Oh, I love the holidays. Ever since I was a little kid, the September – December time of year has been my favorite. Why September? Well, the long Labor Day weekend is always nice, but that’s not why I love September. My birthday is in September, and while arguably I’m less excited about birthdays now than when I was a kid, given that I’m 46 (soon to be 47!), it still feels like the “kick-off” to a series of monthly delights. In addition, we’re soon to leave behind the oppressive, humid heat that is Central Florida summers.

Halloween doesn’t seem to be as “big” these days as when I was a kid. Perhaps that’s because we start seeing Halloween decorations in the stores in August (*sigh*), and by the time the holiday actually rolls around, we’re sick of it (and have seen the Halloween decorations in the stores joined by Christmas decorations around late September or so…). Back in my day (a phrase I swore I’d never utter, but which I find myself doing more and more) we didn’t have to worry so much about things like the safety of our candy and not going to houses of people you don’t know well. I don’t know, perhaps today people are just more aware, which is a good thing, but somehow some of the fun seems…less. My kids are now 16 and 18, so the days of me taking them Trick or Treating is long past. My husband and I do like to make Halloween fun for the kids who come to our house by dressing up. We also always carve jack-o-lanterns as a family to set in our living room window so kids know that yes, this is a house that will have some candy for you.

One of my favorite Halloween traditions (and Thanksgiving traditions and Christmas traditions), though, is the annual playing of the Charlie Brown holiday specials! I’ve been watching them since the mid-60s, and I try to watch them every year. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” starts off the holiday season very nicely indeed. I love Linus’ devotion to the Great Pumpkin, and his inability to get discouraged year after year. I love the Halloween party and Lucy’s inadvertent lip touch to Snoopy while bobbing for apples, and her reaction; but mostly I love her devotion to her little brother. She’ll have no qualms about calling him a blockhead and otherwise disparaging him, but she’ll be the one to go out in the middle of the night to retrieve her brother from the pumpkin patch, covering his shivering self with a blanket and walking him home and putting him to bed. I love Pigpen’s ghost costume, because it’s dirty like him and clouds of dirt arise whenever he walks. Finally, poor Charlie Brown. He gets a lot of rocks. I feel like that a lot!

Good stuff.

Thanksgiving I love because of cooking and family. When I was a kid, we shared Thanksgiving dinners with two other families. There was probably 15 or so of us at the beginning. Over the years, though, as families grew, kids got married and had their own kids, spouses and in-laws joined in, at one of the last Thanksgivings we shared in this fashion, there must have been 75 people or more. These meals truly represented the spirit of the holiday, a living testament to the blessings we all shared. I wouldn’t see most of these people at any time throughout the rest of the year, but at Thanksgiving? We all managed to get together. These dinners probably went on for 25-30 years or so; they finally ended when some of the original gang started passing away (my father being one) and others got ill, and just the inevitable desire by many to start going to see the spouses’ parents or other family for the holiday. I miss the big gatherings but have many fond memories of these celebrations.

Now, because my husband and I love to cook, we especially love the holiday. We start planning the menu weeks in advance, always looking to try new recipes. My husband makes stock out of the turkey carcass and drippings – in fact, we just used up the last of it a few weeks ago in a meal we ate, and mmmmm…it brought back the flavor of Thanksgiving! I start cooking on Wednesday (cranberry sauce, pies, stuffing, brine the turkey) and finish up on Thursday. So much work, but so worth it! And don’t forget the Charlie Brown special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Their meal? Two slices of buttered toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn, and jellybeans. Soon those that are aghast at this “Thanksgiving dinner” come to realize it’s not about the food but the people you’re with. The best part? After everyone leaves, Snoopy and Woodstock have their own fabulous dinner including turkey and pumpkin pie!

I still like to have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on t.v. while cooking Thanksgiving morning – it’s part of the tradition of what we did when I was a kid. Oh, I don’t watch it much – just listen to it. I really don’t like all of the lip-synced performances and whatnot, but I still always take that moment to come to the t.v. when Santa arrives at the end of the parade, officially kicking off the Christmas season! (Would that the stores would wait until then to kick it off!).

Christmas. My very favorite of all. When I was a kid, my Godparents would come over (with their 10-12 kids, I could never keep track) in the evening, bring me a gift and visit with us, until they’d leave to go to midnight Mass. Funny, we’d never see them during any other part of the year, and I wasn’t close to the kids of the family (they even went to my school). I’m sure at least some of the kids wondered why we continued to get together every year, but we did. I can’t remember when it ended, probably before I started high school. Not sure why.

We love putting up a real Christmas tree. Traditionally we do it the weekend after Thanksgiving, so we get a full month of delicious Christmas Tree smell in the house.  I love decorating the tree while listening to Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate. Mmmmm. That “special feeling” in the air still exists for me at this time of year. I try to get my shopping done early (though not on the day after Thanksgving – NEVER will you find me in those crowds!) and wrap along the way. I have had more than one Christmas in which I was furiously wrapping the kids’ presents at 2 a.m. because I put the chore off. LOL.

The kids still indulge me in putting out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots and apples for Rudolph and the reindeer. By the way, I’ve never confirmed for them that there is no Santa (remember they are 16 and 18). They’d ask me about Santa when younger; I’d respond that the special feeling at that time of year – of generosity, of family, of sharing – was real; and that Santa represented that. So…

That seemed to satisfy them.

Growing up we were always allowed to open one present on Christmas eve, and I’ve carried that tradition on with my kids. Otherwise, presents are for opening on Christmas morning, thankyouverymuch. I don’t like the tradition some have of opening presents on Christmas Eve. If you do that, what about the “Santa” presents that don’t get put under the tree until Santa comes?

I love getting up early, before everyone else, and enjoying sitting on the couch in the dark, looking at the lit Christmas tree. It’s my special Christmas moment, and I try to reflect on the year and the year ahead. Despite some especially difficult challenges our family has had over the last few years, I always realize how many blessings we have too.

Happy Holiday season, all.