A Real Holiday Season

This morning we were treated to a beautiful snow fall. A flake bumped up against the window over the sink to get my attention – saying, “Here we come.” A few minutes later I realized that there were lots of flakes falling – some of them dancing on upward drafts, not ready to fall to the ground where they would soon melt.

Snow and cold seem to be an important part of the Christmas season, at least for those of us who grew up in the northern regions of our country. I remember the excitement of hearing the knock on our door, running to open it to our guests because my childhood anticipation of the forthcoming party had reached its peak. I remember the scent of cold coming in, relatives handing presents to me for under the tree as they stomped the snow off their shoes, took off their boots, unwrapped scarfs, stuffed mittens and hats in sleeves, and handed to outstretched arms piles of coats to put on beds. All completed to chants of Merry Christmas from everyone to everyone. This ritual was also reversed every year as we went to homes of friends and family. The teeth-chattering cold in spite of being bundled up, the snow, the lights of the Christmas tree in the front window welcoming us in even before we got out of our car, and the crunch of snow with each step. Ah, and the foggy eye-glasses as soon as I entered the house. This is what I’m remembering of my Christmas’s past.


We fly back to Michigan to be with family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each year on the evening before we leave, we say goodbye to Naples by going for my favorite meal at one of my favorite restaurants, fish and chips at the Old Naples Pub on 3rd Street South in the oldest area of Naples. We went for early supper, as the sun was getting low over the Gulf of Mexico just 4 blocks away, but the temperature was still a balmy 80 f. We ate outdoors, with smiles because it was so perfect.

Christmas decorations had been put up during the previous week so we decided to go for a walk down 3rd Street after we had finished sharing a piece of key lime pie.


What I see every year is a jolt to my emotional memories. Poinsettias don’t seem to belong with tropical plants – outdoors no less (even though my brain knows they grow into large shrubs in people’s yards). We smiled, enjoyed and laughed as we talked about how different Christmas feels in sub-tropical weather.

Driving home we went down 5th Avenue South just because we could. In high season, when we get back, it takes forever to drive this two-lane, 7 block shopping district because of the cars and people. In November we breezed through, with windows down and sunroof open.


I hold these memories in my heart and smile, as I am now preparing for a real Christmas with cold and hopefully just a little snow. I have a poinsettia on the kitchen counter and no palm trees with lights wrapped around their trunks. I’ll see the palms in a few weeks.

It is strange how we come to believe that traditions should be the way we have always known them to be. One of the advantages of traveling and spending time in different locations has been learning that even the simplest activities of daily living can be different when people live in different climates, have different faith stories, are a part of a different culture. When I took students abroad to study culture I learned that culture learning requires an open mind, an ability to identify similarities and differences without judgement, an eagerness to explore and understand.

I wish you a holiday season in which you have the opportunity to explore and learn customs that are different than your own and that this experience brings you increased joy. I also hope you find a way to maybe assimilate a little bit of different into what you find familiar and comfortable.

I would love to read your stories if you write them into a blog and leave a link in the comments. Please do!

Christmas Reflections


I am half way between our celebration of Christmas and the celebration of the beginning of a new year. We had a fun and joyful Christmas Eve celebration and I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on whether we provided an appropriate celebration of a religious holy day of such magnitude. I have struggled as long as I can remember with trying to keep the season holy while surrounded by the hyped up commercialism that begins weeks in advance. Advent is the season of preparation of your spirits, our souls, for the coming of the Christ child into our lives, bringing renewal and meaning into what it means to be Christian.

This year we had 19 people celebrating around our Christmas Eve dining table. We had to snuggle in tight for all to fit around the table but there was lots of laughter and conversation bouncing from one end to the other, back and forth. Fate has given our Christmas dinner a measure of Russian/Kyrgyz culture in the past few years, and even more so this year.

Our daughter-in-law is from Armenia, previously a part of the USSR, and still enjoys speaking and hearing her native Russian language. She also gets great joy from cooking for others, including the foods she enjoyed while growing up. Our middle off-spring lived and worked in Biskek, Kyrgyzstan and became very close to a colleague and her daughter who are now both working on degrees from Kent State University in Ohio. They came to stay with us for five nights, both are ethnic Kyrgyz, but also fluent in Russian and English. During their stay she made us plov (the v pronounced like ff), a Kyrgyz dish of rice, vegetables, and lamb.

A couple of years ago our youngest daughter met some new children when she walked her youngest to the bus stop. There weren’t playmates in the neighborhood so she went to their house to introduce herself and possibly arrange a play date. The mother had just immigrated from Kyrgyzstan with her husband (a U.S. citizen who did contract work for the military in Bishkek) and their three children. Her in-laws have not accepted her and the marriage is failing – it has been a rough couple of years. I invited them to our celebration because she is ethnically Russian and I figured she would enjoy having adult conversations with other Russian speakers. I understand this because our native tongue is the one we use to speak from our soul, what our spirit uses to express who we are.

