Thursday, December 31, 2015

Writing Lab: Exploring the Concept of Tradition

When I first decided to participate in regards to this month's Writing Lab theme, there was a part of me that thought it would be pointless for me to even bother. As I've touched on in previous posts, I've always felt kind of left out for one reason or another when other people are talking about their traditions, especially around the holidays, so I was worried that I'd have nothing of interest to say.

I don't feel like my family situation was like other people's, not when I was growing up and not as an adult. I'm not really even in touch with most of my family members at this point in time. Don't get me wrong. It's definitely for the better because some of the people in question are incredibly toxic, but the holidays always have a way of making you aware of what's missing in your life. Both things you used to have, but no longer do, and things that you've frankly never had in any form even if you thought differently at some point in the past.

I've since been working on making the holidays my own. Being with someone that I feel truly enjoys my company and accepts me for who I am has helped a lot. I don't know that I would have felt comfortable using the word "tradition" to describe any of what we do though. Or at least I wouldn't have before I was challenged to take a closer look at what it really means to have traditions in the first place. Even on the days when I elected not to write a response to the day's prompt for whatever reason, I still read it and considered it. That turned out to be a really positive thing for me.

So I suppose that's what I've learned about myself by spending this past month examining my traditions -- that I actually do have them in the first place. Some of them extend all the way back to my childhood in one way or another because of a memory or something that was first introduced to me by my mother or my friends when I was still young. Most are either completely unique to the past decade of my life or else are reboots of traditions from the past. A small handful are based on historical or cultural traditions I read about once and decided I'd like to try for myself.

I've discovered that there really aren't any rules as far as what a tradition can be or where it has to start in order to be worthy of the title. I've also learned that I'm not alone in that understanding. I struggle with feeling like my life must look insufferably boring to those on the outside looking in. That said, I was certain that no one else would be interested in reading about any of the things I had to say about tradition.

I decided to share anyway and I'm really glad I did. So many of the other bloggers participating in this wrote to me to tell me they liked my posts and found the things I had to say really interesting. I think that was just what I needed in order to rekindle some of my interest in blogging. I do fine on my own and I don't need other people's approval or encouragement just to continue living my life the way I want to... but I do kind of need it when it comes to actually sharing what I write about the experience.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Writing Lab: On Keeping One's Nose to the Grindstone

I've never been much of a New Year's resolution person. I'm a lot more spontaneous than that, so when I decide I want to change something about my life, I usually just go ahead and do it right then. When I'm sick of being fatter than I want to be, the diet starts at my next meal. When I'm tired of writing a certain type of content for my clients, you can bet the next project I pursue is the type of thing I'd rather be doing.

That said, on the rare occasion I even try to make a New Year's resolution, I don't keep it for very long -- maybe a couple of weeks or a month at most. I really need to be feeling things at the time, which is why I typically just try to ride the wave if I experience a sudden burst of motivation. Sometimes that happens around New Year's, but it could just as easily happen in the middle of August or around my birthday in March. The desire to change something about my life generally sets in the second some proverbial straw breaks the proverbial camel's back and all that.

I am, however, way more likely to actually stick with things if I can make what I'm doing part of a team effort. For instance, if Seth wants to try to lose a couple of pounds with me, I'm way more likely to say no to an urge to have that extra cocktail late at night or to choose a cookie over an apple the next time I have a sweet tooth. I wouldn't want to let him down or sabotage his own efforts by setting a bad example.

Announcing that I'm going to try doing things differently to my Facebook friends or social media circles in general can help as well. When I feel like other people are watching me, waiting to see the outcome of whatever positive decision I've just made, I feel more accountable. I don't want people to think of me as a quitter or to get the impression that I'm someone that can't ever finish what she starts. I have friends like that and I know what I tend to think when they give up on yet another goal. The last thing I want is for people to think of me as that kind of person.

