In 13 minutes, Christmas will be over. No more presents, no more Christmas music. I’m watching Christmas Vacation (third time in the past two weeks) on TV right now, taking full advantage of these last few minutes of this holiday. I’m unpacking my presents and thinking back on what an awesome day it was today.

Last night, of course, was Christmas Eve, where we took part in our annual tradition of getting together downstairs between services to snack and catch up – us old youth group members – and as usual we had a good time and laughed way too much. We even invited the pastor to come down and visit, it’s tradition. Then we went to the third of three services my church holds Christmas Eve.

This morning, we got up at 9 a.m. to open presents as a family. I got some awesome stuff, including a spa package, DVD player and new iHome-type alarm clock. Everyone got great stuff. Then the grandparents and my aunt, uncle and cousin came over to open presents and eat breakfast. We went to my other Grandma’s this afternoon for dinner and more presents and watched (500) Days of Summer – a great movie I highly recommend you see.

Now, I’m home, back in my apartment, unpacking my gifts and thinking about how thankful I am for all that I have. I am grateful for an amazing family, awesome friends and so many other great things. I am truly blessed and that’s what I’m happiest about this Christmas.

I hope all of you had great Christmases too – and thanks so much for reading!

We now resume regular posting.

24. Christmas Eve

Today is ALMOST the big day. But it could be argued that today is just as big, couldn’t it?

I mean, how many of us celebrate on this day as well? Some years, this is the day my family gets together at my grandma’s house and exchanges gifts with her. Some have their big meal today and open presents tonight. Or at least one. I have a friend who gets to open one gift Christmas Eve and it’s always pajamas for Christmas Day.

Tonight, for me, is church and one of my favorite Christmas traditions. You see, several years ago – I really don’t know when it started – those of us at church that had gone through youth group together and come back for the holidays gathered together before the final service of the night to eat snacks and catch up. Originially, my family and I had to be there for all three services Christmas Eve, someone was either playing an instrument, singing or reading at the first two (or in my case, working in the nursery) and then we attended the latest one.

Well, most of my friends from the youth group had the same thing going on. My family and I don’t do a big meal Christmas Eve and for a while it consisted of picking up some snacks from the gas station right by church on our way back from my grandma’s. Well, when the other church kids and I – we all still keep in touch and hang out when we can – realized we’d all be there all night and weren’t gonna get real food, decided to make it a potluck of stuff and eat together between the second and third services.

Sara – who lives in Montana now but always comes back for Christmas – always makes taco dip, someone always brings a dessert, and we raid the church kitchen for silverware, plates and cups. Three pastors have come down to snack with us at some point or another, even if just stopping by to get a bite of taco dip. Last year, our interim pastor even mentioned the little tradition during the service.

It’s a great time for us to catch up and spend time together and it’s a tradition I look forward to every year. Last year, one in our group showed up to the makeshift dinner to tell us she’d gotten engaged that day.

The church service is my other favorite part about today. In my church, we have a candlelight service. At the end of the service, we all get candles and pass the flame like we do the offering plate until everyone’s candles are lit. Then the lights are dimmed/turned off and we sing Silent Night together. It’s beautiful. Last year, our interim pastor changed it up a bit and had everyone make a circle around the entire sanctuary so we could all see each other as we sang.

At the end, we all sat there for a second, just taking in our surroundings and what we felt that night. It was so amazing I teared up a little. Maybe I cried, I dunno. Deal with it. Then he went into the middle, raised his candle and said “Merry Christmas” and blew it out. It really was a beautiful end to a beautiful service.

Tonight, we’ll get together around 8:30 and eat taco dip and other snacks while we are there between services. And at the last service, we’ll hold our candles and sing Silent Night together and think about what this holiday is really about.

Whatever your traditions, whatever you do today, or tomorrow, I hope you and your families have the merriest of Christmases.

23. Anticipation

The whole month of December is one big build-up to a one-day(ish) payoff. Starting the day after Thanksgiving – earlier than that even, for some – all people are concerned with are getting ready for Christmas, which is the reason I’m going to shop online next year.

Think about it though. All people are worried about are getting this done by Christmas or before Christmas or whatever. Then the actual day comes and it’s over so quick.

