The Christmas Book

November 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Kitchen Table Space

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, an oasis of calm and clear space surrounded by the entire contents of the living room bookshelves. Books, picture frames, CD’s, DVD’s and ornaments are piled up in teetering plastic storage boxes topped with potted plants and lampshades. We’ve cleared out the living room to lay a new wooden floor, but it feels like something bigger. Somewhere along the way, I realised we’ve been laying the foundations for a new life, a life with young teenagers. So far, they seem to be staying true to stereotype, stropping around, oblivious to the debris of their angst-ridden lives strewn on every surface.

The Christmas Book by Janice Hunter

But I’m smiling. Beside me is my Christmas Book, and wafting from the cupboard is the faint smell of cinnamon, apple and cloves from all the Christmas candles I have stored there. Every October heralds the start of my favourite season – not autumn or winter, but the festive season. Between now and the New Year, we celebrate my son and daughter’s birthdays, US Thanksgiving (what can I say – I ‘steal’ holidays!) and Christmas rituals from all over Europe, starting on the first Sunday of Advent. And every October, I get out my Christmas Book.

In those cosy few days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, I take a few quiet hours to myself. Sitting in the flickering glow from the Christmas tree lights, the fire and some scented candles in green and red glass votive jars, I reflect on how we’ve spent the holidays.

My Christmas Book isn’t pretty, just practical. My kids made me stick a festive teddy card on the front a few years ago to remind me to have fun and enjoy being a kid at Christmas. I use a piece of gold, green and red tartan ribbon as a bookmark, and I only write in it with green and red ballpoint pens.

I write about what went well, what I enjoyed most and which scenarios or purchases to avoid next year. I compile detailed lists of what we’ve run out of, and reminders to myself of purchases made in the January sales. (Apparently, I need red and green bows this year, not gold, and it seems like I’ve already bought gift wrap and some gift bags for less than half price.)

I’d never remember any of this if I didn’t write it down. Reading these lists brings me waves of joy at the promise they hold and stops me from impulse buying, assuming we need things we don’t, and buying on automatic pilot.

In these tough financial times, I know there are cards from the January sales up in the loft waiting to be written and recycled ribbons ready to wrap the kids’ gifts; I know that we have “more than enough green and red gift tags” and “loads of small paper plates and big napkins” but I’m reminded that “we need small napkins.”

As I sat with a glass of wine last year and captured all of my thoughts, I covered everything from buying fewer magazines, to choosing jigsaw puzzles with bigger pieces and less snow. (Snow’s tricky.) I wrote about the advantage of pre-ordering some ingredients for our Christmas dinner, to be collected fresh on Christmas Eve, but I also described the anxiety it caused, worrying that I might forget to collect them.

I give myself stern advice about buying too many cheap and sickly Christmas DVD’s and about leaving it till the last minute to wrap sneaky gifts. I also used very big exclamation marks and threats of dire consequences if I was tempted to make all of our Christmas cards again! (I’ve been doing it for twenty five years and it ties up our table for a whole week in November.)

Nov09 - Planning & Renewal

Every October, it’s like reading a long, loving letter from my happy best self, full of heartfelt commentary, tips, and wisdom. In among the warnings (“Don’t buy so many iced fruit slices this year!!” “Don’t start making mulled wine so early in December; you’ll end up scoffing it all!”) are congratulations and praise. (“You bought just the right amount of mini stollen!” “The carrots roasted with thyme, olive oil, white wine and garlic were a triumph!”)

But there was sadness, too. Last year we lost friends to tragedy and some simply drifted. A kind, compassionate me wrote:

“It’s hard, having fewer visitors and scoring out names in the address book, but I just have to learn love, live, and let go. There’ll always be addresses scored out in the book and new ones added. Try and make time to add new ones.”

But as I sit here, on a grey drizzly day in October, weary after a week of teenage tantrums and hormone-fuelled spats, these are the lines from last year’s entry that inspire me and renew my spirit; they remind me that the coming months are a time to lay up memories and dreams, gratitude and gifts to keep us going through tough times.

“I loved the stories the kids wrote for me as a present, but I wish I hadn’t told them off for disappearing when I needed them. I didn’t know they were typing them up.”

“My dad said his presents were perfect and that I had a heart of gold. It gets harder every year; what do you get someone who’s had 84 Christmases?! I know we gave him loads, but I don’t know how many more we’ll have together. He loved decorating the Christmas cake with us. He pretends he can’t use the icing pens, but his reindeer looked like something from Disney and he’s getting better at it every year!”

“My favourite surprises were the kids’ stories, the cushion M knitted and the metal painted Christmas decoration S gave us. I can’t wait to see it again next year – it’ll be like a surprise all over again!”

