do y’all celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas? Growing up, my parents instituted the one-present-a-day rule for the 12 days of Christmas. At the time, opening just one present on Christmas morning was unbearable, but looking back on it now, I realize what a brilliant and special tradition it was. Plus, who can complain about having enough presents to do that?! The perks of being preacher’s kids in a generous church.

While we don’t honor that particular tradition today, Luke and I are all for stretching Christmas out for as long as possible. (We still have our decorations up. Do you?) And since we’re currently at day 12, I thought I’d share the Christmas Stocking I knitted for Luke this year. Would you like to see it?

I was pretty excited about how the red holly berries worked out. It was a total fluke. The dark green yarn I used had sections of orangey-red interspersed throughout. I had no idea how it would work out or if it would even look good, but I decided to give it a try anyways. I could never have planned for it to show up so perfectly in the center of the green banding, just like holly berries.

Luke is pleased with it and it pleases me to think his first American Christmas felt that little bit more like home.

I’d love to know: Do you celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas? Also, where do you stand on the Christmas decorations debate? Are you in the camp that takes them down on December 26th or do you, like us, leave them up well into January?


This week I’m going to be talking a lot about the holidays. Specifically, how independent bookshops and reading can fit into a week of marathon eating, family time and 4am Black Friday shopping.

This poster pretty much says it all.

So to get us started I wanted to ask you, what are your Thanksgiving week traditions? Do books ever feature in your family gift-giving? Do you rise early on Friday to join the crowds of shoppers at (I know you, readers) Barnes & Noble? Or is Black Friday a day to eat leftovers and go for walks in the crisp fall air?

When the timing works out, our family likes to gather at a cabin in the mountains where we all help to prepare the feast. The meal has become primarily vegetarian over the years, and even when there were more meat-eaters amongst us, turkey was never a feature. We continue to make our long-standing family favorites, first introduced by my great grandmother: extremely cheesy macaroni and cheese and Grandma Rena’s famous, homemade coconut cake. There’s a table just for desserts. Often, someone brings heaps of homemade molasses cookies, which are there to satiate any (nonexistent) between-meal hunger pains. When we finish eating, we all collapse around the fire place, tell stories, goof around and exchange Christmas gifts, since we may not have the whole family together for that holiday. For several years now, my uncle has written a story or two, often with a holiday theme and usually about people in our family, which he reads to us all. In the past few years, we’ve stopped exchanging store-bought gifts and have committed to sharing our gifts with one another, i.e., writing stories, poetry, playing music, cooking, giving massages.

So tell me, what are your traditions? I’d love to hear them.

 

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