Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Beaver

Some families have very normal traditions.  An angel on top of the tree, a special Christmas Eve meal, a story told around the fire during the holidays.

Our family, too, has a tradition - although not as conventional.

Ours, you see, involves a Beaver.

A scented Beaver.

THIS scented Beaver:

It's a little blurry here, but you get the idea.

Probably 7 or 8 years ago, my friend (JS) and I went to a holiday craft fair.  In the 16 years that I have known JS, we've missed this craft fair only twice.  Every couple of years we go crazy and make some less than stellar purchases, caught up in the excitement of getting ready for Christmas.  This particular year, 7 or 8 years ago, was one such year.

We happened upon these darling women who had some very unique crafts going on - they had taken stuffed animals and dipped them in scented wax.  So, they looked sort of like resin animals, but smelled really good.  I, wanting something "Christmassy", concentrated on the animals with Santa hats and smelling of cinnamon, cloves, evergreen - you know... Christmas smells.  There was this really cute little Beaver, about 4 inches tall, and darling.  This was my purchase.

A scented Beaver.

The ramifications of which would not hit me until about a week later.  When I mentioned to someone that they should smell my Beaver.  At which point I knew it would become a Christmas favorite.

Which it is.  Particularly of my young daughters - who have no idea on earth why this is as funny as it is.  They love to bring out the Christmas Beaver, giving it a place of honor each year on the piano.  Which is always funny, but now makes us howl with laughter.  (And here is where our newest Christmas Story begins...)

Once upon a time JS and I took our daughters with us to a Holiday Craft Fair that we try to hit every year.  The year was 2009, and my youngest daughter was not quite 7 at the time.  We were having a wonderful time with our kids, running from craft booth to craft booth, dodging all the 4 million or so people that were there that night.  (I had never seen it so crowded)  When we stop at a booth with candles.  So many candles - and the girls want to stop and sniff each one.  Now, you know how sometimes - when you're in a really crowded place - all of the sudden a silence will hit?  Like it gets REALLY quiet for just a few seconds?  Well, in that unexpected lull was the precise moment in time when my youngest daughter decided to tell me, in her very loudest voice, "Hey Mom!  This candle smells JUST LIKE YOUR BEAVER!"  I kid you not when I tell you that all 4 million or so people swiveled around to try to see the woman with the holiday scented beaver.  My friend, JS?  She and her daughter ran from the booth, screaming with laughter.  Once I picked my jaw up off the floor I smiled, looked down at my daughter and said, "Well yes, it certainly does" and, trying to salvage what dignity I had left, put the top back on the candle she was smelling, grabbed her hand and headed off to hunt down JS, who was halfway down the damn aisle by then. 

Perhaps the most embarrassing moment of my entire life. 

Solidifying that darn Beaver's presence at every Christmas for the rest of my life I suspect - as my husband now encourages the placing of the sacred Christmas Beaver in it's place of honor each year. 

He'll probably have it buried with me.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Solstice: Half of the Real Reason for the Season

OK, OK - I'm not here to knock Jesus Christ. I'm a appreciative fan - and am not trying to start a religious war by saying his birth shouldn't be celebrated.  It should... but lets face it, he probably wasn't born at this time of year.  Springtime is most likely when it really happened since shepherds were in the fields day and night only during lambing season - and I don't know the bible very well, but I'm pretty sure that at least Paul mentioned the shepherds were in their fields at night. I have studied neither theology or ancient cultures in any depth, but from my reading I have learned that celebrating Christ's birth in December with Merrymaking and Parties?  Most likely THAT is because of the Winter Solstice. Or, rather, what the Winter Solstice signifies.

Celebrating the day after the shortest day of the year - the passing of the Solstice... welcoming back the sun.  The days get longer, which in our society of electric lighting and central heat isn't such a big deal.  But if you're a peasant or a farmer that can only get stuff done by the light of day, and the nights bring cold and the need to stoke a fire all night long to stay warm?  It's a pretty big deal.  Almost ALL pagan cultures celebrated some form of this passing.  Call it Yule, Hogmanay, Mōdraniht, Sol Invictus, or a hundred other names... it is how the "New Year", the rebirth of the sun was celebrated.  And it was important.  So important there was going to be a lot less converts to Christianity if they were told that this particular celebration wasn't important.  Christianity needed to incorporate it with its own twist in order to get converts.

These weren't societies of instant gratification.  People were willing to make sacrifices of the very currency that sometimes kept them alive, and things didn't get better overnight. It would be months of cold and starvation (things they had spent a lot of time preparing for) before things actually improved enough to make a big difference.  However, every day that they had a few minutes more of sunshine was a reason to be thankful to their gods. 