Ultimately though, I've found that the best way to get myself to stick to resolutions is to actually give myself permission to fail for a change. I'm impulsive. I'm not good at forcing myself to keep my nose to the grindstone. By now, I've fully realized I may never be the kind of person that can do that, so I don't fight it so hard anymore. I try to remember that I don't have to throw all of my progress in the shitter just because I had a bad day and fell off the wagon for a second. When I was younger, I used to think that being a mature adult meant being perfect all the time and never, ever fucking up, even for a second... but maybe that's not it at all. Maybe it's actually the opposite.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Writing Lab: Mornings Are Tough No Matter What Time They Occur

I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. To be totally honest, I'm not even a day person. No, really. A lot of people say that, but I mean it to a much greater extent than they probably do.

Once upon a time, I worked an average, everyday job and kept to an average, everyday schedule. I slept at night and got up in the morning, just like most people. All of that's changed since I started working at home for myself as a freelance copywriter.

Being a team of one and not having to answer to anyone else has meant I can allow my body clock to settle into whatever pattern feels most natural. For me, that apparently means staying up most of the night and sleeping primarily during the day -- for the most part, anyway. (My typical bedtime is between 4AM and 6AM. I'm usually up for the day between noon and 2PM.)

Keeping such a schedule allows me to write when I have the most energy and feel the most creative -- in the evenings and at night. Seth is as serious a night owl as I am and also prefers that schedule, so my relationship doesn't suffer at all. Plus, I'm not even going to pretend I don't like that being a night owl makes it easier to avoid taking on very many social obligations (not to mention the evil, evil sun). I'm naturally reclusive anyway, but I go through these periods in my life where I feel like I'm in a cocoon of sorts -- too busy developing into whatever the hell person I'm going to be next to bother much with the outside world. That's kind of where I am now and being a night owl gels with that.

.......

You would think that getting up later in the day would make it easier for me to actually start my day, but it doesn't. "Mornings" are hard for me no matter what time they occur, so my start-of-the-day rituals are an important part of successfully making the transition. Seth and I call it "easing into the day". 

If at all possible, I give myself permission to sort of stay in bed for an hour or two so that my brain can get going before I try to make my body follow suit. I will check e-mail on my phone or tablet first thing so that I know right away if there are any client issues or emergencies I'll need to take care of once I'm up and at 'em. If necessary, I'll respond and let the person know when I can take care of whatever it is. 

Then I go right the fuck ahead and scroll through Facebook for a while. On days when I'm not in much of a social media mood, I'll read a couple of chapters of whatever book I'm working on, catch up with the news, or chew through a magazine instead. If Seth is already up, we'll usually just shoot the breeze or talk about what's going on with people we know for a while. All of that helps my brain kind of boot up, get in the mood to deal with clients, and write that day. 

That's about all I tend to do with any real consistency every single morning though (or at least weekday mornings). I will often get on the computer and start on the day's workload long before I think about eating anything. (I don't really eat breakfast or drink coffee in the mornings with any regularity.) Admittedly, my grooming routine isn't as meticulous as it used to be, since I no longer have to worry about going to an outside office or waiting on customers all day or anything, so there are many days when I skip the extraneous grooming altogether. Essentials like showering and whatnot usually happen when I feel like I want to take a break and come back to my work in a bit. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Writing Lab: It's Not Christmas without Our Duck

Christmas dinner wasn't a big deal in my home growing up, but it has become an extremely big deal to Seth and me since we've been together. Lots of different dishes have taken center stage over the years and they've all been delicious, but our favorite is definitely roast duck.

Although we absolutely love turkey, we're just not ready for another one so soon after Thanksgiving. We also love ham, but that just seems so much better suited to New Year's dinner, as it's considered good luck to eat pork as your main protein. Pheasants and geese can be expensive and hard to find. Chicken just doesn't seem special enough for Christmas dinner, as we eat chicken frequently throughout the year.

