Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The luminarias -- also known as farolitos -- lining Milan and adjoining streets illuminate the sidewalks with a warm, old-fashioned glow. Who would have ever thought brown paper bags and votive candles could be so festive? These low-tech versions of Christmas lights originated in Mexico and eventually spread to New Mexico and the western United States. More than decorations, they represented hope for many Christians who believed the lights would lead the spirit of the Christ child to their homes.

Luminaria-lined pathways, figgy pudding, advent calendars, mulled wine, yule logs, marzipan, stollen, mistletoe, mincemeat pies, tamales, giant inflatable mylar yard Santas and electronic mini-light animatronic reindeer ... so many different traditions intertwine in our country's holiday tapestry. Take your pick: rum in the eggnog, or bourbon? Flocked tree or plain? White lights or colored? Ham or turkey? It's a Wonderful Life or White Christmas? Father Christmas, St. Nick or Santa Claus? Open presents on Christmas eve or Christmas morning? (I'll take all of the above, thank you, including my Jewish pals' Hanukkah latkes and Christmas Day Chinese take-out!)

One of my family's personal Christmas traditions started years ago when my mother's brother wrote a cryptic poem on the tag of her gift, hinting at what was inside. Not to be outdone, Mom put hints on all the presents the next year ... and a tradition was born. When Jon and I got married I introduced the custom to his immediate family -- who ran with it. Now, any gift for any occasion includes a hint -- the more creative and puzzling the better. Coming up with hints is one of the best parts of my holiday season, though presents wrapped at the last minute often end up with crappy hints, and those wrapped while drinking eggnog are usually a bit obscure...

So, what are some of your family's favorite holiday traditions?


Shanna said...

Dare I say that I remember THAT hint? The one by Dixie Jane's - and - my brother.
It required digging. Up Santa's...
to find Joy, the world's most expensive perfume.

I wonder who can guess the hint.

Dixie Jane said...

The original hint by my brother:

You'll find Ebonezer Scrooges
From the Atlantic to the Isthmus
You'll also find a present
Where he'd like to stick Christmas.

Here was this Santa Claus candle. Buried inside was a small bottle of Joy perfume and covered over the "wound" was a melted candle all smooth and secure. It took a knife and some time to dig out a small bottle of the world's most expensive perfume. But it was worth the trouble and hence was born the "don't wrap it without a hint" program, which has continuted to this day. Sometimes the hints are harder than selecting the present.

Judy Williams said...

Whenever I explain our tradition of putting hints on our gifts, people always smile and say "what a neat idea," but they don't realize how hard it can be sometimes. I remember even buying something that I wouldn't have normally, because I thought of the best hint for it. HA!!

I find it only fitting that Mom, Shanna and I are the first to comment on this blog entry.

I love the idea of the lighted luminarias lighting the way for the Christ Child to find the home of a Mexican family. There is just something about a flickering flame and the glow it creates, when surrounded by the brown paper. They have even expanded to include lighted sidewalks for Halloween as well.

Light itself denotes so many things. For Christians, Christ was the Light of the World, for the Jewish faith, the miracle of the oil in the menorah that stayed lit for 8 days when it was supposed to only last one, is another.

On a more basic level, the Historical Theories of Light can be viewed here.

No matter what it means or symbolizes to you, may the lights of this season bring you happiness and peace.

altadenahiker said...

Best Christmas post. Evah. And that's what you get when everyone in the family is a bloody genius. I also want to hear some eggnog hints.

(Christmas Eve, ribbe, Aquavit)

TheChieftess said...

Add Miracle on 34th st to the list for me!!!

Lovely post Laurie! And I'm with AH...I wanna hear those egg nog hints!!!

Mister Earl said...

DJ, Laurie, Judy, Shanna: Give us some more examples!

One of my Christmas traditions is trying to find a restaurant that's open for breakfast on Christmas morning. Maybe I'll reprise the Ruby's story.

My mom is crowing because the chef where she lives used her latke recipe this year, and everyone is raving!

Laurie said...

Oh, I'm so glad my family commented on this! I'll be up late tonight wrapping presents, but I've been mulling over hints for everything for the last week.

I've saved the little hint tags from presents for years now, but I never wrote down what each present actually WAS, so looking through that box of tags now causes all kinds of consternation. Ha!

Jon is a master at this hint thing. Once he sent me through a fairly elaborate treasure hunt through the house and garden before I found a ring between two books on a shelf.

