With the whirl of activity that encompasses the holiday season, it's easy to miss opportunities to connect with our loved ones. You might be standing in the kitchen alongside your mother or grandmother for hours preparing a holiday meal, but between the kids running in and out for snacks, the telephone ringing, and the to-do list running laps in your head, the conversation might not get very far.
Even though we oftenspend more time with our loved ones during the holidays than at other times of the year, quantity doesn't necessarily add up to quality.
So make an effort this year to step it up a notch, dig below the surface, and learn more about your loved ones - and your family history.
Here are a few holiday-related conversation starters you might want to try:
- How did your family celebrate Christmas Eve?
- How did your family's heritage shape the way you celebrated the holidays (meals, traditions)?
- Did you have a Christmas tree? If so, where did you get it?
- Do you remember making any special holiday decorations for the tree or to place around the house?
- What kinds of dishes did your mother or grandmother prepare for Christmas Eve or Christmas day dinners?
- Where did you celebrate Christmas, and who was there?
- What do you remember about Christmas morning?
- What special Christmas gifts do you remember receiving as a child?
- What gifts do you remember making or buying for someone else?
- Was there music in your home during the holidays?
- How did your family commemorate Christmas as a religious holiday?
- What favorite holiday books or movies stand out in your mind?
- How did your family celebrate New Year's Eve or New Year's Day?
- What special dishes were served on New Years?
- What is your favorite holiday memory?
With no presents to open under the tree and no easter eggs to hunt in the yard — Thanksgiving should be a time to just sit around and share.
Should is the operative word.
The reality is that if we don't consciously make time in our holiday schedule for engaging conversation, it won't happen.
We'll spend the day bustling around with a dish cloth in our hand or an eye glued to the "game" on T.V. and poof!, this expectation-free holiday has come and gone, and we're falling into bed — exhausted.
This holiday season, let's take a cue from the French and learn to linger longer.
No need to jump up right away and begin the marathon dish-washing session while slower-eating family members are still mingling bits of cranberry sauce with turkey and dressing.
Put on the tea kettle, instead.
This is the perfect time to ask questions of older relatives about Thanksgiving memories from childhood - what they ate, where they ate it, and who was there. What games did they play while the adults prepared the feast? Who cut the turkey? Did someone say the blessing?
These questions will surely lead to forgotten stories and anecdotes of holidays long-past.
In the end, you'll find out something new about the people in your life. And your kids will learn to appreciate the family history that goes along with turkey and dressing.
But most importantly, you'll bring a smile, a few laughs, and a sense of honor and appreciation to the ones you love most.
Before moving to Vermont, I had never heard the term, "Old Home Day." But it's one of the nicest traditions I've discovered in the Green Mountain State. The celebration of a town's history and heritage, Old Home Day brings together generations of residents - near and far - to play games, demonstrate traditional crafts, share meals, play music, and partake in a variety of fun and unusual contests.
As one town's website explains, it's a town reunion.
But for those of us who didn't grow up in a particular Vermont village, the good news is that we're still invited to partake in the festivities. These celebrations are a wonderful way to appreciate a place in a really unique, meaningful way. Imagine how well you'd get to know someone by attending their family reunion. What better way to discover the people and places of some of Vermont's most beautiful little towns than by attending their Old Home Day celebration?
Some towns host Old Home Days events every ten years, while others put them on every year. Here are a few upcoming celebrations in the area:July 30-August 1: Rockingham Old Home Days.
Event features an annual pig roast, sidewalk sale, face painting, antique truck show, Roaming Railroad, and food court.
