For many of us the perfect mental image of a Christmas celebrated well is a combination of standards we have created from faith, art, popular culture, entertainment and a stew of traditions we acquire throughout our lifetimes.
How should we view Christmas? A childâ??s perspective might be the best.
â??Thereâ??s a feeling of warmth that I love during Christmas. I like the way we take turns giving our gifts to each other and the way each gift creates a reaction,â? said my middle-school aged son. â??Our living room becomes a circle for sharing not only gifts but laughs, memories and good food. People shouldnâ??t want to stop talking or even leave.â?
My family embraces family stories and traditions from the lands of our ancestors. My wife and I are American, but there might be a kilt and or a Spanish fan among our most cherished possessions.
Family, faith and history are our foundation.
I always believed that the Christmas spirit must be creatively nurtured and enhanced with fun non-structured activities.
Make cooking a social and artistic experience. Donâ??t just toss a bird in the oven.
My family likes to hang out in the kitchen and watch me experiment with a few special menu items that spawn excitement and conversation. There should be old standards of course, like a ham or turkeyâ??but toss in a few more daring choices like an appetizer plate of local wild game. Bonus points if you hunt or fish for it yourself.
Last year, my family really enjoyed this addition to our more traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. We incorporated a few fillets of Chesapeake Bay Rockfish and bag of fresh barrier island oysters that carried the taste buds directly to the salty foam.
I also grilled venison medallions and brushed them with a raspberry sauce. We all loved the way fresh local food created a bond with Virginia history. These foods created discussions of what was eaten at Christmas dinners in the past. It tied us to the history and landscape that surrounds us.
For drinks a number of fantastic concoctions are made with â??potionsâ? as my son once named them. Wonderful Virginia wines, craft beers, Jamaican rum appear and disappear from kitchen counters as uncles and I become a bit jollier by the hour.
Another highlight of my family Christmas is funny hats, kilts and perhaps even a tie that adds an air of civility. For my wife, itâ??s about faith and the simple joy of family.
For more than a decade I have enjoyed my time â??workingâ? with senior citizens in the Silver Club, a social-recreation based program.
Itâ??s been said that work doesnâ??t feel like work if itâ??s something you love to do. I laugh about the work aspect, mainly because it really is more about the intergenerational gifts of time, wisdom, laughter and the joy of each moment of life. Thereâ??s me, a middle-aged writer and all my friends.
I have learned so much from them over the years. I like to think that it works both ways.
Recently, a few of my friends shared their favorite Christmas moments:
â??Nowadays I go to visit my son on the mountain behind Criglersville. We have about 16-18 people on Christmas and we have a great big party,â? said Jean Scott. â??I remember when I worked at a post office. In the weeks before Christmas we were very busy, but people would bring us all types of snacks and presents just for doing our jobs.â?
For another lady inspiration arrives in the morning hours.
â??I enjoy Christmas morning with my family. We have coffee cake, orange juice and coffee then we open our presents,â? said Jan Cabot.
A few older Virginia traditions were also mentioned.
â??I remember a few family traditions that we still enjoy. We would have oyster stew on Christmas and we would have black-eyed peas on New Yearâ??s,â? recalled Jack Rosenberger. â??The first man or boy to walk through the doorway of the house on New Yearâ??s always brings good luck.â?
One tradition seems to be born from the urge to tear the wrapping off all the presents.
â??We always opened one present on Christmas Eve,â? said Pat Kosalinski, who grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. â??I think this is a rather common tradition. I just think we did it because we were all impatient. Our town was known for the big floods and motorcycle rallies.â?
One club member recalled Christmas joy from across the Atlantic Ocean. He was a teenager during the horrific London bombings during World War II.
â??Back home in England we used to wear little paper party hats, pull crackers and have Christmas pudding with a bit of Brandy poured over the top of it,â? said Maurice Wilson, now of Culpeper, who grew up just outside of London. â??The best part was when we lit the brandy on fire and served it. We really liked that part.â?
Another recalled a funny little tradition that evolved into a time capsule of Christmas past. It became a cherished link to the very spirits of Christmas past.
â??My family had a funny tradition where my cousin would send the same Christmas card to my mother each year with a greeting,â? said Judy Nichols, of Culpeper. â??They mailed this card back and forth for about 25 years. We loved reading greetings from years past on the card.â?
Our most stylized images of Christmas seem to be rooted in consumerism along with a re-invention of a Victorian re-invention. Sprinkle in a healthy dose of Norman Rockwell, Christmas Specials, Scrooge, the Good King Wenceslas, music, Santa Claus, Christmas trees, mistletoe and caroling (if your town ordinances permit it).
Please remember to save a place at your table for Tiny Tim too.
Marshall Conner is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org