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November 3, 2009 7:00 AM   Subscribe

What are some traditions that we can incorporate into our first Christmas solstice together?

Mr. WanKenobi and I just got hitched. Our families are in NJ--we're in Florida. To avoid conflict both between our respective families, and each other (he wants to travel to NJ for X-mas this year; I really want to try to get my family to come to me, after flying to colder climes every year for the past three), we've decided to celebrate the "real" holiday apart and to celebrate the solstice together, instead.

We're both agnostic half-Jews who loved Christmas as children. Both of our mothers celebrated only begrudgingly for most of our childhoods, but both my Christian dad and his Christian step-dad are gone now, so the past decade or so has seen serious degradation of any semblance of the holiday traditions that, honestly, once meant a lot to both of us. Nevertheless, there's still a lot of pressure to be with family, even though (especially in my case), this usually means little more than overwrought fighting about presents or what movie we're going to see. Yuck. Unfortunately, there's no way for either of us to get out of that without a lot of hurt feelings.

I'm hoping that celebrating in Florida on the 21st, instead, will give both the Mister and me a chance to inject some much need joy and fun into the holiday season. I'm looking forward to resurrecting some traditions from both of our childhoods, but I also realize that this is a chance to forge some new ones as well. Because we're not religious, they can be from any religious tradition, really, or they could even be wholly invented. So far, I'm thinking of a wassail bowl, a tree, and some Christmas movies burned to DVD, but I would love to hear suggestions for traditions or customs that make mefites feel warm and fuzzy about the holiday season!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
(Oh, and I realize that I'm posting this in early November, which is goofy. Like I said, I love the idea of Christmas. Call it solstice creep, I guess!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:02 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

find some favorite place with a good view & watch the sunrise on the solstice - there's really no better way to start the day than seeing that first ripple of flame along the horizon and then: ta da! the splendor of the rising sun! a magnificent and deeply warming sight, no matter how many times i see it - and if/when you do it every year, you can draw a sense of rhythm and place in the universe that is most potent
posted by jammy at 7:12 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Since you guys just got married, it would be great to start a tradition of either making or buying a Christmas ornament for one another. It doubles as a great reminder of certain Christmas' as well as filling up your now-empty tree!

Now my personal suggestion is crank A Christmas Together: John Denver and the Muppets or Sufjan Steven's Songs for Christmas anytime that you're doing something remotely Christmasy (wrapping presents, decorating, etc) - instant Christmas-feel and they're super great albums!
posted by banannafish at 7:13 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot of my favourite bits from our childhood Christmases were (it turned out on later reading) actually supposedly derived from pre-Christian pagan meanings of midwinter - so get a Yule log and deck the halls with boughs of holly as the song says - mum and dad used to cut holly and other evergreens from the woods and they were our primary decoration rather than shop-bought stuff. Of course this presupposes your home having a real fire and probably a rural location, so sorry if it's useless. if you can do it though, it does create this little oasis of warmth and greenery amid the bleak midwinter. Booze-wise, cozy up to the crackling Yule log with a mug of mulled wine. Does Florida get cold enough for these sort of wintry pleasures though?
posted by Abiezer at 7:14 AM on November 3, 2009

We live in North Florida in a very poorly heated apartment, so it will be cold enough (usually gets in the 40s), but, unfortunately, we have no fireplace. This might work in a snap, though, and since we're from the NY area, watching the Yule log on TV was actually part of the celebration of the holidays for me as a kid! Great ideas already--loving the sunrise idea especially. Keep em coming!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:18 AM on November 3, 2009

What if you start making something edible or drinkable, which is to be consumed only for Christmas? Set some wine or beer, cure some meat or whatever. It will help build the anticipation, and you'll have something delicious and home made to eat or drink come Christmas.
posted by Harald74 at 7:20 AM on November 3, 2009

What if you start making something edible or drinkable, which is to be consumed only for Christmas?
Well that reminds me that mum also did the traditional steamed Christmas pudding with a silver sixpence in it, which was supposed to made well in advance (mum did it about a month early though the link says can be even longer beforehand), and it was good luck to give it a stir.
posted by Abiezer at 7:25 AM on November 3, 2009

My great-grandmother made up this fabulous tradition when her grandchildren were all scattered around the country; at 6 p.m., on the day before Christmas, we all go outside and welcome in the Spirit of Christmas in some horribly mangled Norwegian (and cries of "Hurry up, Yul! It's cold outside!). It made her feel closer to her grandkids, and my mom's generation continued it into the next one. It's completely silly, but now that we're not too cool teenagers, we love it.