It isn't groundbreaking to say that the early Church decided that they needed a big holiday to help the pagans over to their side.  The early Church didn't celebrate Christmas the way we do - to them it was simply a "Feast Day."  A day to go to Church (get out of the house in the better of your two outfits), celebrate the Mass, and then have a special meal at home in honor of the feast.  Since celebrating the return of the sun was a pretty big deal, the Church needed a pretty big occasion to nail on to this Feast Day.  The birth of Jesus Christ?  Well, other than the death of Jesus Christ - which is the biggest Feast Day in the Church, the birthday was one they weren't already celebrating and since it had been two or three hundred years since the occasion had actually happened? Who knew the real date?  Following the Winter Solstice was a pretty good day to pin to that Feast. In fact, in the early Church, the feast day of Christmas kicked off the 12 days to the real celebration... the Epiphany.  When the Biblical Magi turned up to celebrate the word of God - the announcement that the savior had been born.  Twelfth Night was, for a long time, the big event. Thus distancing the true reason for Christian thankfulness (the Word of God) from the Feast day of the Birth... yet tying in the pagan celebration day quite nicely. 

So. long story short, they came together.  One half pagan, one half Christian.  And the Feast Day / day of Merriment made everybody happy.  Jesus would have been on board with that, he was all about the happiness of mankind.  And really, when you get to the age he was when he died?  Who really cares about their birthday anyway?  You're kind of over it by then.  Human nature, getting older, looming death - it all plays in to that feeling of "You're only as old as you feel" trumping "Can I have a BIG party this year???"  Actual birthdays cease to really matter.

So, as I sit here watching the snow pile up outside and thank God I am in a house with electricity and heat (and fairly soon, a usable kitchen), I don't want to offend Christianity or dishonor anyone who celebrates the Birth of Christ this week. (My family celebrates Christmas.)  Christianity had to do what it had to do to get converts - they had an agenda... and that it probably really ISN'T his birthday this week isn't all that important. He WAS born at some point during the year, and my kids have had birthday parties a month after their actual big day. I like to think of Christmas as a gift the early Church gave to the Pagans.  They didn't take away their holiday, just gave them a new reason to celebrate... Oh, and eternal life.  Bonus.

Monday, December 19, 2011

9 going on 15

Oh my holy hell - was it this bad when the older one turned 9 and I've blanked it all out?  Honestly, this child, my Darling Daughter #2, the light of my life?  So NOT the light right now. 

If at all possible, more erratic moods than her (almost) 12 year old sister.  And I'm hoping with all hope that this isn't hormones - because if she gets her curves and her cycle before her older sister?  All hell will break loose around here.

She's got a friend over today - her BEST friend.  Who, for 70% of the time, has only been playing with DD1.  Why?  Because DD2 has been in her room "thinking about her behavior" several times already today.

She was SUCH a good baby.

But right now?  I wish her door locked from the outside.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bah Humbug, sorta...

I'm not completely a Grinch, but sort of more this year than other years.  Normally I'd be all up for decorations, only this year - with the remodeling in mid swing - it feels like just one more thing we'd have to clean up.  Almost like, "Can we just skip Christmas this year? I'd be willing to make it up next year with double Christmas."  I'm not wanting to bake (which isn't so new), I'm not wanting to decorate, I'm not wanting presents, I'm not wanting to shop and spend money. 

Because when you're changing things in the house on the scale that we are, even though not a ton of money is going in to it, it all feels so... I don't know... costly?  Like you really notice how much you spend on things, and when you are trying to find a place to put all of those toys they already have, and you clean out your cabinets and find appliances you didn't even remember were there... it seems like we don't need more stuff.

And, like it or not, sometimes it feels like Christmas is really all about the "stuff".  The decorations, the preparation, the food and gifts and wrappings.  I've not been playing holiday carols at home, except for the tree and the gingerbread houses the house is undecorated (and covered in drywall dust no matter what we do).  I'd consider it a successful Christmas if I got my cabinet bases all stained before the big day (upper AND lower) - and we have company coming to stay with us right after Christmas.  Our dining room is full of what normally resides in cabinetry, and I hope to God our upstairs hall bathroom is usable by then.  If not?  We're going to be in a world of hurt regarding getting those guests showered.

I haven't plotted our Christmas card strategy yet, which means I haven't even snapped a picture of the kids for the card.

So, Bah Humbug, sorta...

I mean, today is the first day that really felt like the holiday was on it's way and might be worth celebrating.  The annual Gingerbread House Decorating Party thrown by our dear friends was this afternoon, and the neighborhood ornament exchange thrown by T.Z. was this evening.  So much fun - and so festive.  Maybe it'll be enough to kick my behind in to high gear and get some holiday prep work done...

I'll pull it together for the kids, but honestly?  I'd like to not accumulate more "stuff" this year.