Call me a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas. I want it all—the tree and decorations, choosing and wrapping presents, writing a Christmas letter that encapsulates the entire year, actual Christmas cards, baking goodies that I only do once a year, a special Christmas dinner. And spending time with family and friends.
Most years, because I am gone for about three weeks right around Christmas, I compress all this (except the last two) into a two- to-three-week period right after Thanksgiving. Just like clockwork, my tree goes up on Black Friday and I complete my decorating that weekend. But not this year. . . .
This year, I could not go to California to be with long-time friends and family due to Covid-19. So, I stayed home and had Christmas alone. One good thing: Because it was not compressed, it was more relaxed. I missed terribly seeing family and friends I love, but there were numerous phone calls and text messages. And next year, I plan to drive there as per normal.
Tree and Decorations
This year, I drug my tree out of the garage, up the steps, and into the house. The best spot to put it is between two recliners in the living room right in front of the center window. With the lights on, it looks very festive from outside too. I attached the top section and was disappointed when I plugged in the cord to the top lights with the cord for the rest of the lights and nothing happened. So, my tree is 80% lit when plugged in. I guess, I could get a small string of similar lights to string around the top for next year. I’m afraid to mess with any of the lights, because I don’t want to jeopardize the rest of the lights going out. This is an artificial tree where the lights are already strung and firmly attached. It is in its sixth year or so, and I really don’t want to replace it.
I have many, many ornaments. Some are from students from my 22 years of teaching first and second graders. Some are from my travels on assignment for Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines during my 21 years as an editor and writer. And some are from my travels, especially since 2009, when I retired from the magazines. Every ornament has a memory. So, I need a seven-foot tree just to display them all. Because ornaments are the only thing I collect, I enjoy the decorated tree every day it is up.
I always put up a wreath outside above the garages, but not this year, I waited too late, and every one was sold out. Dang!
I like to buy Christmas gifts throughout the year, and I usually do that when I’m traveling. With no trips to California and no travels up and down the coast and inland to sell books, I went nowhere this year. But I did manage to acquire two gifts ahead of time. Mostly, I used my own stuff as gifts. For example: I gave my Corona Series cards with the Haiku poems in bundles of three, I gave CDs of a PowerPoint program I did at the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum last November about The Oregon Coast Guide to the UNEXPECTED!!!, and I gave copies of the brand-new book Time to Heal: An Anthology of Hope, where one of my stories is included. All were items I wanted to share, and I didn’t have to go shopping.
I spent half a day wrapping three presents and then a whole day doing the rest of them. I enjoy wrapping presents, if I have the time, and this year, I did. Twice, I had to go to the post office to mail packages, but because I got there right when they opened, it was easy. Most years, I only mail a couple of presents. That’s because I take all the presents with me, already wrapped, when I drive to California
Christmas Letter and Cards
My Christmas letter was not a “I did this and this with various groups I’m involved with, and I went here and there in my travels,” but more about projects within and to the house, as well as my knee surgery and recuperation. I always limit my letter to one page. This year, putting it together gave me a chance to reflect on 2020 and just how fortunate I am.
Many folks don’t do cards anymore, they do their Christmas greetings online. However, I prefer old-fashioned cards. The last two years, I found humorous cards that I just loved, but I didn’t find them this year. Since I only had one box left over, I sent mostly traditional cards. I’ll start looking earlier in 2021 for those wonderful humorous ones. Some folks who do Christmas letters don’t do cards, but I do both. I simply fold up my letter and insert in the card.
Making Cookies and Fudge
For the fudge, I use a recipe given to me by my best friend’s mother when I was in high school. Her mother probably gave it to my mother, but I was always the one making the fudge. So, it became my recipe.
When making candy of any kind, timing is crucial. This fudge is five-minute fudge. You start timing when the ingredients are at a rolling boil––not a sorta boil but a full rolling boil. And exactly five minutes––not four minutes or six minutes. Once I start timing, my eyes are glued to the second hand of my watch, and I try to keep careful track of how many minutes as they pass. Meanwhile, I’m stirring frantically. It’s a heavy-bottomed pot, but I still don’t want anything to scorch and ruin the flavor.
Once the five minutes are up, I immediately move the pan off the heat and add the remaining ingredients. You have to stir quickly, because it will start setting up. Then I put it in the pans. I used to be able to hold the heavy pot with one hand and spoon the fudge into pans with the other, but my hands aren’t strong enough anymore. Sigh! So, now, I use a measuring cup.
Once the fudge is in the pans, my favorite part begins. It’s the cleanup. I don’t leave a spec of fudge on the spoon, pot, or measuring cup. And I have a small glass of milk to help wash it all down. Yum!!!
Usually, my sister and I spend days planning the Christmas dinner, which has anywhere from six to eight or more family members. In fact, when I’m with family in California, there are four to six for dinner every night. So, my sister and I usually spend every other day at the grocery store. We don’t usually have turkey. We’ve had Cornish game hens, lobster, special pot roast, and paella. It’s always great fun to plan these special meals.
This year, my neighbor, Ruth, and I planned to have dinner together. And each of us would be responsible for part of it. I planned on fixing clam chowder and would provide nice crusty Artisan bread to go with it. And I’d have fresh asparagus to go with the rest of the meal. Ruth would provide a bacon-wrapped pork loin roast, quinoa salad, and fruit-filled muffins for dessert.
I spent Christmas Eve preparing the clam chowder from a recipe in the Good Housekeeping cookbook I’ve had since I was 19. Of course, I added a couple things. And I always think when soups and sauces are prepared a day ahead, they taste better. That was true this time. The soup was delicious and so was everything else. We sat down at 2:30, and it was 7 before we cleared the table. It was a lovely, relaxing meal, and we were six-feet apart across the round table from each other.
So, even though I was home alone, I was able to celebrate Christmas in most of the ways I normally do. And it turned out better than I thought it would.
I wish everyone a Happy New Year and hope it is a much better year than 2020.