Celebrating Spiritual Holidays in Non-Traditional Ways



The joy of Christmas is that it is meant to be shared. Through years of tradition, we celebrate the “gift of God’s Son to the earth” through gift giving. But there are many ways to share this happiness besides through the exchange of presents and gifts. In fact, most of today’s practices are self-centered starting with the making of lists for a generous benefactor known as Saint Nicholas.

Our secular culture has pivoted from a Holy holiday in celebration of the birth of Christ our Savior and Redeemer to a festive giving and receiving of gifts for ourselves and others. If we don’t like what we get, we exchange it for something we do like, blowing off the giver’s generosity and forethought.


Through centuries of change and to the forgetting of God, people are slowly transforming our once Holy and spiritual rejoicing into one of indulgence, over spending and indebtedness. Instead of joy we are sated with exhaustion and bills; far cries from joy and praise for our newborn King.

Some have managed to save and revere His Holy presence in spite of the commercialization. Many are finding gladness and purpose by serving in local “soup kitchens” and pantries or through donations of gifts and toys to the needy.

But as one local family, on the receiving end, lamented “We are surrounded with gifts and food during the Christmas Season, but the rest of the year we really struggle!”


Perhaps extending your well-placed joy into the New Year would make your efforts more lasting and meaningful. Everyone wants to give when the spirit touches them, but thoughtfulness and giving throughout the year could make a real difference in someone’s life.

Shut-ins receive visits and gifts during December; but the other 365 days, they may spend a lot of lonely hours when the phone doesn’t ring or visitors are few and far between. Commitment and remembrances could warm these empty days and months and remind those who weep that they are loved and needed. Even those we don’t know can benefit from a hug or an extended hand when it is least expected.


“He Lives” 20 x 16 Oil on canvas

One year our family had a child from a local boy’s home share two weeks of the Christmas Season with us. The home was closing for the holidays and needed places for these boys to go. We enjoyed his time with us, but I felt guilty when he left, and wondered if there was something more we could do? I had four children younger than he, one of them a newborn, and the timing wasn’t right for us. There is more need in this world than any of us can stop alone or together.

Our oldest son painted someone’s house as an Eagle Scout project with his fellow scouts. The mother had recently been in an accident, and the family was greatly in need. Their project was a welcome treat for the family, even though it didn’t come at Christmas time. Imagine what this kind of giving could mean as a Christmas gift; better yet that it came as a surprise when it was most needed.

We often invited widows and widowers into our home, not only on special occasions, but during the holidays. Not able to cook for themselves, these invitations meant a great deal to alleviate their loneliness. A short ride to see Christmas lights and decorations on the way home was a special delight.


We also used to take widows out to lunch or dinner with us. It was a special treat for them to get out and mingle. They especially loved holding on to my husband’s arm and the feeling of being escorted by a man. I used to place them in the front seat of our car, while I slipped into the back just so they could feel special for that one day. Sometimes we’d go on an excursion and take them to places they hadn’t been in a long, long while.

It is also important not only to be a gracious giver, but a gracious receiver. Some of these elderly sweethearts wanted to reciprocate because the attention meant so much to them. Declining on our part seemed that we looked on our gift as “charity.”  When we allowed them to give in return, you could see by the gleam in their eyes that this was as important to them as our gift had been.

Many days, we returned home with a fresh baked loaf of bread, some cookies, a special treasure from their home in remembrance of time spent in our company. Some of these widows are gone now, but the memories linger on. In hind sight, they still warm our hearts today.

Going beyond and engaging in the unusual or unexpected can create the kind of Christmas that goes on forever in the minds and souls of the people you surprise. Who knows, perhaps you’re entertaining angels unawares?

Giving Thanks will Change your Life


(The “Golden Rain Trees” are in bloom!” 1st the yellow flower spears, then the peach lantern seed pods)

Halloween is not over and here we are thinking about Christmas. Thanksgiving gets sandwiched in-between and almost forgotten. Ironically, the first two holidays are what I call “Give me holidays.” We ask for things and then wait expectantly to receive. The “glossed over” holiday in the middle is for “giving thanks.” But what do we do? We think about getting off work and indulging some gluttonous feasting.

Giving thanks is inborn in our DNA.  An atheist friend of mine is always pointing upward when she receives something good, and then pulling her hand back in embarrassment. She thanks “whoever” or “whatever,” afraid that she might get caught in actual gratitude toward God.

