The Expectations of Christmas Time

           I remember a few of the Christmas gifts I received as a child. My favorite was a large brown teddy bear around two and a half feet tall I called Bruin. He became the head of my teddy bear family of five. Another was a wood burning set from my Great Aunt Alice. I never could figure out how to use it. One of my most memorable was a gift from my Uncle Oliver, also the giver of the bear: a large balloon in the shape of a Zeppelin tied with a big red ribbon.

           For whatever reason, instead of placing it under the tree, he set it on the radiator in the front hall. In the middle of dinner there was a loud bang. We ran into the hall.What remained was an empty red ribbon bow and piece of burst rubber. My expectations were dashed. The teddy bear he gave me on another Christmas later may have been his way of apologizing. I don’t remember having expectations as to what I might receive. Most of my gifts were practical.

           The Holiday time carries a big burden of expectations. People are expected to be nicer, to be kinder to one another, perhaps even more forgiving of errors and mishaps.”It’s Christmas,” people say, and that is supposed to be a reason to behave in ways one might not otherwise. I’m not saying that this is a bad reason; it is good to be thinking kindly at this time of year. However, we don’t need to make it a given or to be critical of those who are not.

           Another set of expectations revolves around the giving of gifts. To whom do we owe a larger gift and to whom a token? Is a card enough or need we send or give an actual physical present? Even the difference between an online card and an actual one might be a consideration. Our expectations of what is appropriate, what we”ought” to do may govern our actions and present a need for decisions about what to do, as well as stress us out.

           Perhaps most of all, however, it is our expectations of ourselves that are the most difficult to deal with. There is much to be done and it all must fit into the time we have, regardless of the fact that life does not come to a halt at Christmas time. In addition to the holiday activities we still need to do the cooking, working, shopping and so on that we do anyway. It’s enough to take the fun out of the celebration. We often feel guilty if we can’t manage to do it all with grace and good humor.

           Yet we and others might better benefit if we take some time for ourselves. If we use a gift bag instead of wrapping paper, send a card instead of an actual gift or even offer to take friends out for a treat at a later date or offer to babysit their children, we downsize the stress. Less stress means more holiday spirit,and diminished expectations mean less guilt. We need to remember that what we really celebrate now is the coming of a child of Light, or the Light itself,into a world that needs it. Expectations aside, we can remember the true meaning of this season is about the gift of joy to all of us, from all of us.

Easter Time Remembrances

Rabbit in Cabbage 2While I am quite fond of them now, as a child I disliked eggs intensely. I vividly remember sitting in front of an eggcup containing a boiled egg and staring at the hateful thing as it grew cold. The rule was that I couldn’t get up from the table until I had finished whatever meal I was supposed to be eating. Sadly, I hated to sit still and perhaps would have been termed hyperactive if such a term had existed then. However, sooner or later I suppose I must have swallowed the contents of the eggcup and been released from my chair. The eating of it is not recorded in my memory.

While I certainly have some happy Easter memories I also have one that is not so. However, it is still vivid in my mind even after the many years filled with all the things I surely have forgotten. This was during World War II. My parents kept chickens, both for eggs and for food. We had quite a large flock of hens, and as I recall a rooster or two. There were times when they laid many more eggs than we needed. As anyone who has kept them will know, chickens lay in cycles, sometimes more sometimes less. When we had overage, my parents would sell the eggs to friends and occasionally to acquaintances.

This particular Easter I might have been eight or ten. My parents had too many eggs and decided to have an Easter egg hunt. All of their friends and most of their acquaintances had children so there were plenty of guests anticipated. The adults would have cocktails while the children hunted for eggs, and the person who found the most got a prize. While they hid them, I was told to stay in my room so I would not see where they were. Later they decided I ought not to participate because it was up to the guests to find them.