But there’s something about the anticipation, especially today, the 23rd. It’s so close to Christmas, but there’s still two days. Places are still open, because it’s not yet Christmas Eve. But it’s also time to wrap presents, because there’s stuff to do tomorrow and the day after that is Christmas. I’m excited to get presents, of course, but I’m more excited to give them. I look most forward to my family opening the presents I bought for them and seeing if they like them. I think I did a pretty good job this year.

I like the anticipation. I like getting ready for Christmas Eve and Christmas. I’m excited for church tomorrow night – I LOVE LOVE LOVE our candlelight service at 10:30 and before the service starts when my friends and fellow old school youth group-ers meet downstairs for snacks/dinner. But more on that tomorrow. Tonight, there’s stuff to be done. And stuff to be excited about. Because TOMORROW’S CHRISTMAS EVE!

22. The Christmas Story

No, not the movie, that’s already been covered here.

I’m talking about THE story. THE reason we even celebrate this holiday in the first place. THE story you’ll hear Thursday night – or Friday morning, depending on when/if you head to church during the holiday.

It’s a story we all know, the birth of Jesus. Such a simple story about a baby being born, yet it’s the most important story you’ll hear. I love hearing the story of Jesus’ birth and the way it’s told. This past week at church our pastor’s sermon was called “There’s Something About Mary.” He talked about what made God choose Mary and the responsibility he entrusted to her. It was a great sermon.

Jesus is the reason we celebrate and as you sit in church sometime during the next few days or even if you’re just sitting at home celebrating with family and friends, think about the Christmas story and what it means to you.

As far as that other Christmas Story, I just saw a commercial for the marathon that will be on Thursday and Friday and one of my neighbors has a replica of the leg lamp from the movie in their window. Awesome.

21. New calendars

If you know me, you know I enjoy planners, a lot. My friend Katie shares my enjoyment of planners and even let me know about a really cute one she saw at Walmart, which I ended up buying.

I already have my planner for next year – don’t judge. I even have stuff written in it already.

It’s the perfectionist/OCD in me, I like having my schedule written down where I can look at it and know what I have to do next. It’s for this same reason that I enjoy lists.

In the past couple years I haven’t gotten a wall calendar, I’ve just relied on my dry-erase weekly calendar and my planner. This year, though, I’m getting a calendar for my wall. It’s from one of my favorite blogs, dooce.com.

Dooce is a blog written by a woman in Utah who lost her job several years ago because she wrote things about her job on her blog and her bosses found out and fired her. Since then she’s gotten married, moved, had two kids and become pretty famous – in one of her recent posts she showed a screenshot of a Jeopardy question to which her site was the answer. She’s a great writer and so hilarious. I think we have the same sense of humor and I’m always interested in what she’s got to say. The week I was told about her blog I went back and started reading from the beginning until I got caught up. One of the best things she does is dress up her dogs, Coco and Chuck. Chuck’s been the subject of calendars the past few years and it’s so funny to see what pictures she uses on each month. This year’s calendar I think includes a picture of Chuck with her daughter’s onesie on his head and one with him sitting at her computer.

I’m ordering it soon after Christmas but don’t know if I’ll have it in time for Jan. 1. But that’s OK, I’ve still got my planner.

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown

This past weekend, my youngest sister and I helped my other sister teach her Sunday School class of four- and five-year-olds. There was only one little kid in there – a little boy named Will – and he talks like a grown-up. She tells us all the time how smart all the kids in there are and how they retain everything they talk about in the Sunday School class, sometimes even bringing part of the previous week’s lesson into the activity they do during a story.

Long story short, this week they were supposed to make stars, to symbolize what the wise men saw on the night Jesus was born. It was stars cut out of cardstock, covered in glitter and hung up by a string. Will made his and we passed him upstairs when he was talking to his mom as we were leaving church.

Will’s mom: “You made a star? Is it to hang on our tree?”
Will: “No, it’s for the Wise Men to follow!”

20. Family

Today, as is tradition every year on the weekend before Christmas, my family had their annual Christmas party. There’s always a TON of food – and by ton I mean RIDICULOUS AMOUNTS – and we do a white elephant gift exchange. This year there were 30 people that had to steal presents from each other and fight for the best one.