Where all of those other things just aren't quite the right fit, duck is perfect. It roasts long enough to make the entire house smell like Christmas. It's fancy enough to feel like a nice splurge and it generates just enough meat to feed the both of us. There's usually a bit of leftover duck -- enough to make the homemade duck chili Seth likes or a couple of wraps for lunch -- but not so much that we're still eating our way through it by the time New Year's rolls around and we want to make a ham or something.

So, yes. The holidays are not complete without our roasted duck. We knew after the first year we had it that it was going to be our new go-to Christmas meal. Then the next year, we waited to long to buy ours and we weren't able to get one. It just wasn't the same, so we've gone to great lengths to make sure we grab our duck the second they appear in the stores. I'm happy to report that we already have one patiently waiting in the freezer for its turn in the spotlight.

We stuff our bird full of citrus fruits, apples, onions, and herbs -- whatever we happen to have around at the time. Then I make a wonderful rich gravy to go with it. The sides we serve it with vary from year to year. Some years we go very traditional with mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables. Other years, we prefer to be more adventurous.

One year, I was going to do a mandarin-style duck with all Chinese sides (kind of an homage to A Christmas Story), but I don't think I ever quite got around to that. This year, I think we'll be going with Southern staples like baked macaroni and cheese, greens, and possibly biscuits. That is what I really love about duck. It's not just something delicious that feels worthy of being the centerpiece of a Christmas table. It's incredibly flexible as well. It can be anything and goes well with so many different flavor profiles.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Writing Lab: Of Late I Think of Germany

When it comes to my identity as a person, it's probably fair to say that I don't necessarily consider myself to have one at all. At least not in the same way I feel other people do. I'm not a down comforter or a wool blanket. I feel more like a patchwork quilt -- something that's quite literally made of very random bits all stitched together to create something else that is motley by definition.

For one thing, I'm very mixed ethnically. (My dad is African American and Blackfoot Indian. My mom is of Irish and Scottish descent.) My parents are two very different colors and are very obviously from different ethnic backgrounds. However, my brother and I were sort of raised to see ourselves as colorless -- just "American" without any further elaboration.

Ethnicity and culture were not concepts that were celebrated in our home the way they were in other people's households. I think the desired effect was for the two of us to grow up seeing ourselves as belonging everywhere and with everyone. I can't speak for my brother, but I think the opposite happened to me. Culturally speaking, I felt more like I belonged nowhere and around nobody, especially since I look so racially ambiguous that it's not immediately obvious to most people what my background might be. I'm clearly not white, but I confuse people. If they really want to know, they have to ask (and they always ask).

Since we were military, we moved a lot as well, so that made it difficult to form lasting connections with places or with other people. I don't really consider myself to have a hometown in any real sense and I don't have friendships that go all the way back to kindergarten or anything. Instead of being a person with clear roots and a cultural identity -- the usual things that dictate which foods make you feel the most nostalgic and rooted -- I feel like I'm lots of things all at the same time. Both everything and nothing all at once, so I suppose my personal "time travel" foods are chosen according to a different logic.

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Everyone has that one thing that they're so "into", so passionate about, that their entire face lights up if you ask them about it. That one thing that they never get tired of talking about. For me, that one thing is probably food. I feel really comfortable saying that I love everything to do with food. I love cooking it, eating it, reading about it, and studying it. 

Food is also quite possibly one of the only things that almost flawlessly allows me to connect to other people -- to cultures, places, and times. Places I've never been, but also places I have. It can bring me back to a high school friendship that I've forgotten all about or to a place I haven't visited in decades with spot-on accuracy. That said, little patchwork me could have come up with a million different ways to respond to this prompt, but I still immediately remembered my early childhood in Aschaffenburg,Germany. 

