The Joy Of Christmas Is In The Experience (3 Short Stories)


New Holiday Traditions

By Christina Ihnken

My first Christmas as a newlywed taught me that expectations and traditions – especially if they are not your own - usually end in disaster. I had unreasonable expectations for our first Christmas because being a newlywed in my first house and my first Christmas ever in the United States, I thought I had to prove that I could do it all. I felt the pressure even before Pinterest made all my efforts look inadequate and before the “Baby it’s cold outside” controversy.

 Here we were. Colorado Springs. It was our first Christmas and it had to be PERFECT. There would be family and friends to judge me and pictures to remind me of success or failure for the rest of my life. (Note: I couldn’t find a single picture today) Everything had to match, meaning a slight variation in color from the ruby red dishtowels to the dark ruby red hand towels was unacceptable. While I was stressing out over every little detail at home, Ryan drove up the mountain into the forest to pick out the perfect tree and chop it down himself. On the way up the mountain his truck got stuck in heavy snow; after digging himself out he got a speeding ticket that cost more than the tree, and back at the house the tree was so tall no tree topper would fit. The sticky sap from the tree covered our new hardwood floor before I had a chance to put down the carefully selected tree skirt. The sap would not come off the floor or the tree skirt, and the pine needles were stuck in the carpet throughout the house and could be found around furniture and stuck in socks for months. To top it all off, at the end of the season we were so frustrated with the tree that we decided to open the window and throw the tree into the backyard instead of dragging it all the way through the house to dispose of it. Out the window it went, right onto the shiny new grill Santa had brought weeks prior. The dreaded tree ripped off a door and left a nice dent.

This year, 10 years later, I somehow find myself experiencing the extreme opposite.

I didn’t plan to not decorate at all for Christmas, but I did consciously decide to not pack any Christmas decorations when moving from the United States to Belgium. As I was packing in June I thought it would be a waste of space to bring along any decorations plus most of them needed to be plugged in and I wasn’t going to buy a generator to convert my blinking lighthouse collection from 110 volt to 220 volt. The plan was to pick up a few things in Belgium. Now one week before Christmas there is no Christmas tree, I don’t have any Christmas cookies baked and there are no decorations at all at the house, inside or out.

Presents have been wrapped in the least festive Christmas paper available (Thanks to my husband for picking up mushroom vampire paper as a joke) and they are tucked away in my closet because there is no tree to place them under. If it wasn’t for Alexa playing Christmas music, you wouldn’t even know Christmas is right around the corner.  

Looking back at past Christmases, I don’t remember many of the decorations I had or any of the presents I got but I remember all the wonderful people I met along the way that became extended family and the traditions they shared with me. Everyone I met had different traditions like watching a certain movie, eating a particular dessert or going for a drive around the neighborhood to see all the holiday lights, and most of those traditions stuck with me and will always remind me of the person I picked it up from.  I feel very lucky that this year I’ll be celebrating with new friends again and maybe learn about new holiday traditions.

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2019! Here is to making new friends, embracing new traditions, and for me hopefully finding a happy holiday decorating medium next year. 

This year’s wrapping paper.

This year’s wrapping paper.


the maker of Christmas

By Larissa Nemeth

As a kid I was a huge believer in magic, as well as a strong proponent of NEVER under any circumstances, peeking behind the curtain.  I always wanted to BELIEVE the magic, not BE the magic.  Well, my friends, that day has come - fast forward 25 years and here I am, the wizard herself.  Pulling all the strings and pushing all the buttons that infuse a season with whimsy and wonderment. I have become the maker of Christmas.

 If I'm going to be honest here, which I may as well be, its sort of great.  I can't say with any definition WHEN the switch occurred, the change from being more excited to get the present to being more pumped to give it. But it happened. The shrieks of excitement when our elf, Jingles Joyberg, moves from inside the cookie jar to hanging upside down from the light fixture or the anxious reading of a note from Santa or simply getting to open the next day on the advent calendar. Seeing my kids alight with cheer is one of the reasons to take pause in the hectic machinery of running a family. All of their delight and anticipation gives me joy. Maybe the careful, hard work I put in to creating an atmosphere of magic reaps a greater result because of the emotional investment? I wonder what the science is behind all of it... 

