Because it’s all about the kids when it comes down to it, right? One of my favorite covers of a Christmas classic.
Because it’s all about the kids when it comes down to it, right? One of my favorite covers of a Christmas classic.
I’m no photographer, and I’m envious of those who have “the eye,” and the skills to go with it, to create beautiful and interesting photographic images. I spend too much time looking at photography here, on Flickr, or wherever else I might find it, and I’m thankful for all of you who regularly share your work with us.
Be that as it may, I’ve shot a LOT of photos over the years–more of them than not before the advent of digital photography, a technological leap that coincided with my settling down to raise my children. Oh, I still took a lot of photos–but most of them were of my family and I living our lives. Snapshots. Don’t get me wrong, I was always shooting snapshots–but for the past 15 years or so the camera has been pointed at birthday parties and family vacations.
Fortunately, when you’ve shot thousands upon thousands of photos over the years, every once in a while you get something you like–something that isn’t a red-eyed shot of your dog begging for snacks, or a blurry image of your kid dribbling a basketball.
That’s what Saturday Night Originals will be about–putting some of my own photos (a few of which careful, long term readers might have seen before) here because, well, because I can. Why Saturday Night? Easy: Sundays are my biggest reader days, and weekends are my busiest non-writing times, making photo posts a perfect regular feature to fill the gap, should my busy schedule interfere with blogging time.
We’ve had some good Christmas Eve celebrations over the past two decades or so, since my wife and I started celebrating together. Each year we gather at my in-laws home with however many relatives and friends are available–sometimes as few as nine of us, sometimes closer to 29–and spend the afternoon talking and laughing, catching up, calling out, the usual–with the occasional decimation of a shrimp cocktail and a cheese & crackers plate thrown in, but the main attraction is my mother-in-law’s meal, a combination of her Polish and Italian traditions that suits my tastes even more than a Thanksgiving Dinner.
S he cooks a marinara sauce that is not only the best I’ve ever eaten, but which has a unique character unlike any I’ve tasted before, rich and simple, flavored with smoky cooked parmesan–and she only makes it at Christmas. This is served over spaghetti, along with pierogies, fresh baked rolls, and a multitude of delicious sides for a meatless meal that makes both carb-counters and I cry, but for diametrically opposed reasons. If you don’t get my implication: I’m the one crying for joy.
After dinner, there’s a bit more hanging around, but eventually the pious among us (which is pretty much everyone who doesn’t live at my house) takes turns slipping off to get dressed up for midnight mass. When the time is right, then, we take our leave amidst Christmas wishes, but not to head home. For the next 90 minutes or so we idle around town and the adjoining sprawl and take in the Christmas lights, carols singing from the car stereo. There’s a lot of small talk and a lot of consideration as we evaluate the displays, but we’re not harsh judges. If you’ve made the effort to celebrate by decorating your home/yard/pets you’ve got my appreciation.
For many years we did the light tour on the pretense of taking my wife’s great aunt Julie home, turning the 7-mile, 14 minute trip into a few hours of crawling through residential streets, but Julie’s up around 90 now and her vision has failed, so she’s no longer game. I’ll always smile and think of her on the tour–I’d walk her to her back door, and she would “slip” a crumpled five dollar bill into my hand “for the ride.” I tried to not to accept it the first time, and she pinched me on the wrist and chastised me. The pinch hurt, and I remembered someone once telling me, “it’s good to be generous, but it’s important to know how to accept generosity graciously.” So, hey: five bucks for me.
When we finally get home, it’s straight to “work.” We hang stockings while more Christmas music plays, put out a plate of cookies and a cup of milk for Santa–one year we opted not to put out the milk, in fear that it would get warm for Santa, and left the cup and an invitation to serve himself from the refrigerator, but Santa hit the eggnog instead. Hard.
Next up, from my wife’s childhood, the opening of a single Christmas present–a tradition I indulge–reluctantly, at first– because, well, I’m not in charge, even though it makes me nervous. My mom was a Christmas despot–we weren’t allowed even a sniff of presents until everyone was awake in the morning. Opening that present at night seems dangerous.
After that, it’s off to bed, where we all pile in for the reading of our favorite Christmas books, the ones saved after a month of reading to each other. It used to me me reading all the stories, but now that the kids are mostly grown we take turns, although there are still calls for me to read “Marty The Christmas Moose” using goofy voices for all the characters. They may be indulging me, but what the heck.
Then it’s off to bed. I used to wait to wrap all my presents on Christmas Eve, alone after everyone else turns in, right there in front of the tree, but I need my sleep more these days. Oh, I still stay up a few minutes after everyone else, but I’m content to take a few laps around the house and look at the decorations and let what memories that may come venture into my mind.
I began this essay last season, ultimately publishing the initial portions as a somewhat unrefined draft, but never finishing–so the six or seven of you who read it last year might find the first portions somewhat familiar. For most of you, however, we’re treading on new ground.
My ardent followers and weary friends will certainly attest to my love of most things Christmas, not to mention my enthusiasm for Christmas-themed posts. I wasn’t born this way; it was bred into me by a perversely nostalgic mother and an extended family whose expressions of sentiment were largely reserved for the final episodes of long-running television series (“it’s like they were our friends) and major holidays–Christmas chief among them.