Fill stockings for each other. Don't spend a lot of money; I love getting the orange in the toe, my favorite pens, a jar of the best cherry jelly I've ever had, a silly hat for the cat, etc. Make cookies, drink egg nog, listen to Christmas carols (I have carols in genres ranging from go-go to bluegrass - something for every mood!), but mostly it should be about spending good times together, particularly since you're going to follow it up with separate family get-togethes.
posted by julen at 7:29 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Make stuff! Make cookies. Make a wreath (easy to get evergreen branches free from the tree lot). Make eggnog-- extra nutmeg, and don't forget the booze. Give handwritten cards or cheap homemade gifts (food is always good) to people you wouldn't normally feel obligated to exchange gifts with. Or put together gifts for needy kids through your favorite holiday charity (they aren't all super Jesusy).

Here in Orlando it's usually chilly enough to enjoy cold-weather fun by Christmas, 30's or low 40's at night. But you probably don't have a fireplace, so no Yule log.

Oh, stockings! Fill stockings for each other with thoughtful but cheap stuff. Advent calendar! Get one!

Play Christmas music, if neither of you finds it annoying. Drive around looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music (or singing Christmas music, if you're goofballs like me). If you hate Christmas music, get an audiobook of A Christmas Carol to listen to while you're looking at lights. If you're going to watch one of the movie versions of A Christmas Carol, I recommend the muppet one.

Also, anything that happens by accident this year but turns out well becomes a tradition, automatically.
posted by molybdenumblue at 7:30 AM on November 3, 2009

2nding the Muppet Christmas Carol, A tradition of ours. And we Usually watch "Christmas Vacation" also.
posted by Amby72 at 7:34 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I usher in the Holiday Season with Nightmare Before Christmas (around Halloween), Miracle on 34th Street (around Thanksgiving) and The Muppet Christmas Carol (on Christmas Eve). Favorite holiday traditions (I'm a Jewish/Christianish atheist) include lighting the menorah and playing dreidel for Swedish fish, having one of those chocolate advent calendars, and getting a Christmas Ornament for Chanukah every year. We always put out cookies for Santa, a carrot for the reindeer (some years, I'd sprinkle oats on our yard so they'd have something more substantial), and some cheese for Santa Mouse.

On Christmas day, make sure and take a nice long walk around your neighborhood sometime in the early afternoon. Folks will have finished opening presents and everyone is in a good mood and happy! I love the idea of the sunrise on Solstice.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:38 AM on November 3, 2009

What are the events in your community? Is there a Messiah sing-a-long? Go. A community tree lighting or festival? Go. Is there a charity that does gifts to children or the homeless? Select those items as a couple.

Mr 26.2 and I spent Christmas apart last year. Never. Again. We both felt really disappointed in not having that day together even though we were both with our families of origin. Maybe that won't happen for you, but we both felt bummed. My suggestion is that you save a few of the fabulous ideas you receive and do it after he returns.
posted by 26.2 at 7:44 AM on November 3, 2009

One winter's evening, as we were walking, my husband surprised me by pushing me to one side of the sidewalk and kissing me. I looked up, and there was a ball of mistletoe, growing wild, high up in the tree right over our heads.

In the winter, in the south, you can easily find mistletoe growing in oak trees, especially if the oak trees have lost their leaves, because mistletoe stays green. It would make a fun tradition to pick some mistletoe on the solstice. (It is toxic, so keep out of reach of children.)
posted by Ery at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2009

Another good one is to look up the exact time of the solstice in your time zone. Some little while beforehand, extinguish all of the lights in your dwelling. Then, starting right at the moment of the solstice, light a fire or a bunch of candles. We once did all of the candles in an entire box of Hanukkah candles, on a heatproof plate.
posted by Ery at 8:03 AM on November 3, 2009

In Russia, New Years has kind of replaced Christmas as the big be-with-your-loved-ones-and-eat-a-lot December holiday. Unless you have really fabulous New Year's Eve plans, it could be fun to delay your celebration until the 31st- give each other presents, watch the ball drop, drink champagne, dance by yourselves, whatever.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:20 AM on November 3, 2009

Winter Solstice is about light, and in the northern hemisphere, it's about welcoming more sunlight and longer days to the Earth ... So:

* Decorate the apt. with twinkly lights and sparkly things (tinsel's good, glitter's good)
* Candles and more candles, floating in water or on mirrors to give off more light.
* Hang herbs and fragrant greens, have mistletoe, make a yule wreath
* Make food with a sun or light shape or motif. Or all yellow and gold food.
* Put out seeds for birds as a way of giving and as reminder of the cycle of life
* Extinguish all lights and sit in darkness for a bit, thinking of the year that's passing
* Remember &/or commemorate some aspect of each of the seasons of the past year. Could be a photo from each season, a memory, an artifact (shell, leaf, etc.), a poem, a colour you associate with the season, whatever.
* Ring bells and make noise
* Stay up all night and feast

One ritual I've done with a friend over the years on the solstice -- a time of farewell to the passing year as well as a time to welcome more light -- is a "release of regrets," or a release of the year's bad memories, losses, griefs. We write "I am letting go of _______ in order to make space for _______" on slips of paper, read them aloud or not (if not, sit in silence with them for a while), then burn them in a Yule fire and mix the ashes with gold glitter. We wet our fingers, dip them into the glitter/ash mixture, and apply a bit to each other's foreheads. Then we play the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun"!
posted by mmw at 8:29 AM on November 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

Just wanted to second oinapaponton... twice in recent history, my family hasn't been able to get together for Christmas because of travel delays or illness. Both times, we celebrated Christmas at New Years. While not actually the solstice, the new year has a lot of the same connotations, and Christmas and New Years traditions tend to fit together pretty well. Also you can usually get really good deals on decorations, wrapping paper, and presents, if you're so inclined.
posted by GraceCathedral at 8:36 AM on November 3, 2009

Mistletoe. Definitely mistletoe.
posted by radioamy at 9:36 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yule log!!

Make a clove orange or clove apple: just stick hundreds of cloves in to the fruit and enjoy the lovely smells.

Christmas pudding with a shiny silver dollar baked inside.

Go caroling! I think it's extra-fun to sing old fashioned English tunes; feel free to message me if you want suggestions, I know lots.

Mulled cider, peppermint sticks (try making your own - it's really fun!), clementines, and cinnamon.

Do a reading (with friends?) of A Christmas Carol.

Up north, I always like to go skiing through the woods to get a tree, and boughs of pine and winter berries to make decorations - I guess you can't do that in FL, but maybe you can make decorations of some kind? Or pine cone bird feeders?

Watch both the sunrise and the sunset on the Solstice. You can also buy special light sensitive paper that you can use to make impressions of leaves or whatever using the sunlight on the shortest day of the year.

And, of course, Christmas cookies and gingerbread men.

I *love* the old-fashioned cozy, wintry Christmas/solstice traditions!
posted by Cygnet at 10:26 AM on November 3, 2009

My boyfriend and I totally bonded over one of the Dean Martin Christmas albums for our first holiday together -- decorating, making cookies, dancing around the kitchen... very sweet, very fun, and now very much a part of the holidays for us. (This is the collection we have, but there's several of them out there.)
posted by scody at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2009

either making or buying a Christmas ornament for one another. It doubles as a great reminder of certain Christmas' as well as filling up your now-empty tree!

We always buy a souvenir ornament when we are on vacation as well as shop together for one good ornament a year.

We have the annual Christmas tree snog and the annual Christmas tree picture complete with pets.

I don't care for Christmas Pudding, but My Christmas Trifle is very special and in demand by certain relatives. Then there are my mother's only-at-Christmas cookies to look forward to.

You might look into local light/decorating displays for walking around, either alone or in a small party. Unfortunately we don't do it here in NC, but for many years in So Cal Christmas meant a stroll around Belmont Shore with all the fabulously decorated homes. Then home to a bowl of chili and spiked apple cider.

On the other hand, we have made it a tradition here in Raleigh to attend the annual Christmas boutique at the fairground-- a fun way to do your Christmas shopping.

Finally I highly endorse the couples' stockings, especially if you open presents on Christmas Eve, the stockings can be saved for Christmas morning in bed. We put toys, edibles, love notes, artwork, and even sexy things in each others stockings.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:44 AM on November 4, 2009

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