I would, no doubt, be lying if I said that I DON'T pine for the unsullied joy of the childhood wonder of Christmas past. However, I now derive a simpler pleasure from the season.  The lights, the  baking, the live performances, the planning, the overall sense of goodwill- in short, the Christmas Spirit. Everyone can find something to be warm about in this one short month. Believe me, it would behoove you to, mainly because after the holidays it is just cold, damp and dark in the northeast with no reprieve in sight.  I encourage all Grinches to cave - just give in, and admit - it's magical, dammit!

The stocking I had since I was born.

The stocking I had since I was born.

Does Santa really exist?

By Cristina Byrne

There is an idea presented to us of what Christmas looks like, leaving us with those expectations of what its suppose to be like. I can’t necessarily speak about those expectations because I only know about my experiences.

Christmas comes once a year, as you know every year at the same time. For some, its shopping lists, donations, work parties, family, friends, church, gift exchanges, get togethers, drinking, the weather, lots of eating, a movie, a show, getting engaged, caroling, or Chinese food. It can be hectic, it can be busy, people can be crazy and they can be giving. “The bells are ringing, children are singing, oh what a beautiful time.”

Can I wish you a Merry Christmas? Or is it a Happy Christmas?

For me, the first part of my childhood Christmases were spent in Caracas, Venezuela where my Abuelita lives. Every year we would go down there and it was always a big hurrah with the familia! The days were filled with traditional Venezuelan food such as Pan de Jamon and Hallacas, there was singing, dancing, exchange of stories and outings. We cheered, we laughed, we play a dice game called Cacho and to top it all off there was even a visit from Santa Clause himself. Yes, Santa personally delivered my Christmas gifts! I am not sure whose idea this was to actually have him jiggle his bells through my Abuelita’s front door but not until last year was it revealed that it was my Tio Manuel who occasionally dressed up as the Fat Man in the Red Suit. I have very fond memories of those Christmases and every once in a while I doze off to re-live them.

Back to school from break and the question was asked, “What did you get for Christmas?” At the time it seemed like an innocent question to ask or be asked but some how it felt and was even interpreted as a moment to brag about what you got, what you did or what your holiday looked like – oh the expectations! I mean who wouldn’t want to talk about what happened over Christmas? Like the time when you got a Lava Lamp because they are cool or how you were the only one that found it funny to give a whoopee cushion as a gift exchange. How your Dad is a “practical guy” and he likes to give things of necessity like toothpaste or scissors and who still hides your gifts in the tree. The times when you and your brother came home from college and binge watch movies and never left the basement as everyone else was out at the bar. The time when your Grandma gives you an 80’s yoga book that she found in her closet and a 5-year-old desk calendar telling us that it can be used for origami. The time you hiked part of the Appalachian Trail and the Mexican Pyramids, saw the Christmas Tree in New York City and in Chicago, how you accidentally went to Mexico, spent Christmas in foreign and domestic land and pondered about the infamous question of, “Does Santa really exist?”

Now, every kid comes to a moment in their life wondering about this question. Either older siblings tell you or the kids at school do but my mother would always answer, “If you believe it then its real.” It was that simple. I realized that it was never about Santa Clause or a “Merry Christmas” or the kind of gifts you received or how many gifts you got or the wrapping paper used or any expectations that needed to be upheld. It was about believing in the magic and creating the magic which are life lessons that I carry with me till this day.

From my first Christmases in Venezuela to present day, for I have no expectations for I only have experiences.

“God bless us, everyone!”  - Tiny Tim.

Caracas, Venezuela 1994

Caracas, Venezuela 1994

Mi Burrito Sabanero (The Little Donkey from Bethlehem)