Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas in Florida

We just got home from a long-awaited vacation to visit my grandparents in Florida. Until I met my husband, I used to visit them annually. Then I got busy with college… then with marriage… then with having babies. My husband being self-employed as a process server, it is very difficult for him to take time off. But between Christmas and New Year’s is the slowest week of the year in the legal field; so back in July we decided we would finally make the 20-hour drive with the four children.

One of the challenges I face every December is preparing for Christmas and my daughter’s birthday at the same time. So I went ahead and had her invite two friends to sleep over the weekend after Thanksgiving. That got the party out of the way so all I had to do was make a cake for our private family celebration.

The KISS (“Keep it simple, stupid”) principle rules with me. I am constantly streamlining my life so that I can spend my time on the most important things. I turned down several party invitations and asked some friends and family if we could skip the gift exchange this year. I took care of Christmas cards, shopping, and baking as early as possible.

I used to scoff at people’s preprinted picture cards, but this year it was a real boon. I took a picture when the kids were dressed up on Thanksgiving, uploaded the digital picture into Walmart’s picture machine, and ordered the cards. Two days later I picked them up, addressed them, and put them out. That was simple.

Shopping I did mainly online. I was looking for small things because I thought I would be packing them in the car to be opened Christmas morning in Florida. I got collectible coins from the U.S. Mint. They range in prices starting at $3.50 on up to whatever you want to spend. I got them a few audio CD’s and video DVD’s that they could use during the car trip. Books are a given. Other gifts I picked up while doing my regular errands over the month.

A large box of mechanical pencils and a few boxes of candy-canes were sufficient for the treats St. Nicholas leaves in their stockings during Advent. (This may seem excessive, but it helps with the waiting for Christmas if I tell them St. Nick will only come each night if they are good, their rooms are clean, and they go to bed on time.)

Baking for the kids’ class Christmas parties was easy using a cookie press. The weekend before our departure, I made a double batch and had the kids help me press out and decorate several dozen small cookies. Then I divided them up equally onto six styrofoam plates: three for the kids’ class parties, one for my next door neighbor, one for company, and one for us (the burnt and funny-looking ones). I double-wrapped them with cellophane so they would keep until the last Friday before school vacation, when they would have their parties.

How do you celebrate Christmas in a traditional manner when you are not home for Christmas? This year I felt I really had to focus on Advent because we were departing from our usual routine. A friend made the observation that Mary and Joseph were traveling when Jesus was born – so why couldn’t we celebrate Christmas on the road? I have written in my December posts about all I learned about celebrating Advent, and I truly feel we were spiritually enriched by starting these traditions in our home.

We wound up not having room in the car for our gifts, so on the eve of my daughter’s birthday (and our departure) my husband suggested we open them at home before leaving. I went and got the gifts, which I had already packed into the car. They were well-chilled from being outside for a few hours. So now Christmas morning was definitely not going to be about gifts, an important lesson I hope they will carry with them in case one year comes when they cannot afford to shower their own children with gifts.

The two-day trip was very difficult, especially because the birthday girl was sick with a stomach virus the first day – and on the same day she turned nine! My husband was happy to be able to see his very good friend – our best man – who graciously put us up at his home in North Carolina. That lightened his spirits for the second leg of the journey.

We had a wonderful reunion with my grandparents, uncle, and cousins. We went to Christmas Eve mass at the local church. On Christmas we had a nice early dinner with a fried turkey and boiled ham, then went swimming at the clubhouse! The next day we went to Disney World. (I never knew such crowds existed!)

The following day we went to a beach on a peninsula near Clearwater. How strange to be on a beach at Christmas in the winter Florida sun, my husband commented. It was his first time he ever went to the beach with the kids – he is always working! He and I went on a date – our first since three days before our 18-month-old was born – to see National Treasure.

On the last day, Nanna took the kids to pick organic oranges and grapefruit at her friend’s house. I could not believe how much they brought back! I squirreled them in to the car before my husband could see. I found room in the glove compartment, backseat compartments, and under all the seats.

The return trip was not any shorter than the journey there, but noone complained. It was a beautiful Christmas.

And Christmas is not over – not until those wise men come on January 6. Our tree is still up, with more life in it than years past (having been well watered by our pet sitter), and the lights outside (which we put on timers this year) will burn until then.

Pictured above is the St. Nicholas Mission Parish in Delray Beach, FL. See pictures of St. Nicholas parishes worldwide and learn more about St. Nicholas at St. Nicholas Center.

1 comment:

Loren Christie said...

I give you a lot of credit for making the trip to Florida at such a hectic time of the year. I have not tried the trip yet (driving with small children) to my mother-in-law's in Florida and she has been there for years. It seems that they can hardly sit through a four hour drive. You bring up the pressure that comes each Christmas in trying to keep the stress to a minimum and focus on the point of it all. Great post.