In particular, I remembered the intoxicating smell and taste of certain foods, especially those that you could count on running into at an outdoor market or a fair in the fall or winter. Juicy, fatty bratwursts practically bursting out of their skins and smelling like heaven on earth as they're tucked into soft, warm German rolls. Steamy soft pretzels with rock salt and German mustard. Spiced Christmas cookies dusted with powdered sugar and smelling faintly of licorice. All experienced along with the high, crisp, white scent of winter air and freshly fallen snow. 

I was born in Germany. We moved around a bit before coming back to Germany when I was around kindergarten age, but I remember having my first self-aware thoughts as a human being in Germany. My earliest memories all take place in Germany and Germany was where I was when I first started to consider food and notice details like the way a market smells when someone is grilling bratwurst or selling freshly baked pretzels. 

I haven't set foot on German soil since I was maybe seven years old, but every so often, I'll smell one of those smells and immediately exclaim: "Oh, man! This place smells like Germany." Or I'll eat one of those foods prepared just the right way to taste exactly the same as they did when I first had them as a child -- especially German bratwurst or knockwurst -- and I'll instantly remember so many wonderful things about living there. 

That happened when Seth and I made genuine beer brats for the first time a little while back and again when I tried whole grain European mustard for what I thought was the first time. (Nope! Apparently had it in Germany, because it brought the place flooding right back.) It happens every time there's a cookie included in a holiday assortment with the same flavor profile as pfeffernüsse. The foods I eat are always important ties to things I've done, places I've visited, or people I've known -- but there's something very special about the ones that are linked to Germany for me. 

Those foods and those memories stand out because they also remind me of what it was like to be a child that is so young as to still be stainlessly innocent and filled to bursting with childlike wonder. I remember what it was like to know beyond the shadow of any doubt that I could trust any adult to protect me. I remember how free and easy life was when my most pressing worry was what you wanted to be for Halloween or what to ask Santa Claus to bring you for Christmas. I miss that, as I'm sure most jaded adults do, so it's amazing to be able to bite into something as humble as a sausage and suddenly remember it all just like it was yesterday.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Writing Lab: New Traditions Have a Way of Sneaking Up on You

It occurs to me that I picked the strangest possible month to start participating in one of BlogHer's post-a-day challenges. As anyone that's read my responses to any of the other prompts is probably figuring out, I tend to feel like a fish out of water around the holidays.

Despite being on the threshold of middle age, I don't have children, nor do I have really close-knit, lifelong ties to most of my other family members. I don't have a busy social life that finds me entertaining friends (or letting them entertain me) every year either.

All I really have is my relationship with my fiancé. We're not exactly people of means, nor do we connect with many other people around the holidays. We are very much used to being a team of two at this point and when I picture holiday traditions, I tend to picture a coming together with lots of other people, particularly family. That picture doesn't really apply to our life as we know it, so for a long time, I didn't think the word "tradition" applied to anything we liked to do either. That said, I actually like how these prompts are challenging me to take a closer look at that point of view and reevaluate a few things. I'm beginning to realize that that's something I really needed to do.
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One thing I have discovered over the past decade or so is that traditions tend to start themselves. I never made an actual choice to reboot the way I feel about the holidays or attempt to create new traditions to replace the old or non-existent ones. There was no conscious decision to "start" doing thus-and-so every single year right from the first year we did it.

I literally just turned around one day and realized that I had things I actually looked forward to about this time of year for the first time in a long while. Things that were our own. Things we did because they meant something to us on an actual personal level. It took participating in this writing event and actually consciously thinking about the concept of tradition to realize that we actually do have that very thing in our lives now. Our Christmas duck, our neighborhood walks, our special way of ringing in the new year with White Castle burgers and stuffed jalapeños -- all of those things are traditions.

