Friday, December 11, 2009

Custom-ized

As the yule-tide grows near, I'm interested if you have any customs that you've developed over the years to celebrate Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa).

This year Secret Santa seems to be a popular gifting option, though some like the hoopla of Chinese gift exchanges (aka Dirty Santa). Some people celebrate Christmas on the Eve, the day, and sometimes even afterwards. When I was younger my mom often let me open one gift on Christmas Eve during the gift exchange with family who had other plans for Christmas Day. I still remember packing up all my gifts to take to my grandparents to show them what magical do-dads jolly old St Nick had brought. (This includes the original Optimus Prime my husband now swears is half his.)

Some people attend Christmas Eve services at their church, or even hanging of the greens prior to the usual Christmas cantatas. I fondly remember singing as a young girl and tween in programs at a couple churches, as well as caroling in the cold night air at elderly homes and friends houses. I miss those days, when it didn't matter if you were off pitch and people weren't afraid to open their doors.

I think these happenings, which remind us of years past, can often embellish author's stories. Sometimes they're lifted from memories, and other times the real occurrence is tweaked to fit an idea for a book. I find it enchanting to come up with ideas for family customs, which can not only give backstory, but also lead to character clues. In fact, in my brainstorming for a Christmas novel, I thought what if the person who always put up the tree or the lights wasn't around anymore? Would someone new fill those shoes, or would their friend/partner be left void of those Christmas icons used to celebrate the season? And thus lose a bit of hope or cheer.

It's also interesting to think of what gifts a character might give. Are they a jokester who likes to "gag" others, are they sentimental enough to remember something from months ago, or do they go high class and opt for the must give gift of the year? All these little things say something about a character, and as such can be a metaphor for his/her change.

As I sat in the pew at my first Moravian Love Feast, thanks to a friend's invitation, I was struck by the message of love and the opportunity each of us has to share our light with the world. Imagine that as a sign of someone caring for another, even if it's in a romantic sense. Can you see the close bonds forming as they break bread, sing carols, sip sweet coffee, and lift up their hearts to the Lord during a candle ceremony? Very power stuff, and a terrific opportunity for a change of heart. I'm not saying it would thaw Scrooge, but for someone who has been cast out to celebrate alone, that time of togetherness with a friend could be what shows them the power of the season.

So when you celebrate, or hear others talking of what they did over the holiday, tuck that little tidbit away because it might come in handy to add that little extra spice of life.




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