Fast forward to a happy memory: When my oldest daughters were grown enough to know about the Easter bunny they decided there ought to be one for the parents. Their father and I hid candy eggs for them and their younger siblings in various places in the house. Each year they in turn spent their own money for candy eggs for us and hid them in the kitchen, having told us it was off limits to hide eggs. Their delight as we hunted was a great joy, and what fun we had uncovering the Parent Easter bunny’s gifts.

Holidays often trigger memories of times gone by. These can be a treasure to hold and caress, most especially if they concern any who have passed on from this life. If there is sadness for us in them, perhaps it can be tempered by the happiness of our recollections. The most precious memories are those that remain for us to recount and perhaps to share with those who come after us. I once recorded my father on tape telling me about the chickens he had as a boy. There were only a few and they didn’t last long. Perhaps they were the inspiration for the ones he had as an adult that laid the eggs I so disliked yet remember so well.

Spring Has Truly Sprung

Spring blossoms, white          When I was a child in grade school, each year our music teacher organized May Day celebrations. Every class participated, and a May Queen was selected from among the girls in the ninth, the topmost grade. The younger children had their own maypole. I found it hopelessly confusing. You had to go over one and under the next as you wound your ribbon around the pole, weaving it into the others until there was only a little left. After rehearsals, much to my relief I wasn’t chosen to do it.

There were dances and songs–I still have a printed paper program from then in a scrapbook made for me by a devoted relative. The songs were of British origin and invoked the days of “lasses and lads” who met and parted though the specifics were a mystery to my young mind. No one talked of the fertility symbols or the meaning behind the rituals centered around the day we were celebrating.

The first of May is the midpoint between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Nature is pushing forward. The increase of the light from now forward reflects the brightness of the days that begin their most obvious decline around the first of August. In the northern hemisphere there are many celebrations associated with this date. They reach far back in the history of humanity, symbolizing our connection with the earth and its fertility.

Most recent is of course the “May Day” workers’ celebrations of the former Soviet Union. My mother and I were in Moscow on that date twenty six years ago. I remember the colorful flags hanging everywhere, and the crowds of people in Red Square. However, from far back in human history, May Day has been one of the great spring celebrations of Europe and the British Isles. It is associated with fertility for both crops and farm animals, promoted through ancient rituals, many of which involved fire.

In these modern times we believe more in fertilizer than in fertility rituals. Few people these days will dance around a maypole–an obvious phallic symbol, or go off into the woods with a partner to insure that the fertility of land and pasture will continue. There is no need. Supermarkets are stocked all year round with almost every seasonal vegetable and fruit–no need to wait until June for strawberries or fall for apples. Those who have never experienced this timing cannot miss it, but in some ways I do.

Yesterday Stephen and I drove along a wooded country road in the sunshine. The light illuminated the unfolding blossoms of the trees clustered around it. The cloudless blue sky above and the sunlight filtering through the branches above us lifted our hearts and filled us with joy. Summer with its own delights is in the wings; spring is on the stage revealing its special beauty now. It seems important to take time to notice this delicate time of unfolding.

The Last Jar of Honey, by Tasha Halpert

Pink and white flowers  I don’t remember exactly when we met; it was between fifteen and twenty years ago. What I do remember is her smile. She never failed to greet me with it–that and a wonderful warm hug. Her name was Santina Crawford. I called her the Honey Lady because that was what I bought from her, delicious local honey from the bees her husband Howard tended so well that he won prizes every year at various fairs and exhibitions. He even proudly showed me articles that were written about him in the local papers.

I brought her all my glass containers and never failed to leave without a variety of different sized jars of honey both for us to enjoy and to give away. She and her husband also sold apples. Their farm with the apple orchard and the hives is in a densely commercial area just off highway 495 in Franklin. When I first met Santina and Howard they were well along in years, and I used to worry that they’d retire and the farm would get gobbled up by a developer. As time went by, each time I would visit I would relieved that the little sign reading “Akin Bak Farm, Honey” was still there on the pole by their driveway.

Once completely rural, the land around the farm now teems with businesses. Heavy traffic zooms past on 146 at a steady rate. Several years ago her grandson, a Cornell graduate, came to help. He revived the apple business, which Howard, because of his accumulation of years could no longer manage. He even built and began a farm stand not only for the apples, but also the produce and eggs from the chickens he and his wife began to raise on the farm. Then several years ago when I visited, with tears in her eyes, Santina told me that Howard had passed away. Santina kept on handling the honey, however, her son no longer wanted my glass jars.

During my many visits over the years we would sit and chat together in her kitchen. She shared much of her background with me. Part of a large family, she grew up on the farm where she eventually lived with her husband. While she was growing up, she and her siblings worked in people’s homes and on the farm. Every year I brought home quantities of their apples, some of them heirloom varieties, all of them special. I also brought many of my friends to meet my honey lady and to purchase jars for themselves.

When I called this fall to see the best day to get some honey from my friend I was told she had passed on in August. I was shocked and saddened. If only I had gone to see her sooner! I have only one large jar left from what I didn’t know was my last visit. It is nearly finished. I hoard the special crystals of sweetness that remain. One day the last of them will be gone. Still I will enjoy thinking of her, of our conversations and most of all her tender hugs. And although the last of the honey will eventually be gone, my heart will always hold the memory of her warm and radiant smile.

A Joy To Behold, by Tasha Halpert

Wedding 5 A&K and little girlsGrowing up I don’t remember going to any weddings. My mother’s relatives did not live in the USA and my father’s immediate family was small. I didn’t even go to a funeral until I was twelve, when I wore my first pair of nylons to the obsequies of an elderly cousin. The first wedding I attended was my own, a small affair because the children’s father and I eloped.

Weddings are always special, and the one Stephen and I recently attended in San Diego was no exception. Recently we flew there to join with family for the beach side wedding of our nephew. We were also fortunate enough to travel with my daughter and her fiancé, giving us an opportunity to be together with them at the same time. It was a joyful occasion and one I will long remember. Glimpses of the experience remain in my mind like photographs in a memory album I can now share with readers.

One special remembrance is of jumping in the waves of the Pacific with Stephen and my daughter. This was a great treat for me. It brought back a cherished happy memory of how as a child I used to jump the waves with my father. Staying at my aunt’s beach camp, we would venture out on a day when the ocean was excited from a recent storm, and holding on tight we would jump up as the waves engulfed us, surging against our tightly clasped hands.

The waves of the blue Pacific provided a musical background for the blue and white themed wedding. The bridesmaids wore blue dresses of their own choosing, the groomsmen blue ties and dark suits. The blue and white hydrangeas they carried were echoed in the carnation boutonnieres of the groom and his groomsmen. Blue table covers joined the various places to sit, as well as covered the serving tables of the delicious buffet we enjoyed after the ceremony.

My brother and sister are empowered by the State of California to perform weddings; they conducted the touching ceremony that linked their son with his lovely Korean bride. Her mother, father and relatives including her twin sister, her husband and their adorable four year old son the ring bearer, had come from Korea to witness the marriage. The groom’s sister, her husband and daughters one of whom was a flower girl, family members of my sister-in-law, and her 94 year old father were also involved.

As I stood with those watching the ceremony I felt a surge of love in my heart at this beautiful beginning to the married life of my nephew and my new niece. The participants gathered for the ceremony and for the various celebrations before and after it were equally excited and happy. There were many opportunities to mingle and get to know these new family members. The pictures I took and posted on Facebook are available for all to see. The images that I could not capture on film remain in my mind, a precious joy to behold.

The Gift and the Wrapping

by Tasha HalpertKathy's Christmas tree

Being somewhat uncoordinated when it come to things like wrapping packages, I have always struggled with trying to make my presents look reasonably attractive. Some people are really creative with how they wrap their presents. I envy them. I wish I had that kind of creativity. My mind tends to run along more utilitarian tracks and I don’t always think to add the trimmings.