So how hard do I think it is to start new traditions? I guess I'm saying it's easy -- something that takes care of itself. It begins with something as simple as deciding to do something new one year because maybe you got an idea or seized a great opportunity to have a new experience. And then maybe you enjoy that experience so much that you decide to do it again the next year... and the next, and the next, and the next. That's how traditions are born, often without any planning or fanfare whatsoever. They're organic things that can spring up overnight or become what they are over a long time. Both, even.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Writing Lab: On Traditions, Family, and Filling the Void

I don't actually have children, nor have I ever wanted any. I've never developed even a hint of a maternal instinct or thought I would make a good mother. That said, I guess I'm realizing I've never really thought about anything to do with the holidays (or life in general) from that particular angle -- what it would all look like as one of the heads of a family.

I've never daydreamed about having someone to mentor and teach things to someday. I've never wondered what it would be like to have somebody else to inherit my traditions and keep them alive after I'm gone. I have no idea if it's odd for a 39-year-old woman to literally never have considered those things, but there it is just the same.

Seth has three children from his previous marriage. Back when we first got together, I assumed that sooner or later I would wind up developing some form of stepmother relationship with them at some point. But they're older now and seem to have little to no interest in either of us, so at this point, I pretty much just take it for granted that such relationships weren't part of God's plan for me. It's not even something that bothers me. It seldom to never crosses my mind and I don't feel like anything is missing from my life because I'm not really a parent in any capacity. It just is what it is like a lot of things in life.

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I'm not even sure there are that many honest-to-God traditions that were passed down to me by my family or anyone else, for that matter. My parents no longer cared about each other or got along since as long as I can remember, so while they certainly went through the motions of trying to give us a nice Christmas every year, I was very intuitive even as a child. I knew my parents weren't in love and were only still putting up with each other "for the kids". I know I felt like an obstacle that was in the way because of that as well -- a being that was supposed to have been part of another version of a relationship that just didn't work out. Not exactly like a mistake, but close.

Also, not only were we a military family that moved around constantly, but neither of my parents seemed to think it was terribly important that my brother and I form truly close relationships with extended family. For instance, my dad has two kids from a previous marriage that were and still are pretty much strangers to me. I apparently have cousins, uncles, aunts, and so forth living in various parts of the country, but I couldn't even really tell you who most of them are, how many there are, or what they're like. 

To my parents, a greeting card -- or possibly a quick phone call -- on important dates like Christmases or birthdays is enough to justify saying you're close with a given person. But the problem with that is I don't form bonds with people that are nothing but names in an address book -- people I've never met and don't spend time with. I need shared experiences, and deep conversations, and quality time spent living life together on a regular basis. A card or a token gift on Christmas isn't really enough to make up for the lack of those things.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that nothing about the dynamic I grew up with was exactly fertile ground for the development of lasting traditions. We did the things my parents thought were important and we did them the way they thought they should be done. Sometimes that was fine, but other times, it just really left me wanting and unsatisfied on some deep emotional level I didn't understand at the time.

........

As far as tradition fragments I probably did take away from my childhood, there are a few. 
  • Having a faux tree that my dad, my brother, and I would assemble each year. My brother and I would sort the branches, we'd all attach them to the trunk, and then my dad would put on the lights. After that he'd leave to go see his mistress, or hit the gym, or go to work and my mother would put the ornaments on with us later. To this day, a real tree just doesn't look, feel, or smell as much like Christmas as the fake ones do. I've preferred fake trees all my life for that reason.
  • Making Christmas lists of the things we wanted "Santa" to get us for Christmas. I'm not a big fan of Christmas gifts anymore, but when we were kids, we were rarely to never allowed to get new toys, or games, or anything during the year. We were always told we needed to wait for the next gift-giving occasion, so Christmases and birthdays were big deals to us for that reason. They were the days you might actually get that new She-Ra doll or My Little Pony you'd been dreaming about for months.
  • Watching my favorite Christmas movies, listening to Christmas carols, and reading Christmas stories like A Christmas Carol each and every year. I especially used to like to read on the floor under the tree and enjoy the lights while I soaked up my favorite stories.
  • Counting down the days until Christmas on an Advent calendar. There wasn't much attention paid to religion in our home growing up. We did have a nativity scene that used to belong to my grandmother though and we did hear the term "Advent" in conjunction with the calendars. 
One thing I remember incredibly clearly though is feeling like Christmas stopped short of being what I wanted it to be when I was a kid. I'd watch the Cratchit family, and the Griswolds, and all of the sitcom families on TV celebrating together and feel like there was a lot missing in our home. (I felt it every day, but especially strongly at Christmas time.) 