A few years ago she sold a painting. She lamented that she had only received $150 for it, and then proceeded to tell me that it went right into a new disposal for her kitchen sink because hers had quit.

“Don’t you see what a blessing that is?” I asked her. “You didn’t have the money to replace the disposal, and then you sold a painting for the exact amount you needed? Do you see the irony in that?” She simply charged it up to coincidence.


(This photo shows the yellow spiked flowers that fall before the peach seed pods grow.

How hard it is to give thanks. We shrug it off with feelings of embarrassment, as if that makes us dependent on someone else or even God. And we’re far too smart for that! Besides, we had it coming.

We ignore our waiters at a restaurant watching them come and go as if they are beneath us, and instead reward them with a tip afterward if they satisfy us. We have become a nation of ingrates. Our mother’s called it being courteous. Our teacher’s called it being polite. In fact, when we were young we threw please and thank you around by the dozen to get a smile or a pat on the back.


Now people bump into each other on crowded streets and buses, and simply grunt to show that they’ve been inconvenienced. Pushing and shoving has become the order of the day, even on crowded highways. Automobiles jostle for position weaving in and out like a game of bumper cars.

When was the last time you allowed someone to pull in front of you? And how about that driver waiting on a side street; did you let him or her pull forward into traffic?

Since when did we all become so selfish, so in a hurry?  Was it at the beginning of the computer age when life itself accelerated? First we became inwardly focused, and now we’re more technology focused. Eye contact is not only scarce, it has become scary; a thing to be avoided because it encourages intimacy and opens the door to conversation.

When was the last time your teenager looked you in the eyes with fondness and emotion? How often do you allow yourself a good soak in the tub to soothe those tightened muscles? What happened to those lost moments when you dreamt about possibilities instead of obstacles?

I fear that in spite of all our technology, we still feel like we must “Go, go, go” every minute, and yet we never catch up. We are in an endless pursuit of accomplishment. If we’re not aspiring or growing, we are getting left behind. Our “failure” complex has a grip on our minds that we can’t shake off. We’re out of breath and sweating even when we’re standing still.

As we ease into the rush of holiday preparation, the shopping and the anxiety let us all remember “the reason for the season.” Take the time to appreciate and recognize what is happening around you. Be grateful for those who try to make your life easier. Do your part to keep you and yours safe and free from anger and accidents. And as Tiny Tim said in Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” “God Bless us, everyone!”


(Great granddaughter pumpkin hunting.)

Whet Your Palate with Foods from the Present and Memories from the Past



My Danish grandfather had several pigs that were kept in a pen near the back garden. If it was “pig slopping” time, I was there. The snorts and squeals of the pigs as they gulped down their food made me giggle. The smell of the mash mixed with whatever leftovers were available from the house, garden or dairy barn seemed intoxicating. Those pigs really knew how to scarf down a meal.

Feral Pig

Feral Pig

When people “feed their faces” or “chow down” on foods they love, I’m always reminded of those blubbery fat hogs. One of mankind’s favorite pastimes is eating. A phrase spoken around the world in many different languages is: “What’s for dinner?” When my children were still toddlers they would crowd around my legs and ask “Time for eat?” They were not only hungry. They wanted it now!


“The Cook” 11×14 acrylic on canvas

Sometimes I stressed out about what to feed them. I wanted to provide something nutritious that they would enjoy, and I needed to stay within my budget. I didn’t want an anxiety attack every time I had to prepare a meal.

Solution: “The menu Plan.” I literally planned out a full month of assorted meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now I had something to work from when I went shopping. I didn’t have to worry about food because I knew exactly what we were going to eat and when. I knew the ingredients were waiting somewhere in the cupboards, the freezer or refrigerator because I’d purchased them myself.

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When there were leftovers, I’d incorporate them into the menu. Two big hits were omelets and fried rice. Both used miscellaneous meats or vegetables in small quantities that could be folded into an omelet with cheese or stir-fried into rice. Hidden veggies were eaten with added bacon bits or ham to sweeten the pot.


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Cooking became an art form. I fashioned make-ahead meals and blended together the makings for cookies, cakes, and muffins. All I needed to do was add egg, oil, and milk and the rest was already done. I look back now and I wonder how I found the time or energy. I was a volunteer, I worked as a free-lance writer, and I had a large family. I think one reason may have been “lack of fear.”


