Christmastime – Stockings

large outdoor Christmas tree with ice skaters skating around it

The Plaza at PPG Place, Pittsburgh, PA, 2004.

Do They Know It’s Christmas?

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid was written and performed to raise money for charity in 1984 and has remained popular.


My sisters and I each have our own stocking sewn by my mother. We all got our stockings at a avery early age… all of us except for my youngest sister. Her stocking remained in-progress year after year, with my mom working on it during family vacations. It became a bit of a running joke that it would never be finished, but finally on my sister’s tenth Christmas, her custom-sewn stocking (before that she used a nice, but not custom-sewn stand-in) was hung by the chimney with care.

According to Wikipedia and this book, the term Pollyanna (when describing a secret gift exchange) is rarely used outside of southeastern Pennsylvania. All of my non-Pennsylvanian readers, did you know what a Pollyanna was before you read this post? Let me know in the comments.

17th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Mad Lib



Winter Wonderland

“Winter Wonderland,” reportedly inspired by a scene in the Poconos, is today’s song pick. There are plenty of good versions of it, and since people at work have joked that I listen to Michael Bolton on my headphones (I don’t… well except for right now), I’ll go ahead and recommend his version. Johnny Mathis also does a good job.

Mad Lib

Sophia recently sent me a story on NPR about two men who have been sending the same Christmas card to each other for 60 years. She said that it reminded her of me, and is what would happen if I met my twin. My aunt and uncle have a similar tradition. I’m afraid I don’t have the full details tonight, but maybe I’ll send this off to my aunt so she can fill in the blanks in the next few days. Hmm, blanks… let’s do this Mad Lib-style:

Item 1: “Aunt” OR “Uncle” (pick one): ________
Item 2: Relative NOT chosen above: _________
Item 3: Movie Title: _________

One year, my [item 1] bought my [item 2] a copy of [item 3] for Christmas, and put it in my [item 2]’s stocking. A year later, [item 3] had not been watched or opened by my [item 2]. My [item 1] wrapped it back up and put it in my [item 2]‘s stocking again. [Item 3] has been wrapped and placed in my [item 2]‘s stocking every year since the tradition began.

I’ve been providing pictures, stories, and song titles, but if you want to have the full multimedia Christmas experience, head on over to Rowyn’s blog for a playlist of Christmas videos. First up: “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”

16th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Keepsakes

house with a lot of colorful lights and a sign that says Happy Holidays

Festive house in a Pittsburgh, PA suburb.

A Holly Jolly Christmas

“A Holly Jolly Christmas” performed by Burl Ives is today’s song pick.


Every year, there is one gift that I can count on receiving. In my stocking will be a new ornament for the tree. I don’t know exactly which year they started, but for over 20 years now my parents have been getting us the Hallmark Keepsake ornament. Each one has the year on it, and says either “Son” or “Daughter.” Mine, of course, are the ones that say “Son.” When it’s time to decorate the tree, if we are home (and not living on the other side of the country), we hang our own ornaments, which my sister Sara carefully organizes into separate piles. I could probably take a look at this year’s ornament with a quick search, but I’m going to save the surprise for December 25th.

15th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Black olives

black olives

Little St. Nick

“Little St. Nick” by The Beach Boys is today’s song pick. I prefer the original, but they also have an “alternate mix” if you’re looking for something different.

Black olives

I’m not sure if this came from a holiday tradition, but I love black olives, and my family serves them on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My grandmother likes them and even my cousin’s young children enjoy putting the olives on their fingertips and sucking them off. I don’t know if this love of olives is genetic or not, but I love it when they get passed around and am craving them right now.

14th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Gus


I’ll have to get a better shot of it this year.

Christmas Is Coming

“Christmas Is Coming” from the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas is today’s song pick. I watch that special every year, and I even have a replica of their Christmas tree, pictured above.


When I was a toddler, it had snowed and my parents were going to take me outside to experience this magnificent feat of nature. They put me in my snowsuit, and like Randy in A Christmas Story, I was unable to move. “Gus,” I said. “Gus.” This was my adorable way of telling my mother that I was stuck.

13th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Perfection

game of perfection with motion blur

Perfection, Christmas 2004.

Sleigh Ride

Today’s song pick is “Sleigh Ride.” There are plenty of good performances of it; writing this post I listened to the Boston Pops, Johnny Mathis, Kenny G, and Leroy Anderson.


Many years ago, at one of the Christmas dinners I described yesterday, the kids (which I was one of) started playing Perfection, a game where two people (or teams) race to match uniquely shaped plastic pieces onto a board. The first team that finishes pushes a button, which unlatches the opposing team’s board, allowing it to spring upward and send the pieces flying.

I had fun, but my sisters and my cousins must have really liked it, because they’ve been playing each other every year, on the same teams, for what I believe has been over ten years now. Their games get pretty intense, and there is plenty of trash talk. It’s a nice tradition.

