Saying “Goodbye” to Christmas in February

We took down our Christmas decorations this weekend, the second in February. And while, in the past, the lingering decorations were mostly about dreading the task, this year we made the decision much earlier–at the start of Advent, when the tree went up–to leave everything in place until 40 days after Christmas.

That was two Sundays ago, and because we wanted to enjoy the full 40 days, we didn’t take the decorations down last Sunday.

This year, 40 days after Christmas was February 2. This represents the day when Mary would have been able to return to the temple after childbirth and thus Jesus’ first visit there.

While many of our ornaments are not explicitly about the nativity of Jesus, many of them engage us with themes of childhood and remind us of how loved we are. Here are the new additions to our Christmas decorations this year.


Each year we add a few owls to our collection. Honey made the brown one last year and the purple one this year.


Each year, each child gets a new ornament made by local artists or purchased through a fair trade organization like 10,000 Villages. This year, Lamb received this whimsical glass owl, so there are at least half a dozen owls nesting in our Christmas tree this year. img_3410Mr. Prickles’ new ornament this year was a gnome.


And Bananas’ was a grasshopper carefully created from local grass.


Most years we also make ornaments, so our tree is a record of their childhood arts and crafts skills. This year, we made jingle bell angels from wire ribbon. More than a dozen of them covered our tree.

Each year, we paint ceramic ornaments. Most years, Mr. Prickles’ chooses a new snowman to add to his collection, and Lamb adds an angel. This year, Bananas picked a llama.


A trip to Lindsborg, Kansas (“Little Sweden USA”) found us in a shop that sells locally-made art and crafts as well as pieces imported from Sweden. This little heart reminds us of how much we love Kansas.


This little clown decorated my tree growing up, and my sister recently found him and sent him to me. My great-grandmother was alive most of my life, and while we saw her infrequently (We lived in different states.), receiving a big box from her each Christmas was one of the best parts of the year. They always included handmade gifts–some that she worked on for years–quilts and baby dolls–and others simple ornaments like this one.


A few years ago, we took a vacation with my extended family to the Poconos, staying at a house on a lake. A family of swans patrolled the shoreline–and let us know that we were not welcome there. We eventually made an unsteady peace with them, but it took some effort. (Including, at one point, a sea battle. While it’s easy enough to drive off swans with a hose from the shore, it’s harder to fight them with a canoe paddle on the lake.) My sister sent us this glass swan this year to commemorate the event.

img_3413Of all the birds who joined our tree this year, this felted cardinal might be my favorite.


Do you have a Christmas pickle? This one is new for us this year, a gift from my mother. Each year, the child who finds the Christmas pickle gets to open the first present. And, this year, a miracle followed: the children quite easily fell into a pattern of opening one present at a time, rather than everyone opening presents at once, so they could see what each other had received. They didn’t discuss it or protest it, just happily showed interest in each other.


My friend A. gave us the littlest, tiniest baby Jesus, made from beeswax.


On Christmas Eve, we open new pajamas, a robe, or slippers (whichever we most need), play a game or music, watch a movie, read a Christmas book together, and bake cookies to put out on our Santa Plate (alone with carrots for the reindeer). This year, our tree was a housewarming gift from our dear Auntie K., who not only set it up for us but added the (absurd number–1200!) lights and helped us decorate.


This year, a new angel came to grace our tree! A gift from my friend M., her name is Marian Zsofia–after the singer Marian Anderson and with a tribute to Poland, where M. traces her family history. Lighting her each night, we were reminded of how loved we are from people far and near.

Foxhole Advice: What to do when you get presents you don’t like

January 2,

My grandparents give me lousy Christmas presents each year. They are either things I’m not interested in or presents that are for kids younger than me. (I’m 10.) I know it’s the thought that counts, but my grandparents don’t really seem to be thinking about me when they give me these gifts. Should I just pretend I like their presents or tell them how I really feel?

Don’t Call Me Ungrateful, Please

Dear Not Ungrateful,

In my opinion, the best option would be to either subtly imply that you would like something more to your liking, for next time, or simply return the presents to the store where they were purchased. If they were from a big box store, such as Walmart or Target, buy something you would prefer to the lackluster gifts. Your grandparents are far away and probably won’t notice that you don’t own their gifts anymore. 

Mr. Prickles



Dear Not Ungrateful,

First, let me say I LOVE the double negative in your pseudonym! But, graver topics are on the floor: Christmas presents.

If you feel like the fits aren’t a good fit for you, then it means that your grandparents are struggling to buy or make what you would like. Help them out by giving them ideas! Decide on one kind of thing that your grandparents could give you and ask for that year after year (or until you grow out of it).

For example, maybe there is a series of books you love (The Nathan Hale series is a good choice if you like history and graphic novels!) or a kind of book you like (like stories about World War II). Many schools participate in Scholastic Book Clubs. Create an account and a wishlist, then share it with your grandparents. They can buy the books online and have them shipped to your school, and when they order books this way, your classroom gets free books from Scholastic. 

Or maybe there is a kind of art supply you like and could always use more of. Things that get used up (paints, crayons, sketchbooks, fancy teas, bubble bath) are things you can always use. 

Communication is the key here. You can tell them what you want without sounding greedy. Try this: “One of my goals for next year is to get better at crocheting so I’m asking people who usually buy me presents to help stock my supply of yarn” or “This year, I’ve really gotten into history, especially the Civil Rights period. If you were thinking about buying me a present, I’d love to read more about this time period.”

Check in with us next year to let us know how this works out for you!




Dear Not Grateful,

You are kind to care about your grandparents’ feelings. 

This isn’t a problem about Christmas, I think. It’s a problem about the rest of the year. Your grandparents don’t seem to know you well enough to give you a present based on your interests. Let them know what interests you far in advance of Christmas. Better yet, get them interested with you Even though they are far away, you can share some interests in common. For example:

  • Play online chess or another online game together
  • Make a craft together (like each of you piecing half of the squares of a quilt).
  • Set aside time after your favorite football teams play to discuss the game over Skype or Facetime.
  • If you perform in a concert or play, send your grandparents a video of it.
  • Take photos of the artwork you make in school and ask your parents to post them online where your grandparents can see them.
  • Ask your parents to buy you a set of 12 nice notecards and 12 stamps, then paperclip a stamped, addressed envelope with a blank card inside to each month of your calendar. Each time something exciting happens that month, write a short note inside the card (“Band concert today–We played music from Harry Potter!” or “Lost our basketball game tonight, but I scored more points in a single game than I ever have!” or “Earned an A+ on my Newberry Honor diarama!”) several times each week, then mail the card at the end of the month. 
  • As your grandparents get to know what you are good at and what you enjoy, they will become better gift-givers. Best of all, you will get to know each other better!