Some of my favorites are the ones where we make the hint in the form of who the present is from. You know the little Christmas tags that say To and From on them? (I remember a few... diamond earrings from Marilyn Monroe's best friend, a little bell from Robert Jordan, a pair of boots from Nancy Sinatra...)

Mister E, I want your mom's latke recipe!!! I made the mistake of thanking a friend's mom for "the yummy hashbrowns" back in high school. Latkes. I'll never forget they're latkes!

dbdubya said...

Since our fearless leader has asked for family traditions, here's my contribution. The tradition is common - to leave a tray of cookies and some milk out for Santa on Christmas Eve. When the little ones rushed to the tree in the morning, some of the cookies and milk were gone.

Many years ago when my kids were little, there was an added twist. As tradition had it, we packed up and went to the in-laws for dinner on Christmas Eve. Since we'd be coming home late and the kids might be asleep, we left the cookies and milk next to the fireplace for Santa before leaving. As always on Christmas Eve, there was a lot of Christmas cheer along with egg nog and other adult beverages at the in-laws.

When we came home and I walked into the house carrying my youngest who was asleep on my shoulder, the first thing I noticed was that some of the cookies and half the milk was gone. There was a note alongside that said, "Thanks for the cookies and milk" and was signed "Santa." My first reaction was that we'd been burglarized and the smart-ass burglar had eaten cookies and left a note. I began to walk around the house to see what was missing. I walked into the living room where the Christmas tree was, and I saw a bright red lawn mower next to the tree. I said, "Who the hell put a lawn mower in the house!" My wife started laughing and wished me a Merry Christmas. She'd bought a much needed new lawn mower as a gift and had someone deliver it while we were out. He decided to snack a little and leave a note. I fell for it like a big tuna - hook line and sinker.

And that is one of my favorite Christmas memories.

Yakpate said...

My two favorite Christmas traditions... (1) making Mexican wedding cookies for my sister, eating half of them before they make it to a plate, cleaning up powdered sugar dust for days, and finally... baking another batch the day after Christmas. And (2) staying up with my single-Mom niece to assemble toys... and making sure we remember to eat the cookies her boys left for Santa.

Oh wait, and my very FAVORITE Christmas tradition... not being able to get together with LA & family over the holidays, so opening our "
"Oscar Gifts" instead... fantastic!

Kris said...

It’s that time of year again! I’m doing the rounds and apologising for my complete failure to more regularly offer comment on everybody’s incredible efforts for the year. I know how hard it can be to keep up with the daily grind of everyday posting, and want to thank you for your efforts.

I especially want to wish festive greetings for all from down here at [nearly] the end of the world, the bottom of Tasmania.

So, if you could delete whatever is not applicable, I’d like to wish you a very pleasant/merry/happy/wonderful/safe Amaterasu; Ashurall; Beiwe; Choimus; Christmas; Dazh Boh; Dongzhi; Goru; Hanukkah; Hogmanay; Junkanoo; Karachun; Koleda; Lenæa; Meán Geimhridh; Modranicht; New Years; Ras as-Sana; Rozhanitsa Feast; Şeva Zistanê; shōgatsu; Summer Solstice [if you're in the Southern Hemisphere]; Sviatki; Vánoce; Winter solstice [if you're in the Northern Hemisphere]; Yalda; Yule-tide; Ziemassvētki; and Коляда!

With a hearty three cheers from Kris, Jen, Henry and Ezra!

arf! said...

Mr Earl: try Canter's deli on Fairfax. works without Fail.

Petrea said...

Great post and great comments. We did the hint thing when I was a kid, too! I wish we'd kept those tags.

My favorite tradition involved an elaborate set-up ritual my father used to go through every Christmas morning while the rest of us had to wait upstairs. It was excruciating then, but I remember it fondly now.

These days, I'm looking for a new tradition.

Earl, if you find a restaurant open for breakfast around here, let me know.

Cafe Pasadena said...

Well, for today it was Festivus.

I hope you & your family had an productive & Happy Festivus holiday, LA!

Laurie said...

Thanks, everyone! And Petrea, I knew we were kindred spirits... you're the only other person I've ever met who put hints on Christmas presents. Are you sure we're not related?

Happy Festivus, Cafe!

DB, I love your story.

Until tomorrow, everyone. Ho ho ho...

Petrea said...

I think my mother must have started it. She was the poet. But the boots from Nancy Sinatra, etc.--we didn't do that. It's brilliant. I'm going to steal it.

Natalie said...

That's very true about luminaries. They are so simple, yet so beautiful.