“The kids both said it was the best Christmas ever. JD behaved perfectly all Christmas day, and so did Mac. It made a difference that they were so appreciative; last year was scarier. Mac loved his stocking and so did JD. I’m so glad they still get pleasure from pens and pencils, notebooks and wee bits and bobs. I hope they never stop loving the details.”

Whether your winter is sweltering hot or snow-covered and glistening, why don’t you buy yourself a notebook now, and look forward to all the pleasure that can come with planning a season of celebration. You’ll thank yourself in 2010.


22 Responses to “The Christmas Book”
  1. Chris Owen says:

    As one of the authors of The Christmas Calm Manual, I am wondering why it’s never occurred to us to recommend JUST THIS. It fits perfectly with our suggestions to sit back and enjoy the post-Christmas time. But this added extra makes SO MUCH SENSE!
    Karen, we need to talk about how to work this wonderful suggestion into our recommendations (with suitable citations of course)
    And of course not only a great suggestion but another wonderfully evocative piece of writing!
    As they say in the classics _ “love your work!” Or do “they”? ;-)

  2. I’m glad it resonated with you, Chris. After I post this, I’m going to check out the manual you mentioned as I have so many Christmas ideas, they spill over!

    I went through my Christmas book today, just before going into town to do some shopping, and it really helped. It was like priming the synchronicity pump. My eyes just went straight to the what I needed, often on offer in every shop.(I got a huge bag of red bows; I’m just waiting for the green ones to show up now!)

    I use the same technique in my own daily notebooks; I write in them when I’m calm and they soon fill up with a mixture of dreams, goals, strategies, lists, useful websites, reflections, praise, inspiration and warnings to self.

  3. Jan says:

    What a fantastic idea this is to have a Christmas Book ~ I am going to get a Christmas Book this year and start writing it now ~ with Christmas being at our home this year and all the family in attendance it will be a great rememberance piece to pass down the years ~ I can also get everyone to contribute something on Christmas Day by writing in the book….thank you for sharing this information….

  4. janice says:

    Hi, Jan
    I love your additions – I think I’ll get my kids to write some thoughts on separate sheets after Christmas day and I’ll staple them in! I’d never thought of that. Thank you!

  5. Dee says:

    Thank you for such a gorgeous article Janice. I was right there with you as I read your words and felt your emotion all the way through – I just didnt want it to stop!

  6. Thanks, Dee – you’ve made my day! It was one of those posts I had to edit quite a bit as I could write about the Festive Season every day! If you enjoyed this, you might like to check out some of my longer Coaching Moments pieces over at my blog; I tend to get into the flow with those, too. (There’s also a photo up at the moment of the hand-made cushion I mentioned in this piece.)

  7. Hilary says:

    Hi Janice .. that’s a wonderful idea – and so evocative of all those wondrous smells, I can almost smell the fir on the wreath on the door, the wafting scent of the rich cake .. ooh delicious.

    Jan’s extra thought to get family and friends’ comments – a guest book for Christmas .. and what a wonderful hand-me-down for your great grandchildren – similar to the old recipe books (or pre those days the herbals) from days gone by: Janice’s Record of Christmas Past Present and Future ..

    Enjoy your memories .. Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  8. Hi Hilary,
    Imagine the sound of the cyber kettle being filled at the tap and switched on…

    Thanks for popping over. My current book wouldn’t make for public reading; I’m as honest as I am in my journal ;) and I often jot down ideas for presents so I don’t let the kids near it. The notion of stapling in a few pages by the kids does appeal to me, though. When this notebook runs out, I think I’ll do an evolved one – with a new front cover!

    Have you any Christmas memories you could compile into a wee book of anecdotes, poems, photos and precious memories to read to your mum in the hospital?

  9. Hilary says:

    Hi Janice .. yes thanks for your reply .. I suppose I am in a way doing that with my blog anyway and we have other discussions over and above the blog – but we’re not that way inclined .. doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate each other etc .. I think it’s probably that as none of us (children) have children & we lead relatively independent lives and our childhood had its moments .. it’s a tricky time with my mother – there are other aspects and sometimes it’s easier to leave sleeping dogs to lie. She’s happy and always asking about the blog etc .. and it generates some memories for her and I’m learning odds and ends .. my Mum had a difficult time as a kid, her first husband was killed in the war (six months in)- it was her best friend’s brother .. I have his papers here to turn into a book, memoir .. sometime – I haven’t read them .. but I know Mum has, and I know his family said they’re extremely moving. My father and his family weren’t easy .. so we go on!

    So I’d have loved to have had a family, but it wasn’t to be .. but perhaps the blogosphere will be my redemption in some way .. I’m sure it will .. and I can be creative ..