To cut to the quick, I wasn’t the happiest kid. It takes an effort to find a picture of me smiling but each year, when I was young, as the days turned dark and cold, my family’s humble holidays brought moments of magical respite from the rest of the year. It wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was better and in endeavoring to make it similarly special for my children I’ve found even greater joy and satisfaction as an adult–so right up front there’s a lesson for you: focus on making some other people happy and it’s likely you’ll get a little good back for yourelf….
Now, to be clear, when I say “Christmas” we are talking about an extended period which began before Thanksgiving and persisted through New Years to Epiphany–the last of those happy “Twelve Days of Christmas”–the very sort of Holiday over-reach that drives Christian extremists nutso. Not that I care what they think.
For many of my generation, “Christmas” began with the arrival of the Sears, Roebuck & Company “Wish Book” and it’s myriad, fantastical possibilities–toys I had never imagined, let alone seen, and mostly likely never would, but of which I could marvel and dream. (all this and a ladies lingerie section, too–the Wishbook was the original internet). Within moments of it’s arrival, I had a ballpoint pen in my hand, circling anything interesting with reckless disregard for reality, or anyone else who might want to read those pages. I never seemed to notice that I would get none of it–the magic was in the dream, not the reality, which was never half as entrancing as the catalog imagery. I mean, all that crap broke by New Years Day, in any case.
The next great holiday milepost was our church’s annual “Hanging of The Greens” night–a massive covered-dish dinner, at which hundreds of people–mostly the older folks and families with young children–gathered and sat at long tables, partaking in the seemingly endless bounty of casseroles, gelatin-based salads, and chewy white rolls. After dinner, the men went to the huge sanctuary to decorate the half dozen or more trees, and arrange the hundreds of poinsettias, wreaths, swags, and bows that turned the church into a festive wonderland–it was truly spell-binding, and it’s disappointing that I have been unable to locate a picture.
While the men scaled ladders and hefted trees, the women cleaned up dinner (ha!) then adjourned, as did the children, to their various Sunday School classrooms to decorate each of the many rooms with craft decorations we had made ourselves. At the end of the evening, everyone gathered in the sanctuary for a small lesson, a few Christmas hymns, and a benediction. I invariably went home exhausted, but excited. Christmas was really on the way.
It’s odd to me now, three decades after my 0scandalous, sin-tainted family–with the adulterous father, the cloying mother, and their no-good, unruly little boy– was quietly marginalized and driven from that church, to recall how warm and inviting those halls were, as familiar as–and far more comfortable and safe–than my own home. I haven’t practiced religion for decades and have no plan to resume any time in the future, but I must admit that my experiences as part of a church community added a richness to the season that I’d never dream of renouncing.
Coming Soon…Part 2: On The First Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Thanksgiving Dinner
An initial foray into the world of autumn posts revealed a whole lot of gifs, clip art, graphics, cute photos of other people’s children raking leaves or going on hay rides, and creepy-ish images that remind me of stuff cut-and-pasted from an LL Bean catalog. Or Sears Roebuck, even. There’s also a lot of clearly professional, for profit stuff I don’t feel comfortable pilfering. I have to admit that I’m a little worried–I feel committed to this whole seasonal photos thing. If I can’t manage autumn, it sort of makes all the work finding cool summer photos a vain pursuit, don’t you think? And I’m compelled to make it through because I already have dozens of absolutely outstanding images set aside for next summer. It’s interesting to think about, though. Summer photos encompass a wide variety of activities and one general component I find almost inexhaustible: the beach. Autumn photos seem centered around a relatively small number of holidays and things: Halloween and Thanksgiving, and leaves and pumpkins. Fall foliage is resplendent and all that, but it’s best to limit the dosages.
It seems I’ll be required to be creative. Fortunately, Fall is the shortest season in these parts. At least for the purposes of my reckoning. The dates work out sort of like this:
Summer: Labor Day to Fall Equinox (about 120 days)
Autumn/Fall: Equinox To Black Friday (about 67 days)
Winter: Black Friday to April 1 (about 118 days)
Spring: April 1-Labor Day Weekend (about 60 days)
Now there are years where all of November feels like winter, and Fall feels like it landed with the County Fair and the advent of football season at the end of August, and years when Spring hits in March–or hides until May–but these dates reflect my seasonal moods and interpretation of environmental factors. Like the borders of small European nations prior to World War 2, the boundaries between the seasons are highly flexible–it was 72 at midnight on Dec 22 last year, during our Christmas Party, although we’d already had several meaningful snowfalls. Not surprisingly, we had a frost in June and a number of strangely cold days this past summer. With the changing global climate, all preconceptions are off the table.
Something else I learned is that there are literally thousands of Fall Festivals in the USA and Canada, all of them running pretty much simultaneously during the first two weeks of October. Cider and antique automobiles are prominently featured in most, along with hay bales and piles of pumpkins. I did, however, in keeping with the O.R.A. standards, find one Autumn Festival that wasn’t mired in gauzy images and mundane pumpkin costumes. What they do have, apparently, is pole dancing. Go figure.
Random photos from the internet to you, via me.
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