The reason for the season
When I hauled the three boxes of Halloween decorations and costumes back up the attic, I realized that the candy bowl I’d been looking for the week before – the one with the grabby hand and sound effects – was in one of two other boxes of Halloween stuff that I had completely overlooked. “Oh, well,” I thought. “All this will still be here next year.”
Halloween wasn’t the same big-deal holiday as it has been in years past. Not everyone was sure he was trick or treating, no one seemed to care much about a costume, and I wasn’t inspired to decorate, play spooky music, or carve pumpkins. Spending two or more hours a day driving to and from school puts a damper on my enthusiasm for all but the most basic of tasks.
Our enclosed sidewalked neighborhood is a notoriously good place to trick or treat and we ended up having a bunch of extra kids over – ad hoc and last minute – who divided themselves up into groups and set out at dusk. My youngest did not care to be accompanied by his friends’ parents so he took off and found my middle son and his pack of friends. They all came back to our house to trade candy afterwards. Thus began my kids’ 36-hour sugar infusion and all that entails before I confiscated their candy after church on All Soul’s Day. They seemed relieved to relinquish their pillowcases, which I dumped into individual shoe boxes stashed in out-of-the-way places. I then threw the pillowcases (and the dog’s costume) in with a load of laundry so the kids’ pillows wouldn’t be naked another night longer.
The highlight of my Halloween weekend was going to the movies on Sunday afternoon to see “The Book of Life” with the kids. It’s a feel-good animated movie that highlights the importance of believing in yourself and talks about death and the afterlife within the framework of Dia de los Muertos, which is a primarily Mexican holiday that Grandma always liked. I imagine because it is far more celebratory than somber way to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died than many All Soul’s Day observances.
After the movie, we talked about Grandma and pondered what she would have thought of it. Given the last time we were all together before she passed away was Family Movie Night nearly six years ago, it seemed a fitting way to honor her and pay our respects to her.
One of the boys asked me, “Wouldn’t everyone eventually end up in the Land of the Forgotten, since everyone who remembered that person is also going to die?” In the movie, the Land of the Forgotten was the place you didn’t want to be; the Land of the Dead was okay.
“Well, I don’t think so, honey. Not if we keep telling the next generation about our ancestors. We have stories, pictures, and memories, so they will always be alive to us.”
On our way home from the movies, we actually saw a house with Christmas lights on and with that, the holiday season was kicked off. During the following week I saw Christmas displays in stores, read announcements of Black Friday openings pushed up to Thanksgiving Thursday, and received a plethora of catalogs that went straight from our mailbox to the recycling bin.
After I finished reorganizing the Halloween boxes to ensure I wouldn’t forget them next year, I got out our Gratitude Tree, which is our primary tribute to Thanksgiving. While it seems like many people like to go right from Halloween to Christmas, I do not.
Our Gratitude Tree is just a brown paper cut out of a tree on a bulletin board. More than a decade ago when I started the tradition, it was an actual (faux) potted tree on which we hung paper leaves. On the leaves we (or I, before my kids could read or write) wrote what we are grateful for. I have all of our original leaves on the bulletin-board tree now, as well as many from friends who have stopped in during Thanksgiving season every year. It is interesting to see how the leaves have changed throughout the years, but some things stay the same: we have multiples of “home,” “family,” “friends,” “God,” “food” and “love.”
“I’m thankful for…” we say around some table somewhere every year. It might be at home or it might be at a restaurant. Last year for Thanksgiving I just cooked whatever would make everyone happy and grateful. For some that is chicken nuggets.
This year for Christmas, our extended family agreed to do a Secret Santa-style gift exchange, where each person buys for only one other person. This came about because I noticed the part my kids seemed to like best about our big family get-together last year was sitting around playing games with our cousins. Celebrating doesn’t have to be about the fanciest decorations, the most gifts, excessive amounts of food, or too many social obligations.
My goal for the Thanksgiving-Christmas season this year is to be. Be grateful for all the blessings we have, be with my loved ones and remember the ones who have passed, and be mindful of the celebration of Jesus’ birth, which is the true reason for the season. And be in my pajamas watching “The Polar Express” if I feel like it.