I have a friend who does lovely wrapping. She told me about the finishing touches she had put on the colorful hand made gifts she had crocheted. She went on to tell me that someone said to her that the decorative packaging she had purchased to do this was extravagant, asking why she had spent so much money on something that would soon be discarded.

I understood completely why she had wanted to do this. Her gift was special and she wanted it to look that way. Her expenditure made perfect sense to me. While I tend to be less decorative in my thinking I can admire someone who knows how to do up a package and make it look special. My artistic friend has very clever fingers and knows exactly how to fix up a package to make it look extra special. I wish I had her skills.

The care with which a gift is presented says something important about the giver as well as the gift. Stephen and I accumulate presents for family and friends all during the year; my wrapping though not fancy is part of the caring. I used to have a dreadful time wrapping presents until a friend who had done professional wrapping for a department store showed me some useful tricks. Now I can make my packages look much more attractive.

There was a time when wrapping paper for Christmas gifts was not as inexpensive or as available as it is now. When I was a child we used to save all our Christmas gift paper from year to year and reuse it as often as we could. The use of scotch tape was discouraged and gift paper was sturdier as well. I remember one special piece of wrapping paper that appeared every year on a different present. It had an elaborate design and was very lovely as well as quite durable. In her elder years as the Christmas presents were opened my late mother would spend her time folding the wrapping papers. I expect this brought back vanished memories of when we were all young.

At this season of giving many feel compelled to spend money they don’t have to buy gifts for others who probably don’t need them. The simple gift of a hug and a plate of home made cookies or a hand made card might do just as well. Even young children need to learn to be content with less rather than yearn for more. Whatever I give at Christmas is primarily a token of my affection, and it need not be expensive or fancy. I will, however, wrap it with care and love because these are the real gift I am giving.

I am Thankful

Stephen and Tasha Hug          I make a practice of being thankful. I have often shared the little prayer I say a dozen or more times a day for various and sundry blessings. However it is not necessary to pray one’s thanks. It enough to simply acknowledge that one is grateful. My gratitude for what I have is enormous. I am also very grateful for much that I do not have, or may have had and no longer do.

What we have and what we do not have may both are something to be thankful for. Did you ever think back to when you were little and wanted something–a pony, perhaps? Most likely you didn’t get it, and most likely if you had you would soon have tired of taking care of it. Ponies require daily brushing, cleaning up after, feeding, petting, riding, and more: taking care of the saddle, bridle and all the required tack. They are a lot of work, and the child who wants the pony doesn’t think about that.

We seldom think about the consequences of receiving what we wish for. There is an old adage that goes: be careful what you wish for, you may get it. I remember admiring big houses, and oh how I wished for a swimming pool. One day I acquired both. That pool was more work than it was worth, although many people enjoyed it. However they weren’t tasked with the care of it as I was.

I used to think I wanted more space, and now having had two large houses–though one was smaller than the other, I have learned that every bit of space I may have requires care and looking after. I have learned to be content with a lot less space that I ever thought I would be.

As well I am thankful for those difficulties I have left behind. It is lovely not to have to clean three bathrooms each week, tend a huge garden, prune lots of bushes. When I hear a child yelling in the supermarket I am delighted it’s not my job to care for a howling toddler. I am also glad not to have be cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner and hosting a large group of people. I enjoyed and was thankful at the time I did all these things, now I am glad that time has passed.

There is much else I am just as glad not to wish for any longer. I used to think I would like to go up in a balloon, I don’t feel the need to do that any more. I don’t want to jump out of an airplane with a parachute either. I am thankful that I don’t need to do these things to be happy or feel fulfilled.

Thinking about thankfulness as I do each and every day but most especially at Thanksgiving I am struck by the way I have learned what I truly want and how fulfilled I feel. Once I yearned to be more popular. Now I am thankful for the friends I do have. I have learned that what is important to me are the small daily pleasures of contact with people and our communications. Most of all I am grateful for my beloved partner and best friend Stephen. Having a special friend with whom to share my life is my greatest blessing.