I got a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head and Juno on DVD. Some people got candy, hot chocolate, lottery tickets and my cousin got a Snuggie. I purchased a Bump-It for the exchange, which ended up going to one of my male cousins, who’s a freshman in high school. Ha.

I love my family. A lot. I have a big family on both sides – mom’s the youngest of six and dad’s the oldest of seven so lots of aunts, uncles, cousins – and am very lucky to be close with both sides. My dad’s side all lives in town so we see them more often and we have several big get-togethers during the year. Christmas is one of my favorites, because unlike Derby and some other smaller parties, it’s one of the times you know for sure that everyone in the whole family will be there. And with the exception of one of my cousins, tonight, everyone was there.

We took part in our new annual tradition of splitting into groups and singing 12 Days of Christmas. Each group gets a different day and we all take turns, of course. Last night my cousin Caitlin, my sister’s boyfriend, Chuckie and I were number 7. After we realized everyone was assigning different objects to their number – like Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon, Five Kings Burping, to which my youngest cousin, Kaleb added a little burp every time – we made ours 7 Single Ladies and did a very short version of the Beyonce dance to that song. It usually results in lots and lots of laughing, some pretty impressive creativity and about five minutes of voice warm-ups, preparation and organizing.

It’s my new favorite Christmas tradition at the family party and it gets funnier every year. And one of several of my favorite memories of my grandpa – who passed away last summer – is from that sing-a-long. The first year we did it, he and my cousin Aaron, who’s the next oldest after me, were day 10, I think. They sang “10 Lords-A-Leaping,” I think, and the best part was that every time it got to them, they sang in a very, very low voice and held their arms out like opera singers.

Like I said, I love my family. I love that we have fun together. I love that we play games like Taboo with almost 20 people involved. I love that I am lucky enough to have such a great group of people in my life. I could go on and on and on and on but it’s late and I have a Survivor finale to finish.

Seriously though. They’re awesome. And they’re my favorite every time of year, of course. But there’s something about having a group of more than 30 people who care about you that you get to spend so much time with and not mind at all that makes it great enough to be on this little list.

19. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…

One of my favorite pieces of journalism ever, an editorial in the pages of the New York Sun from 1897, in response to a little girl’s question of if there really is a Santa Claus…

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.

18. Santa letters

For every Christmas since I’ve worked for a weekly newspaper (that’d be four, if anyone’s counting), we’ve run letters to Santa from local kids. The letters have been hilarious – one kid once asked for a fake mustache and a snake – and also kind of sad – one girl asked for something nice for the policeman who helped her family.

They never fail to make me smile though, because for all the words the kids can’t spell at their young ages, they sure know how to spell all the video game stuff, Polly Pockets and Bakugan on their lists. They aren’t shy about telling Santa what they want, and in between their items listed, they make sure they ask Santa how he’s doing, how his reindeer are, what’s going on with Rudolf these days, oh and how’s your wife? If he needs to know how he can answer these questions, one kid this year provided a possible way he could communicate: “Once I have a laptop, e-mail me and let me know! And a really, really, really, super Merry Christmas to you.”

You’ll find all sorts of endings to the letters as well, ranging from Sincerely, Love and From to Your Friend, and my personal favorite, Your True Friend. That’s another thing they make sure to include too, how he’s nice and he’s their best friend. They check on him to make sure he’s alright, like one kid this year who wrote in his letter, “Having any trouble?” Another wrote “You are my best friend. Are you doing okay Santa Claus?”

The kids also want him to know what they’re leaving for him to eat, in case he’s curious. You know, cookies and milk, or as one kid wrote a few years ago – spaghetti and a Pepsi. One letter this year promises 35 cookies at his house for Santa to enjoy.

In looking through the ones we published this year earlier this evening, I found some great little excerpts I’ll share.

“For the rest, just surprise me, like some more Starwar figures and Xbox games.”

“I want a puppy for Christmas. I would like it to come with a pee mat and a pooper scooper, water and food….I want the puppy to sleep with me too. It would make me so happy.”