www.villagesquarebooks.com/rockingham-old-home-daysAugust 7: Plymouth Old Home Day
Come celebrate the grand opening of the new President Calvin Coolidge Museum & Education Center, an event that will be attended by Governor Jim Douglas and other dignitaries. Other Old Home Day activities include wagon rides, sheep shearing, old time fiddling, traditional Vermont craft demonstrations, children's activities, and chicken barbecue. l0:00 a.m - 4:00 p.m. www.Coolidge@HistoricVermont.org.August 12-15: Wilmington Old Home Week
Every 10 years, Wilmington hosts a town reunion, celebrating our citizens - past, present and future - and honoring our history. Events include a parade, town banquet, ice-cream social, class and family reunions, and tours of local points of interest. Of particular interest, this year's Old Home Week will feature an oral-history component, as our students will help record our memories and stories. www.oldhomeweek2010.comAugust 14: Craftsbury Old Home Day
Join us the Common at 9:30 AM for our annual Pet Show, followed by a line-up of fun, family-friendly activities, including kids' games, a dunking booth, pie eating contest, and parade. View exhibits on Craftsbury history at the Craftsbury Historical Society, and enjoy lunch served by The Craftsbury Fire Department. The annual performance of the Craftsbury Summer Shakespeare Camp follows the parade. www.townofcraftsbury.com.
Last weekend, a friend of mine sent me a link to an article in the Burlington Free Press
by Chris Bojahlian, whose uncle was a D-Day war hero. What the writer knows about his uncle's history and what he did on that fateful day takes your breath away. But what seems to haunt him - and all of us who have lost important people in our lives - is what he doesn't know
about his uncle's story. We may have the basic facts covered, but it's the "story," itself, that is often missing.
But when it comes to our war veterans, the process of collecting these stories is not always easy. No one wants to put their loved one in an uncomfortable situation by dredging up memories that have been buried for years. But sometimes, after decades of silence, our veterans are ready to share.
The question is, are we prepared to listen? An article in the Beacon News
last month tells the story of a veteran who wonders whether his grandchildren are interested in the stories that he is eager to tell. If we don't ask, then the assumption may be that we don't care. And what a tragic misunderstanding that would be.
So if you have a veteran in your family or community, don't make assumptions. Take the time to ask a few general questions about their military experiences, and then see what happens. You may be surprised.
I've always loved to write. So over the years, my mom has received her fair share of 2,000-word Mother's Day cards telling her how much she means to me. In recent years, however, I've taken the "less is more" approach and have opted for the humorous one-liner cards with a quick, "I love you" and a signature. Shame on me.
Whereas both of these approaches - and anything in between - are certainly nice, they don't take advantage of an opportunity that Mother's Day cards present. And that's the opportunity to get creative with storytelling.
This year, I'm going to make an effort to identify at least one really good story about my mom and share it with her in writing. Maybe I'll get on a roll - and multiple stories will just pen themselves. Every decade of my life brings its own selection of remembrances - some humorous and some not-so-humorous. But through telling them, so much will be said that I've never managed to get across in my lengthy cards.
It doesn't take much. An extra sheet of stationary, a few quiet moments, and a reflective mind. And you just may produce her favorite Mother's Day gift yet!
Here are a few questions to help get the juices flowing:
- What is one of your earliest memories of time spent with your mom?
- Remember a time during childhood when you were watching your mother do something that she really enjoyed ... What was it, and how did you feel as you watched her?
- What attitude about life did you get from your mom?
- What childhood images come to mind when you think of your mother (a certain flower or scent, a special dress, a favorite dish, etc.)?
- When was a time that you remember being at odds with your mom, and how did that situation eventually resolve itself?
- What is one of the greatest lessons that your mother ever directly (or indirectly) taught you?
Many of us don’t know the full story behind our parents’ courtship and marriage, let alone the details of our grandparents’ early romance. Or we haven’t thought to share our own love story with our children and grandchildren.
With Valentines Day less than a week away, it seems like a good time to ask those questions of our parents and grandparents or share those special memories with our children and grandchildren.
I know that, for me, it was so enjoyable to hear my grandmother talk about her initial impressions of my grandfather, their first “date,” and how he proposed. Just by seeing that familiar sparkle of first love in her eye as she recalled distant memories, I felt closer to her than ever before.
Not only was I able to relate to the feelings of this young-girl-in-love who married my grandfather over 60 years ago, but I could fully appreciate the profound impact of this seemingly simple romance in a small town in rural Alabama on so many lives. My mother, me, my kids (not to mention the other 4 daughters, 12 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren) … We’re all here because of that first kiss.
We don’t always take the time to ask, but most of us –sometime in the not-so-distant future–will want to know. After all, don’t we all love a good love story? Especially when we’re in it.
And we’re all in at least one ….