I craved the togetherness, and loyalty, and acceptance that I saw. I longed to see my family come together the way all of those fictional families always did, even when they bickered. I wanted Christmas dinner to be a big deal instead of just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because no one wanted to bother cooking. I wanted my family to sit together and sing Christmas carols. I wanted my dad to choose us instead of whomever else he was openly dating in front of us at the time. I wanted my mom to smile, and laugh, and bake piles of homemade Christmas cookies, and pies, and cakes like my friends' moms did. I wanted to know more about Mary and Jesus (because I already knew at a young age that Santa Claus was a load of bull). I just wanted... more... substance, maybe? Like "Christmas plus" or something.

And that's something I've had a lot of fun doing as an adult, especially since I met Seth. We roast the fancy bird and have the big, yummy dinner on Christmas Day. We don't just do an Advent calendar. We observe the actual season of Advent and do things like celebrate Vigil Mass and sign up for seasonal Bible study plans as well. We calorie-splurge on treats together -- candies, cookies, and Hickory Farms. We've undertaken fun projects that are vaguely Dickensian in nature like roasting chestnuts and making Smoking Bishop. We don't just watch movies or listen to Christmas music. We do those things together

And I finally feel like I've found my own version of what I felt was missing, not only when I was a kid but when I've been in past relationships as well. Christmas has always been special and fun in one capacity or another... but now it feels whole as well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Writing Lab: Lights, Legs, and Zombies

The funny thing about Seth and me around the holidays is we aren't always consistent about things like decorating. Although we may stay put in the same spot for years at a time, there's been a tone of impermanence to our lives as far as where we live for quite some time now.

Hardships like lay-offs and serious illness have seen us moving a lot, living with family members when/if we need to, and so forth. That said, it's been a long time since we lived somewhere that truly felt like "home" -- someplace that felt like it was ours to decorate and leave our stamp on however we chose.

There have been many, many holidays where we just haven't been able to get into the holiday spirit at all because of that. On the down years, we will still very likely watch our Christmas movies or make something delicious to eat for Christmas dinner, but we might not really bother decorating. It just depends on where we both are mentally and emotionally at the point where it's time to start thinking about it.

Thankfully, a bit of that malaise that's sometimes surrounded the holidays for us has been lifting a bit in recent years, so we've been doing at least a bit of decorating. As with everything we do in life, we have our own unique spin we put on things that really feels like us.

........

There are two kinds of people in this world -- those that think Halloween is a single day that comes once a year and those that treat Halloween like an all-the-time affair. Seth and I are the second type. We are very much into things like horror movies, Gothic novels, creepy folk tales, and ghost stories. (Seth actually runs a very popular horror website called MoreHorror.) A lot of our Halloween-themed items stay up all year round and get a special holiday treatment. 

For instance -- please turn your attention to the rubber zombie sitting on top of our lava lamp. His name's Herbert. One of Seth's horror clients sent us a box of Halloween goodies last year and we liked Herbert so much, we couldn't bear to put him away once Halloween was over. At first we just kept him up as is when it was time to break out the Christmas Story leg lamp. Then we decided he could use a little more holiday cheer. That's when he got the multi-colored Christmas light treatment.

We haven't quite finished our holiday decorating this year, so it's all still in progress. (These shots are actually from last year.) However, we're planning on making sure our bedroom gets enough attention this time around. Since both of us work at home, our bedroom doubles as our office, so we really want to make sure it feels cheerful for a change.