Alright, I’m off to a Christmas party. I don’t know if we’ll play Perfection.

12th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Hot dogs and pizza

hot dogs and marshmallows

The Christmas Song

“The Christmas Song” performed by Nat King Cole is today’s song pick. Or, if you prefer, listen to the version from Natalie Cole where she sings along with a recording of her father. They’re both good. You may know the song as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” When I was in New York for the Christmas show many years ago, I got to smell roasting chestnuts being sold by vendors on the street. I didn’t like the smell.

Hot dogs and pizza

Depending on the year, either my mom or my aunt hosts a Christmas dinner, which we usually do on the 26th. They both love to go all-out when it comes to serving food (as I’m sure millions of hosts across the world do this time of year), but that doesn’t mean that we can only feast on foie gras. In fact, I’m glad we don’t. I didn’t even know what it was until I scanned the Wikipedia article a minute ago, and everything about it sounds absolutely horrible. Bleh, let’s get into a new paragraph.

One year, my mom was discussing the dinner with my aunt, and my aunt said, “Just have pizza!” So, we did (among other things). I love pizza. It was awesome. Last year, we had another traditionally simple meal. We cooked hot dogs in the fireplace. At the top of this post is one shot of the dining room table, loaded with hot dogs and marshmallows.

11th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Bayberry candle

bayberry candle burning

We Need a Little Christmas

“We Need a Little Christmas” performed by Johnny Mathis is today’s song pick. Johnny Mathis does a good job, and “We Need a Little Christmas” is the opening song in A Muppet Family Christmas, although Mathis doesn’t perform it.

Bayberry candle

On Christmas Eve at 6 PM, my family lights a bayberry candle and we let it burn down until it extinguishes itself.

10th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Caroling


Deck the Halls

“Deck the Halls” by Mannheim Steamroller is today’s song pick. We heard it on the radio a few times one year, and I really liked it, but had no idea who it was by. I think my mom was finally able to catch one time the name of the artist. And if I’m remembering this correctly, I believe I was able to find it on Amazon and use the audio preview to confirm that it was the correct song. We soon had a copy of Mannheim’s Christmas album.


As far as I can remember, we only had carolers come to our door once. It was our neighbor and her Girl Scout troop.

In high school, my Spanish teacher brought in his guitar before our winter break started and we spent a class period going around to the other classrooms singing holiday songs. I’m pretty sure I remember us singing “Feliz Navidad” and seeing my teacher really get into it. When we were singing to a chemistry class, one of the girls gave the teacher a paper flower or ribbon or something of that nature. This is because he had told us in an earlier class that growing up in Mexico, he participated in a tradition where guys would sing outside of a girl’s window and then the girl would give the guy a ribbon or something like that if she liked him. He never got one.

When I was in first grade, I had the only speaking part of a first grader in the Christmas play. I still remember my line:

“Gee, these decorations look really neat. Now all we need is a star.”

On my cue, a star lit up above the stage and we sang another song. Then Linus came out and explained what Christmas is all about.

9th in a series of Christmasy things.

Christmastime – Presents

Mugs, spoons, and marshmallows ready to serve hot chocolate on Christmas Eve.

Suite from the Polar Express

I like traditional movie soundtracks. I like movies about Christmas. The soundtrack to The Polar Express isn’t particularly memorable, but I really like the look of the movie (all of the exterior shots of the train are incredible), and the music fits it well.


Three bits on presents:

1. We’ve given my dad a lot of flashlights.

2. One year, I thought it would be fun to add a bit of surprise beyond just covering a present in wrapping paper. I took my sister Julie’s present, which I think was an *NSYNC CD, and taped it to the inside of a modem box, and then wrapped that. When she opened her present, her face lit up with a beautifully forced smile.

“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a modem!” I explained. “28.8. It’s faster.”
“Oh, thanks.”

I then had to ask her to open up the box, and she found her true gift. She admitted that she thought I bought the gift because I wanted it for myself.

You may not know this about me, but I like to reuse jokes. It’s easier than coming up with new ones. So, the next year, I planted her present in a box from one of my model rockets.

She unwrapped the box, and was carefully suspicious. Drawing on her experience from the previous Christmas, she opened the box to check out the “rocket.” Inside, of course, she found rocket parts.

I encouraged her to dig deeper, and amongst the parts was her real gift. I don’t remember what it was.

3. When I was in kindergarten or first grade, there was an event at my school where kids could buy their parents (and apparently grandparents) gifts. A useful idea since most children that age can’t drive to a store, and once there, probably don’t have any money. I got my grandfather an ice scraper for his car. At the time, he lived in on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. My mom politely explained that perhaps I should swap the gift with what I got for my other (Pennsylvania-based) grandfather, a handkerchief. She told me that coming up to Pennsylvania from South Carolina usually gave my grandfather a cold, so the present would work out.

Laugh if you want; if there was an ice storm he would have been one of the few people who were actually prepared. I could have made him a hero.

8th in a series of Christmasy things.