There was a time when parents didn’t have to hover over their children and worry that they might be snatched out from under them by some pervert or kidnapper. My parents certainly never had to worry about me. I roamed the neighborhood and played outside for hours exploring the world I lived in. I rode my bicycle home when I was hungry. My mother knew my haunts and she knew whom to call. I never felt restricted or tied down. I seldom felt afraid.

Food no longer seems to call us back home. We can buy it almost anywhere. In fact, more people eat out than ever before. They either eat fast food or buy take out and eat at home watching T.V. Our society eats on the run and does far too much snacking. Nutrition sometimes gets lost in the balance.

When my kids were still in college, I’d get a phone call asking for a recipe they remembered. Today they have their own recipes and children of their own. Even holidays don’t involve the time and effort they used to. Store-bought items take the place of the time-consuming hot rolls of the past. Potatoes and gravy are now prepared for you. Even a “home-cooked” turkey can be purchased from your supermarket.

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Although the traditions of the past come in a new form, and busy working mothers don’t have the time to prepare a full spread; people still enjoy sharing food and laughter with those they love. Ordinary food will always taste better in good company. Perhaps that’s what those snorting pigs were trying to tell me so long ago” “Bon Appetite!  Let the good times roll – oink, oink!”

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What is it about those Peeps?


Yes, I admit it; I’m a Peep freak. I slink around the Easter displays and casually drop a few boxes into my cart hoping no one will notice. I’m embarrassed at the checkout. I hope the clerk will think it’s for my grandchildren. I go through this anxiety every year, but that doesn’t stop me from buying them.


“First Daffodil” acrylic on canvas

You either love Peeps or you hate them. There’s no in between. It’s an acquired taste. Not everyone likes the soft melt-in-your mouth sweetness of marshmallow, especially if it’s doused in colored sugar. Plus you have to lick the sticky residue on your fingers afterward. Of course, some people dry them out so their chewy and semi-soft, but I can’t wait that long.

After the holiday, prices are slashed on all Easter treats; a sad assortment of chocolate bunnies with broken ears and hard jelly beans gathering dust. I search the display, but don’t see any peeps (and you thought no one liked them!).


“He Lives” oil on wrapped canvas

I was a young mother before I discovered that Easter was a celebration of Jesus’ atonement and resurrection and not all about chicks and rabbits. Even as a child, my parents only focused on the fun parts of the holiday. I was told that the Easter Bunny went around to all the children and filled their baskets with candy and treats. My mother, playing Easter Bunny, hid the eggs we had colored in the house, and we excitedly combed the cushions in the sofas and under the furniture to find them.

One year, we stayed overnight at my aunt’s farm. The eggs were going to be hidden outside, and my sister and I would compete with our cousins to find them. That night I dreamed that a giant rabbit hopped to my bedside with goodies in his paws. I was terrified! Perhaps the strange bed and the new surroundings had triggered an anxiety attack. I awoke screaming. After that, I was never big on the Easter Bunny. When I had children of my own, I never told them about him for fear they would have nightmares, too.


“Americana” 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas

My children loved coloring eggs, but they knew that their parents were the hiders and that we provided the goodies, too. The kids seemed fine with that; much better to pretend than to be terrorized by a furry five foot rabbit that hovers over your bed while you’re asleep.

One year we colored two dozen eggs with our six children. Their father and I hid them after they’d gone to bed. I made the mistake of relying on my memory instead of writing down their hiding places. After the hunt, the eggs were dispersed to each basket and some of them were gobbled down for breakfast. I never gave the count a second thought.

Fast forward, eight months later. The faint smell of sulfur still greets my nose each time I enter our family room; but once I’m there, I can no longer pinpoint where the smell is coming from. Christmas is right around the corner, and I want everything to be clean and fresh.

On impulse, I take down two woven baskets that are hanging on the wall filled with greenery. I plan to wash the greenery of dust and put them back. Lo and behold, in the bottom of one basket is a boiled egg which has split open and essentially dried out; so dry that there is barely any sulfur smell remaining. The riddle was solved!


“Lady in Waiting” 11 x 14 oil on canvas

I will tell you that after that experience, I not only counted the eggs that were hidden, but accounted for them when they were found. I even drew a quick sketch of their hiding places instead of relying on my memory. I chuckle each Easter when I remember that missing rotten egg. The embarrassment of that horrid stink and not being able to locate its source will haunt my Easters forever.