“I also want an iPod because my sister has an iPod shuffle and she brags. So, if I have one she will stop bragging.”

“I would like some new DS games and a necklace. I am not asking that much.”

“I want a DSi. I have a lot of reasons why I want one. So I don’t have to play with my dog, so I can be busy and so I can play by myself and I don’t have to be bored. And so I don’t have to watch TV. I will help my mom clean.”

“Make your elves work this Christmas because my friends and other people want lots of presents.”

“Do you like Christmas? Yes or no? Which one? Write your answer here ____”

“Christmas is my best holiday.”

“I help my mom with the turkey and I help my dad clean the house.”

“I will leave you a key to my door.”

“Can I have a pink DS please? It will make me not bored. I will be responsible for my DS. Like not throwing it.”

“I want a puppy. I want one the same size and cute like the one I petted. I will sleep with him. I will take care of him. I will feed him. I will not let him go out into the street. I will let him go to the restroom. I want it because he will lick us. If he is sleeping just leave him on the gray couch.”

“I want everything in the world, but not girl stuff.”

Lots of them want hamsters and several of them list reasons why they deserve their presents, because they’ve been good.

A couple chose to write letters to their parents this year, instead, and those were pretty entertaining.

Case in point:
“Everything is going fine here except for one thing. I need one more Barbie. A Barbie and Three Musketeers Barbie. How’s it going at work? I want a superhero for Christmas please. I don’t have enough Barbies. I will help you with the dishes every night. Then you maybe give me that toy for Christmas.”

Or this one:
“Remember the good times Mom and Dad. Please Mom and Dad. Dad and Mom I’ll buy you a present if you buy me a present. If you don’t I will still buy you a present.”

And then you have this letter, currently at the top of my list for favorite ones this year….

“Do not give the cat a cookie because she might throw up! Because the last time she threw up in my mom’s room and it didn’t make her happy. What I want for Christmas is my teeth. Four of them and some Tootsie Rolls.”

Part of the reason I like Santa letters is of course because they’re so funny and the kids come up with the most random things. But I think part of it is because I miss how easy life is when you’re a kid. You have few worries, even fewer responsibilities and the joy you have on Christmas morning because SANTA BROUGHT YOU ALL THOSE PRESENTS is kind of hard to replicate. Don’t get me wrong, I still get excited for giving and receiving presents Christmas morning, but it’s not the same as you get older.

My favorite part of the movie Elf – well, one of many – is the end when they’re all singing outside Central Park, everyone except for James Caan’s character, who doesn’t really believe in Santa. His son sees that he’s not singing and the second he starts to sing “Santa Claus is coming to town” Santa’s sleigh flies right over his head. I love it because it reminds me of that feeling when you’re a kid, when magic is still magic and can’t be explained away and there’s no reason not to believe there’s not a man in a red suit that brings presents to everyone all over the world in one night.

I believe in Santa. And I didn’t send him a letter this year, but maybe he’ll read this blog – you never know.

So, Santa, if you read this, I don’t have a really long list this year, but I would like a DVD player, Dexter Season 2 and a new Red Sox hat. You are my best friend. Love, Laura

17. Online shopping

Yesterday in the mail I got a Christmas present I ordered for someone this year. And that, my friends, is why I like online shopping.

I have never taken advantage of Cyber Monday – and I’ve only tried Black Friday once, no thank you – but can see why people do it. In fact, I plan on buying several of my presents that way next year. With just a couple clicks on Amazon.com, or whichever Web site has the gift I need, my Christmas shopping is done – or close to it. I don’t have to fight a crowd or navigate Louisville’s roads during this time of year, both of which I hate.

Sometimes you can get stuff gift-wrapped before they send it, but due to an unfortunate incident when wedding presents were ordered and I payed for gift-wrapping services once from Target.com, I’m hesitant to ever pay for that online ever again.

And, with sites like Amazon.com, you can find exactly what you want. Meanwhile, if you go to a store, you’re stuck looking forever, fighting past people and probably asking someone that works there where the item is, when most of the time they have no idea.

So, yeah. I like my shopping like I like my trips to the dentist – quick and painless. The best way to do that is to go online. I love it.

Thank God for the Internet.