Monday, December 23, 2013


Traditions take place all year round. Think about how we celebrate birthdays, the end of the school year, the beginning of another year, Valentine's Day and other special days. No time of year seems as steeped in traditions, though, than Christmastime. 

Christmas is a magical time, or at least it should be. The days are rapidly becoming shorter. They are also becoming colder. If it wasn't for Christmas and its traditions, we might just not leave the house until Spring, or at least not leave after dark.

Our traditions have changed over the years. They used to begin Thanksgiving weekend with buying a tree from the same cut your own tree place. When you cut your own tree, you know it is fresh, and taken care of it lasts about two months. Unfortunately that tradition came to an end when the owner sold his tree farm to the township to use as open space, and when I broke our tree stand and three tries later still did not find an adequate replacement. The tree farm is a nice park, with nice trails, but we miss going there. Two years of problems encouraged us to go with a fake tree. The fake tree led to two more in 2012, a fourth one in 2013, and thoughts of a fifth one for 2014 (one in Ashley's bedroom with ornaments special to her).

Traditions come and go. I miss the real tree, but I don't miss the dropped needles, and the panic each year as we put it to the curb (are you sure you got EVERY single ornament?). 

Thanksgiving weekend used to be when we mailed out our Christmas cards, complete with the Pillsbury Press, print version. I also don't miss obsessing over the wording, and squeezing everything onto two sides of an 8.5x11 inch piece of paper, complete with one picture in the center column. The Pillsbury Press blog allows me a lot of freedom -- especially the freedom to edit after publication when people point out my errors.

The following weekend was typically when we saw Santa. Things changed here, too, when Santa moved. He still visits New Jersey from the North Pole every November, a bit earlier than our old schedule.

Another week I would often spend baking. That is a tradition I am happy to pass along to Ashley, or at least share with her. She really has the Pillsbury gene and is a much better baker than I am. I'm better at cooking, which is not as obsessive with measurements and is less of a science than baking. This year she has taken to baking chocolate chip cookies and sharing them with friends.

We try to always attend a play or two during the Christmas season, or even act in one. It started when my we took Ashley to see "The Nutcracker," which the following year because my mom taking Ashley to see "The Nutcracker." This year Ashley saw "Twas the Night Before Christmas" starring Melissa, Hayden and Aimee (to us, our relatives and friends are the stars, no matter how big their part). Ashley was the Char Woman and the Artful Dodger in her school's production of "A Christmas Carol." This weekend we went to Somerset Valley Players to see "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Another tradition is catching Santa and the fire department as they breeze through our neighborhood. He was fast this year, and I wasn't quite ready. Other years we have stood outside off and on for hours looking for him. Oh well. 

Church services are a very important part of our lives, and Christmas is no exception. Ashley's school puts on a pageant each year, led by the 8th graders. The sixth and seventh grade girls are invited to be angels. The pageant is the culmination of the school's Christmas program. 

Our favorite Christmas service is the Carol of Many Nations at Princeton Theological Seminary. It is always humbling to hear the word of God spoken in so many different languages, some of which I am hearing for the first time each year. 

Christmas Eve we typically attend two to three services, plus another one on Christmas Day, all at different churches. Christmas Eve includes the family-friendly service at the Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church, and the 11 PM candlelight service at the First Presbyterian Church of Hamilton Square. Santa comes to our house while we are at the late service (at least that's what we see on NORAD). We open presents on Christmas morning around 12:30 AM and sleep in the following morning.

Try another stocking, Ashley
Christmas Eve we have dinner with the Pillsbury side of the family, and Christmas Day we celebrate with the Koetting side.

We love seeing friends throughout the holiday season. A highlight is always Debbi and Mike's party, and the counting of the trees. For the past two years a new tradition seems to be forming -- going caroling with Ashley's friend, Maia, and her her family the Sunday before Christmas.

Most years we also go into New York City to see "the tree" and the displays. We are hoping to go to New York next Sunday to see the displays. Unfortunately Santa won't be hanging out at Macy's then since his work will be done for the year. We know it will be crazy, but I consider myself lucky to be living close enough that we can pop in for a few hours to enjoy it.

I take all the photos you send us and put them on the back of the front door. In the New Year, I take the pictures and put them in a book, along with a description of how we spent the Christmas season. Though we have done away with our own newsletter, I enjoy reading about everyone's adventures. I try to encourage friends to read ours throughout the year online.

I'm sure as Ashley grows up there will be new traditions. As long as we keep Christ in Christmas, Christmas will continue to be a magical time of year.

What is your favorite tradition?

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