    Thanks – gosh that’s a bit of a deep reply .. but your kitchen table and its goodies I’ll be there to share from now til Christmas! and beyond ..

  10. I hope some day you’ll do something with those letters. You write so well. The bit about your mum losing her first husband, her best friend’s brother, moved me inexplicably. A whole short story rose up to be explored.

    I’m glad your blog is creating rich memories and conversations. You’re definitely a thread in lots of cyber-family webs; I hope your mum knows your responses and blog are appreciated all over the world.

  11. teresa says:

    That’s a wonderful idea- your Christmas table looks fabulous!

  12. Thanks, Teresa. Always a pleasure to see you!

    I have no shame – just looking at my Christmas table is like an energy snack for my soul!

    I’ve really enjoyed the responses to this post and they’ve given me inspiration for this year’s quiet time with my book; I have a sneaking suspicion blogging will be contributing new pleasures and Christmas rituals that’ll make their way into the book.

  13. Hilary says:

    Hi Janice .. thanks .. there’s a lot more of interest on both sides of the family .. one day the tapestry will be interwoven, probably using my own knowledge picked up via my blog.

    Also that important cyber- link of friends and family who enrich our lives, and from whom we learn so much about today ..

    Enjoy the weekend – gloomy and miserable down here! – Hilary

  14. Hi Janice,

    I found my way here via Hilary who was so kind to tell me about this post. I think it is wonderful that you celebrate all kinds of holidays during the holiday season.

    For me, the time between Thanksgiving and New Years is such a delight. I was born around Christmas time so it adds a specialness to the season as does the fact that I was married in December. So December is one big celebration which I adore.

    What makes it so special is not the presents or the food (even though I do enjoy both) but rather the spirit of the holidays. People usually seem much more loving and kind. It is truly a great time of year.

  15. Hi Nadia,
    I’ve missed you over at my blog these last few posts. Hope all’s well. I look forward to hearing about your December celebrations!

    November till December 25th is my favourite time of the year. I still feel like a kid and like the anticipation as much as the actual events. Like you, I love the spirit of it all. It’s humanity’s efforts to focus on miracles and the wonder of childhood that makes it special for me. I love folks’ determination to be more loving and giving, to try harder to give of themselves.

    I love rituals, too, so for me it’s a great time to celebrate all of life’s details in a way my kids will hopefully remember for years to come.

  16. Jean says:

    I have a Christmas book and it gives me great pleasure looking through it each year. I love your idea of the icing pens. I want to use that this year with my 89 year old aunt. I think she will enjoy doing that with my family and feel included. Thanks

  17. Jan says:

    I’ve loved reading all the responses to this post and I must take time to go and look at the blogs ~ they sound so interesting ~ I went on a shopping tour yesterday and one of our outlets was a book shop ~ there I found a book (in cardboard) that had a photoframe front, a storage box on the back for mementoes and keepsakes and pages in between for notes and family comments ~ I purchased 2 of these to use for my Christmas books and I now plan to do one each year from now on to hand down to my grandchilden. I now keep any little scraps of paper given to me from my grandchilden and I put a date on there and who gave it to me ~ these are usually kept in my diary but I will now transfer them to the Christmas book keepsake box ~ I no longer throw anything like that out ~ it means so much when your grandkids give you scraps of paper with “I love you sooo much Nana” written on them. Have a happy weekend everyone ~ it is very hot here in Australia at the moment ~ summer is building.xx

  18. @Jean,
    I’m so pleased you’re going to try this! My dad really enjoys it and it’s one of our favourite rituals. I don’t know if you can get them where yo are, but the brand we use is called SuperCook. They’re very soft and my dad can manipulate them easily with very little squeezing.

    Thank you so much for getting back to us with this update and for sending us some summer sunshine. What a fabulous find!! If your grandchildren are very young and their parents have a scanner or access to a photocopier, it might be an idea to get someone to make you a copy of their letters to Santa, too. They’re very sweet to look back on.

  19. Stephanie says:

    The quality of the info is what keeps me on this site, thanks!

    Wish You a Merry Christmas. :)

  20. Jan says:

    My Christmas book is coming along nicely ~ I have made Advent Boards for the grandchildren and they are now happily finding out what is in their bags on the lead up to Christmas and having fun doing it ~ I took photos of these so I could put them into the Christmas book ~ I really think it is such a fabulous idea and I am so glad I had the opportunity to read about your book Janice ~ the time is now going so fast to the big day and I am still not organsised ~ I also added to my Christmas book my Mum’s pudding recipe and shortbread recipe and will add various others to it as I go along ~ I agree with Stephanie ~ the quality on here is great and I love coming back and reading the posts ~ Merry Christmas to all and a safe and Happy New Year ~ may all your dreams come true..xx