Thursday, December 20, 2001

The countdown

Only five days to make a memory

        What is your best Christmas memory? Maybe it's something you did with your parents, then with your own kids. Pictures on Santa's lap? Cutting your own tree? Nog? Caroling? A carriage ride? Midnight Mass? Grandma's house?

        I'll bet it wasn't something you unwrapped on Christmas morning.

        I'm not saying we shouldn't give each other presents. In fact, I stand ready to receive any and all commercially produced items purchased by my family and friends. It is, of course, my patriotic duty. I'm just saying maybe the really good stuff sometimes gets lost in the shopping shuffle.

An un—Martha Christmas

        We're busy. It's why people resent Martha Stewart. Who has time to make your own tree out of goose feathers? Or dye your tablecloth with tea bags? Or decoupage the neighbor's dog? Only somebody who has servile and terrified staff to do the scut work. The rest of us can barely find time to get to the grocery for already-mixed cookie dough.

        There's nothing wrong with shortcuts. Or amending tradition to fit a changing family. So maybe you have to take turns with in-laws. Maybe it's a chance for a new tradition on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Maybe your kids are not as jazzed about trains as you are. So maybe you take them to the PNC laser light show at the zoo's Festival of Lights instead.

        Our parents told us the gifts we make ourselves mean the most. And sometimes we really put them to the test. My friend Jan remembers her best Christmas as the one when she and her sister tie-dyed her father's underpants. Which reminds me of the year my brother, Steve, surprised our dad by putting a Woody Woodpecker decal on the rear fender of our new Chevy Impala.

A warm tradition

        Regina Villiers of Madeira made 25 pairs of mittens for people she doesn't even know. She started a year ago Thanksgiving.

        “I sat down to watch the TV news, with idle fingers and not a project in sight.” She saw a line of people at the FreeStore/FoodBank waiting for food.

        Regina remembers being transfixed by the face of a smiling woman. “I'll never forget her beautiful face.” The woman, who had been waiting a long time, said she didn't mind the cold and was grateful to get food for her family. Besides, she said, she was warm enough, except for her hands.

        “She held up both her hands, balled into fists,” Regina continues. They were covered by thin-looking, blue anklet socks. “And then it hit me: I could knit mittens for this woman. Well, not really this woman. I didn't know who she was or how to get them to her. But I could make mittens for people like her.”

        So she did. For a whole year. “Stitch after stitch, mitten after mitten,” she says, “seeing the woman's beautiful face all the while.” She made them in bigger sizes. “It's my feeling that kids will somehow get mittens, but most mothers will do without if they need to.” Regina boxed them up and sent them to the FreeStore.

        She says it's her new tradition. “I'm already starting on next year's.”

        If you are counting, it's five more shopping days until Christmas. Or five more days of elementary school pageants and hot chocolate and driving around looking at the neighbors' lights. I don't know where you'll find your own best Christmas, your traditions. But I'm guessing it won't be at the check-out counter.


        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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