Old-Fashioned Christmas Traditions

Don’t you just love old-fashioned Christmas traditions? When I was growing up, we had a plethora of traditions in our family. Many of them were based on our Eastern European heritage, including our rich religious practices. Others were based on Santa Claus, decorations, cookies, presents, and Christmas trees. And of course, there was always an endless parade of company coming over to visit.

The visits were always planned, and my mother would prepare well in advance. She would set out extravagant trays of her home-baked cookies (which were legendary) along with appetizers, finger food, coffee and adult beverages. Visitors never popped over unexpectedly. Well almost never. Until one Christmas Eve.

My mother had already had me and my 2 older sisters bathed and ready for bed, which included putting our hair up in curlers for church on Christmas morning. Yes, we did things like that back then, and yes, it was uncomfortable. Just as she finished, she realized that she didn’t have enough hairnets, so she improvised. She opened a dresser drawer,  pulled out 3 pairs of freshly laundered panties, and put them on our heads.

My sisters and I were skeptical, but my mother seemed to think it was a great idea. She also thought it was hilarious. Besides, she assured us, no one would ever know. At that precise moment, the doorbell rang. My dad answered the door, and standing there was one of his closest friends with his wife and 3 kids. So, instead of going to bed, we had to entertain the kids, in our pajamas with curlers in our hair and panties on our heads. It was humiliating.

After a good long visit, the family finally left. As they said their good-byes and headed out the door, the oldest child said, “Mom! The Ilov’s celebrate Christmas with panties on their heads!” Our humiliation was complete.

But, from that moment on, we made it a holiday tradition. Every Christmas Eve we put panties on our heads to cover our curlers. The tradition continued after our younger sister was born, but gradually petered out by the time our youngest sister came along. By that time the 3 of us older girls were teenagers, eschewing sponge curlers for the modern day hot rollers. But the memory of panties on our heads for Christmas still lives on to this day.

So, regardless how you celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas as well as a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year full of peace, joy, love, and laughter. And panties on your head.

 

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!

Merry Christmas! No, I am not daft and I haven’t lost my mind, even though I know that’s what some of you are thinking. As some of you already might know, I grew up in a small steel town in Western Pennsylvania. My father was from Czechoslovakia and immigrated to the good old USA in 1939 at the age of 12. It was actually the second time he came through Ellis Island, but I’ll save that story for another day.

Although my mother was born in the States, her parents were from Yugoslavia. Needless to say, I grew up with an interesting heritage and cultural background. Which included celebrating Orthodox Christmas with my mother’s side of the family every year. Woo-hoo! A bonus Christmas. What kid wouldn’t absolutely love that? So, every January 7th, we packed in the car and drove to my grandfather’s house to celebrate his Christmas. And it was a special celebration indeed.

It was a fabulous tradition for me and my sisters, even if my Serbian Orthodox cousins got to skip school and we didn’t. Every year I would put on a campaign to skip school like my cousins did, and every year I was voted down by my mother. She said that they had to skip school so they could go to church. I offered to go to church with them, but that didn’t fly. My mother was a lovely woman, but she was a pathetic negotiator.

Today, I am back in my grandfather’s house to celebrate Orthodox Christmas once again. Of course, a lot has changed over the years, and a lot of people are gone. But, the house is still there, and so our sweet memories. I swear I can still hear their raucous laughter, the loud Slavic voices, and my grandfather belting out songs in Serbian. I’m still surrounded by my cousins and my incredible Aunt Stella, who presides over the family celebration and sits at the head of the table. And I still feel like the luckiest kid in the world, because I still get to celebrate Christmas twice a year.

And I always will.

Wishes Are Like Snowflakes

Wishes are like snowflakes. Every one is different, and every one is special. Wishes are dreams that we hope will come true, especially during this special time of year.

I love the holidays. There is a magic in the air that seems like anything is possible, and that dreams really can come true. At least, it seems that way as long as you’re not fighting traffic or the crowds at the mall. Or after you discover that some Grinch stole a package from your front porch. Grrrrrrrr.

Maybe that’s why it’s harder to believe in the magic as an adult. We didn’t have to concern ourselves with such mundane issues when we were children. Our job was simply to live in the moment, and let our imagination run wild. Especially around the holidays.

If we were lucky enough, we would even have some snow to enjoy as well. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, where the winters were long, and cold. Sometimes, they were downright brutal. But, we loved it, especially when school was canceled and we got a snow day.

Once the snow began to fall, the flakes began to multiply at an incredible rate. Snow exponentially fell and piled up, while we kids pressed our noses to the window, hoping for more snow. For some reason, our parents weren’t nearly as enthusiastic.

There was nothing more exciting than going outside to play in the snow. The possibilities were endless. We could make snow angels, build snowmen, build snow forts, go sled riding, and even ice skating on the pond behind our house. Our imaginations knew no limits, and the only thing that made us stop playing outside were frozen feet and hands. Or the need to go to the bathroom.

Over the years, our child-like enthusiasm began to fade as we transitioned into the (ack) world of adulthood. The holidays became stressful, and the snow became a nuisance. We forgot how to dream, and we forgot how to play. That hurts my heart. So, here is my special wish this holiday season.

No matter what holiday you celebrate–be it Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Solstice, or Festivus for the rest of us, I am wishing you peace, love, joy, and laughter. May you experience a bit of child-like wonder and enthusiasm. Most of all, may you enjoy some time to play in the snow. It will do wonders for your health and well-being. Wishing you all the best!

A different kind of family Christmas….

Everyone has their Christmas traditions and time they spend with friends and family. Our Christmas tradition is simple; my husband and I spend a quiet Christmas together. But when my mother-in-law took a turn for the worst and my husband left town on the 23rd, my plans for Christmas suddenly and dramatically changed. No quiet Christmas Eve dinner at home. No Christmas Day champagne brunch at the Brown Palace. My Christmas just got thrown a curve ball.

I knew I would be bombarded with invitations if my friends knew I would be alone on Christmas. However, I really didn’t want to be pulled into someone else’s dysfunctional family Christmas. Nor did I want to go to a movie and go out for Chinese food. I figured sitting at home watching old movies sounded like my best choice. Then I remembered that there was a special edition Christmas morning ballet class scheduled this year. When I first heard about it, I was astonished that anyone would consider taking a ballet class on Christmas Day. Suddenly it sounded like a brilliant idea.

I woke up to a freezing cold morning with a few inches of snow on the ground. You just have to be in a good mood on a morning like that. It was glorious! I listened to Christmas music and sang along as I maneuvered the slippery roads to the dance studio. When I got there, Christmas music was playing in the studio. The front desk was transformed into a beautiful and festive buffet table laden with food for after class. Dancers were bubbling with greetings and laughter, as well as a spirit of joy and camaraderie.

Sometimes things don’t always go the way we plan. We can either fight against the change or go with the flow and find another option. I didn’t get to spend my traditional family Christmas with my husband. But, I did get to spend it with my ballet family. Like all families, we certainly have our level of dysfunction. I sure am grateful for them; they made a difficult Christmas a whole lot easier. And that is what family is about.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP