Sunday, December 11, 2011

Do you hear what I hear? It's that time of year for Christmas songs.

Every year in the recent past, I've vowed to count just how many times I hear Christmas songs over the course of the season. The ubiquitous nature of holiday music definitely begs the question.

And this year, I decided to count.

My first taste of holiday music was served up on November 13, way before Thanksgiving. Between then and now, I've tried to count every Christmas song I've heard. And I'm sure I've heard more songs than I've written down.

I've stopped, stalk-still, more than once this holiday season, wherever I've happened to be, in order to make note of another Christmas song. I've stopped at the grocery store. At work. I've made note while listening to holiday hold music.

Long and short, I've heard at least 123 holiday songs since November 13.

That's 123 songs in 19 days. That's 6.47 Christmas songs every day. And there are two weeks to go until Christmas.

Frankly, I think my numbers are skewed a bit low.

Because the 123 total thus far doesn't take into account that I've seen The Nutcracker twice this season. I figured I sought those songs out, so it wasn't an organic reflection of what I'd normally hear just by going about my day.

I didn't add the songs I sing or whistle during those colorful moments when I'm drenched in the Christmas spirit.

Everything might nicely be balanced if it's taken into consideration that I don't watch television or listen to conventional radio. I'm sure my 123 would go up considerably if I'd been logging holiday ads and Christmas specials into my total.

I'm obviously not a conventional retail shopper, but apparently the presence of Christmas songs in a retail environment boosts sales figures. And interestingly, people seem to want it that way. According to music research experts, "a remarkable 95 percent of consumers said they prefer shopping with in-store (Christmas) music. Among this group, four out of 10 prefer to shop where Christmas music is playing rather than music they already know and like."

Despite the anti-consumerism direction I could go with that information, I prefer to refer to the three reasons why people like to hear Christmas music this time of year, according to the article.

First, Christmas music is emotionally evocative. It reminds us of time happily spent with loved ones.

Second, listening to a Christmas song is "a mass-karaoke experience... with 53 percent of respondents saying that they often sing along to Christmas songs."

Guilty as charged, as I mentioned before. No other time of year are people like myself prone to breaking into a Christmas song, either by singing along with the holiday Muzak or by quietly whistling Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas just because it feels good.

Third, Christmas music is unifying. Everyone knows the words to White Christmas, and there's a cultural understanding that we all get it. There seem to be few things we collectively get any more, but knowing the words and feeling the sentiment of a holiday song seems to compel us as a culture to feel like we're all in this together.

Stop the presses - I need to update my Christmas music tally of 123.

I've been listening to Christmas music while I've been writing this, and I'll be adding 18 more songs to my total. The first song out of the gate tonight was perfect for the tenor of my kind of holiday: Nancy Wilson's That's What I Want for Christmas.

I'm grateful for being loved. That's all I need or want.

So I've heard 141 Christmas songs so far this season. Rum-pa-pum-pum.

Enjoy the music.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas on the cheap. Let's get crafty.

Last time, I wrote about Christmases past.

My mom loved Christmas. The interior of her house, from the day after Thanksgiving to the week after New Years, looked like Santa threw up all over the place. She'd spend lots of money and many hours shopping and wrapping and preparing for what was her favorite time of year.

Christmas gave her a good excuse to give.

But times have changed. My holiday iteration is a bit different from the Christmas tradition of liberal gifting my mom established.

Shopping has never been the same since my mom's been gone, so I have little interest in the lure and sparkle of malls or big box stores.

And I'm not fond of crowds.

So needless to say, I don't do the typical kind of holiday gifting.

If your budget is tight and your fuse for high-voltage consumerism is short, I've got a few suggestions when it comes to giving on the cheap:

Get crafty. I have a few vintage typewriter keys that fell off a very old Remington I bought for $5 this summer at a garage sale. The keys are a perfect fit for these totally cool barrette/hair pins I found in Portland for .50 a piece. Once I got home and got busy, I quickly ran out of these cool hair things. I found a lot of 50 of this exact same item on ebay for $4, free shipping. So I'll have plenty of inventory.

In addition to the barrette potential, I have a bag of unused beer bottle lids, old board game pieces, vintage sheet music, light switch covers, dominoes, scrabble tiles, broken jewelry, hotel room numbers, so much more. My collection of hot-glueable and Mod-Podgeable items is embarrassingly immense. The photo shows just a smidge of what awaits whoever participates on a Crafty Day.

When I commit to create, I can make items for people with their particular taste in mind. I can't go into a tremendous amount of detail (I don't want to spoil anything for a few of the folks of my Christmas list), but let's just say that every piece I've made is one-of-a-kind, somewhat off-beat, and chosen specifically for the person who's on my list.

And I'm not the only one who's getting in the crafty spirit. A friend came over last week to make some presents and have some fun, and my 18-year-old and his friends joined us. We had a great time.

In other words, the process of making presents for people can be as memorable as what you create.

You're so handy! The other day, someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas. At the time, I was overwhelmed by the broken tiles on my kitchen floor, the outlet that only occasionally works and my clothes dryer that made a sound like I was drying a load of rocks.

I mentioned that I'd love the gift of time spent by a handy friend. Just a day, maybe less. They'd fix stuff that's way beyond my skill set, I'd make lunch, we'd chat - it sounded like a dreamy Christmas miracle.

So there's a thought. If you're handy and you want to give a really great gift, offer up a few hours to someone who's not quite so bright when it comes to fixing stuff. It costs nothing but time, and take it from me - it's a gift that would be highly appreciated.

Think outside the box. We can all feed the Big Box stores with our ching, or we can go local. Give a gift card or a certificate from a small shop or business in your area. Give an oil change, a haircut, a night out at a local restaurant, tickets to a play. Keeping your gifting money local does a service for your area's economy, and it might invigorate your friends and family to try something new; to step out of the box.

Go live. Last year, I blogged about the coolest thing I got for Christmas (

And although the catalogue I recently received from Heifer had a bit of grandiosity on its cover ("The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World"), I don't dispute its sentiment. Contribute on behalf of the folks on your holiday list and you'll measurably change things around the world, for people who would otherwise have almost nothing. Heifer makes a difference.

Get cooking. Tasty homemade treats are such a great gift idea, especially for those of us who have no culinary proclivities. Going one step further with a gift certificate for a homemade meal, especially for busy moms or families in need, is a great way to share without breaking the bank.

And, like crafting, baking, giving away time or keeping your money local, there are a myriad of other ways to show how grateful you are for having good people in your life that don't require spending a lot of money.

Which brings me back to my mom.

My mom was an exception in so many ways.

I'd give anything to spend another Christmas in her presence. Not for what she bought me, but for what she gave me.

Ultimately, she taught me that it doesn't require deep pockets to find gifts that are filled with meaningful, thoughtful, loving intention.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Keeping Christmas simple, part one.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, and despite this rocky economy, people seem to have money in their pockets, or at the very least a balance on their credit cards. Because as you may have heard, this holiday shopping season has begun with vigor (

Right: me (left) and my sister, posing for our family Christmas card in 1964, each in our own way. Note the matching outfits.

Despite the direction I've turned in recent years, I was raised on retail, especially during the holiday season. My parents were devout Lutherans way back then, and my mom was a seasoned shopper. She was crazy about Christmas, primarily because the season signified the birth of Jesus.

And because the holiday season is a time for giving, it gave her a great excuse to go shopping.

My sister and I received lavish and abundant Christmas gifts well into our 30s. Each gift was chosen with care. It was obvious that many miles were traveled in search of what she'd intuited (usually with Kreskin-like accuracy) that we'd want. And she was usually right.

Her mobility waned the Christmas before my mom died, but her enthusiasm for gifting was still in high gear. She couldn't afford to spend energy walking through malls and big box stores.

So the last Christmas my mom was on this crazy planet, my sister and I each received one gift.

We each received a box filled with gift cards from every store we frequented. She and my dad drove all over the city collecting gift cards for my sister and me.

That box of cards, filled with the intention of shopping, complete with the knowledge of what I really  liked, was the best present I've ever received.

Because it took effort. Time. Knowledge. Intuition.

And money.

Hopefully, I have the intuition. I definitely have the energy. But I don't necessarily have the financial resources my parents had.

But meaningful giving can be done on a budget. Despite the early shopping modeling I received from my mom, I've realized that everyone can be appropriately gifted without attending a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale. Everyone can get what they want without going in the red.

And I'll go into the crafty world of artful giving next time.

But for now, I pay a bit of an homage to my mom. She was a shopper. She was a giver, and she loved All Things Christmas.

As an added bonus, she had deep pockets.

For those of us who don't (read: most of us), I'll chat soon about living richly during difficult times.

It's possible.

All it takes is a bit of a paradigm shift.