Seth put up our mini Christmas tree the other day and I ordered some new lights on Amazon that should be coming soon. We have an Advent calendar for what I think is the first time ever. It hangs out on my desk and then we open one of the little windows each night before sharing the little piece of chocolate hidden inside. We're working on clearing a space in the corner where we can put a card table and a couple of chairs as well. (We eat in here a lot, as we're pretty much always at least sort of working.) 

I still don't know how much I consider myself to be into decorating, but I have to admit that even a few decorations in places I tend to see them every day has really been helping me get into the holiday spirit for the first time in what I think is a long time. Hopefully that's a sign of good things to come as we move forward into 2016.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Writing Lab: End of the Year Traditions

I hemmed and hawed about it a bit like I do, but I eventually decided I did want to participate in NaBloPoMo this month. BlogHer apparently decided to repackage the monthly event as an ongoing Writing Lab with daily prompts though, so instead of making a commitment for a month, you're supposed to just pick up a prompt whenever you feel like it instead.

Personally speaking, I think I'd still like to at least try to stick with things all month. However, I might eventually find that I'm grateful not to have made an ongoing commitment. That way I don't feel like I have to quit altogether if I need to skip a few days because of work or whatever. I'm just going to play things by ear and see how it all works out.

I also decided to join the BlogHer Writing Lab Facebook group so I can share my progress and some of my posts if I feel like it. I've fallen way, way out of the habit of actually meeting and socializing with other bloggers and sometimes I wonder if that might be part of the reason I don't invest more energy in my personal writing. I tend to go back and forth between wanting an audience and not wanting one, so I hesitated to even mention I was doing this challenge to anyone. I eventually decided the worst thing that would happen is I make a couple of friends and discover some new blogs to be interested in though. So here we are.

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Holiday Art by Thomas Kincade
The year end traditions I look forward to the most don't go way back to my childhood or anything, as my fiancé and I started them together at some point over the past 10 years. We celebrate a spiritual Christmas, but not in a cloying, heavy-handed way. We observe the liturgical season of Advent. We celebrate Mass on either Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. We've recently started abstaining and fasting on Fridays and other liturgically significant occasions, so we usually won't eat meat on Christmas Eve. 

However, I do treat us to a seafood feast or a vegetarian pasta meal on Christmas Eve, as well as cook a relatively hearty Christmas dinner. Unless we're unable to find one for whatever reason, Christmas dinner is usually a duck. (We're just not ready for more turkey only a month after Thanksgiving.) Seth loves leftover duck like it's going out of style, especially when I use it to make his very favorite duck chili. Side dishes vary, although I think I'm leaning toward some Southern-style staples this year -- like homemade macaroni and cheese, greens, and biscuits. 

Unlike most people, we don't really do presents for Christmas. Not only do we not really have the money to go all out buying tons of presents for everyone we know, but we're not really about "things" at this point in our lives. We aren't really permanently rooted as far as where we live, so we never know when we might be moving next and it's not really prudent to collect a lot of belongings. Also, given the realities of our relationships with most of our family members, the whole gift thing has begun to strike me as really hollow and I don't enjoy it the way I probably did when I was a child. If I feel the need to let go of money around Christmas time, I do it with anonymous donations to charities and organizations I believe in. That just feels a bit more in keeping with the holiday spirit to me.

I'm a reading fool, so I also look forward to reading A Christmas Carol every year. Seth and I watch all of our favorite Christmas movies -- A Christmas Story, Bad Santa, Muppets Christmas Carol, Jingle All the Way, and Love Actually to name just a few. Both of us love Christmas music, so we listen to plenty of it. (Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, classical choral music -- we love it all!) Some years, we make hot spiked tea or coffee and then drink it while we walk around the neighborhood, checking out all the Christmas lights. We like reflecting on everything that happened the year before and waxing optimistic about everything that might occur in the year yet to come as well.