The gathering was joyful, high energy, and for me exhausting. I went to bed very tired, with achy body, but with a warm glow within. I have also been pondering if there was more I could have done to make this a celebration of Christ’s birth. I realized that there were only about 6 of the 19 who are practicing Christians, and a maybe a few more who identify as Christian but without church affiliation. I set out the manger under the upstairs Christmas tree and had traditional carols playing. As people arrived, choruses of “Merry Christmas” rang out, along with excited proclamations of “So nice to meet you.”

Was there more we should have done? We planned the menu to meet the needs of all who attended; young and old, Western & Central Asian, family and guest. We do very little gift exchanging – mostly gifts to nieces and nephews, and the new children were included. And most importantly all were able to participate in our 15 year tradition of ‘the Christmas stocking pile’. JB and I spend a whole year looking for items to include for people of all ages and life stage, I spend hours wrapping, and all have the excitement of taking their turn picking items. They then welcome the challenge of bartering for items they would like that someone else picked. JB and I love shopping for this tradition, and all look forward to the event – from our 50-ish old children, young adults, teens, right down to preschoolers. And even guests from distant lands learn the tradition quickly.


Come on – you really would prefer the Tag-a-Moji game in trade for that boring paint brush.

Everyone leaves with gifts, and from my perspective the gifts were purchased and wrapped for the baby Jesus. They are given to family, friends, and new guests with love, good-will and the wish that the gifts will bring joy in the new year. It is a way to include all in our celebration of the coming of the embodiment of love and inclusion in the form of a holy babe. We are successful in our celebration of Christmas to the extent that all who enter our home and participate in our traditions feel welcome and cared about. This includes the old, the young, the ones with lots of tattoos, with green hair, and especially those who bring gifts to us of stories of far off places that have different ways of celebration. This year I feel more whole because of all the gifts of laughter, love, and story that were brought into our home and wrapped around me. Yes, Jesus has been celebrating with us.

Update on my hat making: I think I made over 60 hats for people getting meals at the local homeless shelter but only 40-some made it there. As people were making noises of having to leave (it was snowing and everyone had a one to two hour drive home) I brought out the box of hats for anyone who would like one. What fun they had trying on different ones in front of the mirror until they found the perfect one – or in case of the children who couldn’t decide, it was the perfect two. The day after Christmas we took the rest to the shelter and it felt so good knowing that family, friends of our family, and people I don’t know will feel some comfort in this very frigid winter. I have ordered more yarn on-line to be delivered for hat knitting in Florida next week.

The Story Teller

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Our Alaskan small ship cruise anchored outside Hoonah, and my expectations weren’t very high. The buildings had been a large salmon cannery that closed, and were later purchased and developed into a place for the large cruise ships to stop. We were scheduled to see a play put on by Tlingits, a Native American tribe that archaeological evidence indicates has been present in this Northwest area of North America for at least 10,000 years.

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The Story Teller

I didn’t expect to learn so much about the traditions of this group of people – traditions they are working to keep as the world around them is changing. A very important tradition is the telling of stories, and dancing that reenacts ancestral relationships between humans and nature.

Tlingits divide themselves into Eagles and Ravens based on which tribe their mother belongs to. Balance and reciprocity between the Ravens and Eagles are required to ensure social and spiritual harmony. (http://www.pbs.org/harriman/explog/lectures/worl.html)

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I saw my first raven in Juneau and now understand the importance of the bird to native belief systems. Many stories are told about the Raven as trickster and sacred being. We heard one of how the Raven tricked the person who owned and horded all light into giving the moon, stars and sun to Raven who then shared it with everyone, so the darkness had light.

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They are working to maintain and share their traditions of oral story-telling, dancing, social relationships, and costuming.

The traditional value that is most in conflict with dominate traditional values is their belief that all of nature is sacred and the spirit of the deceased ancestors remain alive in nature. Consequently any assault on our environment is an assault on them.

Because I wasn’t raised within the Native American/First Nation community, this feeling of being one with nature is hard for me to get my mind around and hold onto. I was indoctrinated from a very early age with the values of commercialism and personal wealth and possession of things. That is our tradition.

I have been reading a number of novels by Native American authors and want to assimilate these values – I still don’t totally understand but I respect their traditions. They feel sound.

The problem seems to be that large numbers of people cannot be sustained within their environmental value system unless we are willing to give up a whole lot of things. It requires a life with minimal processions to meet basic needs. It seems like the more I think about all that I have, the more I realize how my traditions are contributing to the raping of our earth. Ouch.

You can think about your interpretation of traditional in a photography post linked to: