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Entries in christmas (6)

Tuesday
Dec252012

Christmas Churchiness

I got to four church services for Christmas Eve. You might think that's a bit too much church. It keeps me out of the malls, where I don't want to be anyway. The two that anchor such an adventure are "my" church (MHUCC) and "Kelli's" church (CCCPB, where we met some 22 years ago but that I departed six years ago). That's the basic balance for us: we at least get to our own churches, different though they may be. Because my church has a 10 pm service, and it happens to be where Kelli interned years ago, it's in the clear for us to both go and be together, a bit like old times, but without some of the weighty complications I feel. And then, there are some other services that turn up and seem interesting enough to take in if we can.

I'm going to tell these stories out of order. For those keeping score, I went to the following services in this order:

  1. MHUCC, 2 pm
  2. CCCPB, 6 pm
  3. MCC, 7 pm, followed by dinner with friends from there
  4. MHUCC, 10 pm 

CCCPB

As some distance from the strains of CCCPB has mellowed me over time, I've gone a couple times to the Christmas service there too. CCCPB is much as I knew it from earlier times, even during my unchurched times. A small congregation meets in a building that is sparse in architectural ornamentation though is rather radical in its roof line and its 2/3 round floor plan. It has a basic holiday decoration scheme, but without it, the place is rather austere looking for the most part. Many faces remain, though there are giant holes in the population due to attrition and families breaking up and children leaving for school and careers. I still like the messages from the pulpit as much as when I spent four years there recording them all, but with such a history as I have there, it's hard to be really present there. I fidget. Kelli does the reading from Luke every year and is poised closer to the pulpit. I sit apart from her because I feel that it's so easy to be in an old role that just doesn't suit me now, and frankly, being seated next to my own wife triggers that. (Read on for how things go at MHUCC.) There's a tinge of guilt for coming and not being fully present. I don't like it. But I also don't go to church and let myself be inauthentic if I can help it. And CCCPB was a place where I eventually left in part because I knew it was going to be what it was going to be and I was changing. Since then I've been regaled with tales from a variety of sources, so while I am not a member there and rarely attend, I do have a small bit of information about what goes on there, and some things just baffle me. Other bits frustrate me. So it's hard for me to be there. But Christmas begs a different response, and for a successful home life, the concession must be made, especially when carpooling. That said, there are a couple people who I still like a great deal and am happy to connect with, even so briefly as my very occasional appearance there. I guess I need CCCPB to remind me that even a diminishing congregation meets faithfully. I just know it's not my community anymore.

MHUCC

MHUCC is notably larger but still feels like a family. The congregation is eclectic and growing. The programs are varied and meet people at various places in life. Liturgically, there is more to take in since our pastor came from a tradition that placed an emphasis on liturgical year cycles and other things that I would learn about when entering that congregation. It was all new to me, coming from a very lean and sparse life at CCCPB. So, MHUCC has the liturgical colors that change with the church year's progression, choir processing in their robes, and other such touches. The choir is about 24 folks and has a professional director and section leaders. The organ is a delight, and the harp adds a welcome texture. The room feels very large. It's not high church by any stretch but after my church formation at CCCPB, it seems that way. For the late Christmas service, this time the service was a Lessons and Carols service.

Two other services this Christmas Eve were in the mix for other reasons. One more, an earlier afternoon service at MHUCC, was small, intimate, and contemplative, and offered communion. It was held in a smaller chapel room suitable for a special service like that. Having been at a physical distance up in Escondido for half a year now, making a day of being in San Diego was like breathing fresh air and getting a warm hug, even on the rather cool and cloudy day. I've been too distant from church of late, so reconnecting was called for. This small service was contemplative and instead of a sermon, the nativity scene was used as a chance to get us to imagine which of those characters we identified with. Who were they? What would they be thinking as they were in that moment? What would we be thinking as we're in that moment?

MCC

The fourth service, a bonus for the day, was at the Metropolitan Community Church where a friend and colleague of Kelli's is on staff. MCC, largely populated by the LGBT community, is a refuge for folks who have perhaps not been welcome at so many other churches, and even among their own families. Because LGBT folk are exiled from all kinds of home lives in all kinds of traditional settings and from all kinds of geographic areas, it's really an eclectic mix of things that might pass for traditional, but instead of messages of making the world a narrower place, a smaller place, a more limited place, the message inherent in the MCC's very existence is one of celebration of the opposite of all that. It's kind of interesting because in some ways, it's like many other churches but without the implicit or explicit homophobia. Just because folks are gay doesn't mean they want to forsake the good things from the traditions they were to inherit, but from where their options for real inclusion were limited or shut off entirely. MCC is their new family where it's safe to be oneself. MCC is the home that has been created to bring the LGBT world back to the Christian fold. There are probably many who, were it not for MCC, would never set foot into another church. I've been there a few times and at least tonight, I found it to be the most surprising of the services. After this service, we went off with Ali and her partner and her daughter to a fun dinner at the greasy spoon diner we've gone to for a few Christmas Eves now, Rudford's. It was delightfully irreverent.

Back at my church, what's true at MCC regarding the LGBT community is largely true there as well, but having been there now for about five years, it's become familiar. MHUCC was a pretty traditional place tending toward liberal, but about a decade ago in particular, the church's embrace of the LGBT world was stepped up. And interestingly, the place has grown a lot because of it. Dropping in on the MCC reminded me of a dynamic I saw a few years back when I slowly and tentatively moved into the life at MHUCC—at the very same time as yet one more mom family meltdown was under way, and by then, a year and more had passed since the utterly miserable exchange with my old man (and a silence that stretches now to an unheard of six years). Add to that a feeling that my home church of CCCPB was not the place to stretch into the new person that needed to emerge from all that, and I realized there was something I had in common with the LGBT folk at MHUCC, broadly speaking. How many tales of exile from families-of-origin are there, with relations strained to the point of breaking only because some people have to answer the call to be themselves? How many exiles from the church communities that are found to be the old wineskins? Hard to say, but when my original tribes were found to be lacking and I needed something new, that's where I felt I came home to.

Church Hopping?

For some years now, since Kelli has been either in school or interning or since I dabbled in another transitional church for a bit in 2007-2008 (UCCLM), then joined MHUCC, Christmases have been diversified. A couple years in a row I did these Christmas Eve runs on my bike for the added sport of getting warmed up and feeling all invigorated upon walking in, sometimes to some really unfamiliar settings (the Greek church was the most unusual). Not too many folks know this but if you were to take my particular ethnic strands and send me to church along traditional faith trajectories, I might be equally at home in Protestant, Catholic, and even Orthodox settings, though of course, I have always identified closer to Protestant. But the tug for me, while never really having the success I could wish for with the family life, is to share in the lives of a few different families at Christmas, in part because those historical families of Christianity are within me at some level, but also that the world today requires a less insular Christianity.

At any rate, the matter of getting to many churches, or sampling the services even at my new home church, keeps things from becoming predictable. Too much church life is led by rote and inertia. If anything, church should be the irritant, not the pabulum. As it is, at MHUCC, I have a practice of trying to never sit in the same seat. Sometimes that applies not just to weekly services but to parts of a given service. There are times when I sit in three different places, moving during logical breaks in the liturgy: sit one place to start and then at the passing of the peace when everyone gets up and greets one another, land in another place, and then maybe before the sermon shift again to a third place. I just mix it up so I don't go and "do" church with my brain off. So it is, stepping it up on Christmas Eve, getting to a few locations and experiencing Christ's family in a way that a place like San Diego affords, with so many traditions found in one place.

Going to unfamiliar churches figures into making the Christmas story a bit more real and experiential. The Greek church in particular made me the stranger in the strange land, even a little bit like the holy family seeking a place at the inn. It's a good thing for this white male to remember that there is a lot of rejection that people face while trying to be in communion around Christ's table. Not being eligible for the eucharist in the Greek church was one reminder about rejection that I don't get in my usual life. (Had I been a baptized member of the Orthodox church, I could have taken the cup and bread, but a quick question about that after having walked into the church, knowing nothing about the liturgy, suggested I'd be okay. I guess my host thought I was already baptized. It seemed very insular and monocultural in there. So, as a result, I was in line and was questioned by the priest if I was baptized as Orthodox. No? Sorry, members only.) While the Greek church was unparalleled in its lush appearance and the layer upon layer of its ancient tradition, coming from my low church protestant background, particularly from a congregation that has a very progressive stance on inclusion, that was kind of a rejection that I am not used to. At MHUCC, it's taken for granted that if you came to that building and want to take communion, you're in, and who are we to put up a barrier? That to me mirrors the pronouncements and practices of Jesus, known for being exceedingly welcoming. Churches that don't roll that way just baffle and disappoint me.

The Christmas Burden, The Christmas Gift

Last night though, finally in the midst of that special night that causes an aching and yearning for peace and quiet both outside and inside, I was feeling a great need to soak it all up. The weight was upon me, feeling down from a half year in a new town, leaving JEM, struggling still with family matters and joblessness (except some pick up work) and tensions that those things inevitably bring to home life. Being a pretty committed non-commercial Christmas practitioner makes me kind of the odd man in the room in most rooms I might enter. People get the idea and maybe even savor it, but don't usually seem to expect someone to succeed at it. The personal layers of hungering for the Christmas message are overlaid with the dire situations the news brings us (or sometimes doesn't, but should). With an utterly senseless massacre—an act of domestic terrorism if ever there was one—too fresh in the mind, and with increasingly dire predictions regarding our environmental crisis being met with too weak a response by nearly everyone, my heart is heavy. With so much balkanization of American society into more and more insular and self-reinforcing tribes that are loathe to interact for the common good, my heart is heavy. For watching as Thanksgiving and other spiritually and even nationally vital holidays are so brazenly co-opted and turned into the playthings of industry and commercialism, my heart is heavy. It's a heavy time.

A heavy time indeed, and the whole world needs Christmas even more than many pious folk realize. Jesus didn't arrive on the scene for the benefit of Christians, right? Sure, he emerged from among Jews and operated in that world. But even he, in his words and especially in his deeds, served humanity and portrayed another way of being human. Best of all, it doesn't require membership or much other than to live from the place of compassion that all of us have but sometimes forget about. He didn't ask for people worship him as some deity. He wanted people to follow his way, not himself. To the extent that one follows him is to realize how he embodied the Way. And that his way was available to everyone, even to this day. No faith system really has the patent on humility, compassion, forgiveness and all that great stuff. They aren't qualities that expire. He just embodied those in such a way that it was hard to imagine he was made of the same stuff we were. So we grapple at best, and ignore him at worst. At our own peril, even.

Maybe Christmas causes eyes to glaze over and people to hear "yadda, yadda, yadda." That's a shame. That's not the Christmas I know, now having some great experiences taking in just what I have in my infinitesimally small sampling of Christian practices over only a decade. When I overcome even my own programming—that is, to venture farther afield in my church hopping, maybe to more ethnic churches, or economically disadvantaged communities, or other places where Christmas burns bright for "the least of these"—I have much more insight and awe coming. While I have my struggles with depression and all the ways I feel I don't fit the mold that produced so many around me, Christmas is one time when, theologically, I fit in just fine. Somewhere between the shepherds and the wise men, there I stand. For me, Christmas is indeed the promise that God bothered to look our way, even my way. God's very curiosity about how our lives go led to Christmas. What's it like to be one of them? I got this idea...

If I could give a Christmas present to the world, it would be that folks would awaken to what a radical thing Christmas really is. Forget the dumb pageants and the statues that freeze a moment in time that never happened unless you read the Bible poorly. Forget trying to medically figure out virgin birth. Forget arguments meant to save Jesus from pagan seasonal festivals. Or arguments that Christmas was just a Christian hijacking of those festivals. It goes without saying to forget the commercial extravaganza. It's so much more than all that. Those are the distractions, the frozen symbols, the weeds that choke the crops. The time is always when we need to be rocked by the idea that divinity has taken up residence in us, among us, and for us. And maybe in spite of us. It's really quite the proclamation, isn't it?

Getting to church a few times on one particular day of the year is a small thing to help reinforce that awareness, and to try to drink it down as if I were at an oasis.

Friday
Dec142012

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood

Kaitlin

This is a presentation several years in the making even though it came together last night. The first four pictures are original shots of my niece Kaitlin, taken in 2000. I had met her just weeks before, only in the week of Thanksgiving. I was 27 and on the verge of wanting to grow up after years of hurt and alienation from many, including my mom's whole side of my family. That gap was bridged in time for the holidays that year. Kaitlin was not quite four years old then. By my readiness and her very presence, she stole my heart in the sort of I-Thou exchange that Martin Buber wrote about. She reached into me in an amazing way and inspired me to first make a 15 minute bit of music (Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music) just in time for Christmas that year, and to give it to her and other folks as my present for the year—one I might add that could NOT be bought. Bitter and senseless family politics has kept us apart for all the time since just after that Christmas, though I saw her a few weeks ago (almost exactly 12 years from when we first met) and had a crashing feeling that the situation of estrangement would never change. It broke my heart. Her mom unleashed vitriolic words upon me after staying perfectly quiet for almost exactly those same 12 years. The only exception has been a few email and MySpace flame wars. Any hopes I might have had to be Katie's uncle are probably for naught. One can only imagine what Kaitlin has heard about me, all without knowing me but for those few weeks, lost to the mists of her young mind.

To be honest, I've been quite depressed in recent weeks, in part because of that, but in no small measure because of it either. This kind of thing is a dull ache most of the time and sometimes gets outsized and more painful than maybe I should let it. I've tried engagement and disengagement in order to cope. Neither particularly suits me. I just hurt.

The remaining photos in the slideshow are ones I've been able to collect from my sister's social media pages. I am pretty certain they are not used by permission. My tragic point, exactly. But while my sister has her fanciful notions of protecting her daughter from the Savage Sociopath from San Diego, she's using the same twisted logic that my old man used to keep me from my mom. Funny that she doesn't see it that way. Anyhow, these are pictures of my niece as much as they are pictures of her daughter. To date, even though the fiery words have flown and the icy wastelands have grown between us, there is really no substance to her decision to keep Katie from me. I mean, I'm not a pedophile. Not a rapist. Not a murderer. I haven't stolen anything. I haven't really held any financial power over anyone, despite some monetary issues that I've since learned were my mom's very style. There really isn't much to hate me for, though their typical approach to keeping a distance has done plenty to stall any chance of development and certainly any hope of healing. It's just that they don't care.

This little show is my act of defiance, just something to help keep a light of hope alive for me. None of what has happened since can take away that flicker of hope that came when I played with Katie for a few occasions that holiday season of 2000. I might say that in keeping with the theme of the reading in the video, Katie might just as well be said to be my first real Christmas gift as an adult. One I didn't even know I needed. That holiday was quite enjoyable, and since, while no other Christmas since has been spent with that family unit, Christmas has had its component of wonder and hope returned to me.

The Music

This music is just a short segment from the longer, freewheeling musical romp that perhaps was my nod to Mike Oldfield, Todd Rundgren, Mike Keneally, and maybe other solo artists who just love to get into the studio and make any music that comes to them. With one exception (a totally random instance of Kelli appearing at my place with a friend packing a Maltese bagpipe), every part of the recording was done on my own. For lack of a better title, and for the fact it's not strictly a bunch of Christmas tunes but rather is more a sonic tour through impressions of the season, it's called what it's called. This year I have returned to the source recording of the original project and brought it into my main recording program, Logic, a far more robust place to mix the recording that never got the mix it deserved in 2000 when it was rushed out the door in time for the holiday. So that will appear too, sounding better than ever, first a gift to family that didn't really care, and now to the world, and I bet it will unfold in ways I could never imagine. I'll probably post it next week, 12 years from its first release.

The Reading

On another track of life, a few years later in 2004, I got Michael Judge's book, The Dance of Time, a sweet little thing to feed a hunger for knowing what the world was like before our particular kind of timekeeping evolved. To read it, one must suspend the cold rational mind known for its "stinking thinking" and just fall into the premodern mind where time is measured according to the universe and the play of celestial bodies upon the Earth.  It's prose that reads poetically and a few times a year (but especially in the colder months) I am likely to pull it out and read it aloud to Kelli. In 2010 I found a page that I liked and paired it with the Holiday Theme Music. (The crazy thing is, I think I actually got the wrong segment of music!) I gave it a few reads and tried not to choke too much but you can hear the end did get a little hard to read. As it should.

Meeting my niece when I was 27 was the beginning of a thawing of my heart from the cold and broken thing it had become over those years of creeping skepticism and doubt about goodness and frankly, mystery. In so much mythology, the troubled male soul is mended by some kind of feminine presence. So it was for me. This humble little reading is just a thing to remind me of the good stuff, to not get jaded and cynical; to not be barricaded behind all the hurt and pain that accumulates too easily. The pictures I took of Kaitlin that first holiday season are significant of those first glimmers of light in the darkness for me.

Sunday
Dec252011

The Face of Emmanuel

This was originally written as the December 24th entry on the site that Kelli and I keep, WomenWhoSpeakInChurch. WWSIC opened up to friends and fellow clergywomen for an Advent devotional series during this season, all the way out to Epiphany. I've been entering the posts as they roll in. Interestingly the 24th didn't have anything come in so I wrote this. Kelli's been really busy lately and didn't get to see it right away but she read it as one of the first things on Christmas morning. It's a more distilled form of what I wrote just prior to this entry. I think she liked it.

I think it's genius! This season is so rich in spiritual meaning that over the years it has become a fantastic tapestry made up of humanity's various threads of hunger for meaning and vitality in a confusing and harsh world. A bit narrower than that, I think it's genius how Christmas was paired up with a date that was already deemed of cosmological significance prior to Christianity's arrival. And a bit narrower still, I think it's wonderful how that ebb and flow of darkness and light has played out in my own life, and maybe it is time to marvel at my own awareness of it.

Let me just take this to a personal level here for a bit. Bear with me. I'm not a woman and I don't really speak in church. But I'm married to one wonderful woman who sometimes does speak in church, and who, ten years ago, became the return of light to my life, with a couple pivotal dates falling just about solstice time in 2001 and our subsequent embrace of our newfound relationship in 2002, even after we'd known each other for over a decade before that. I've spilled a lot of pixels on my blog about the details. For our purposes here, I just want to celebrate this in a place where I know it would be appreciated—both among people educated and attuned to the special nuances in this kind of story, and among friends of hers who know her personally.

The state of things a decade ago was one of massive dysfunction on the family front. In a lot of ways, the light had gone dim. That year we shared grief around the murder of an old friend, and September 11 was a crisis that forced everyone into mourning and (hopefully) deeper questioning. It did for us. The overlapping disasters that constituted the year 2001 drove me back to a life I was familiar with but that I had left for about a decade. Kelli was a lifeline to that world during that time. But in late 2001, I was beyond my own means to make sense of the world. Kelli and I grew closer and I began to attend church again where the deeper stuff of life was the lingua franca. What resulted was a decade of constant change, but now with a devoted partner with a vast depth of character and compassion. Kelli's presence did not stop the change or the turmoil, but she did make it safe to face it with new resolve.

This Christmas Eve, with the waiting and the hoping almost exploding in us after weeks of Advent's buildup, I recall that time one decade ago when the light was going out, out, out—until the glimmers led to flickers that led to an increasingly steady flame. Kelli embodies the solstice for me. Light will follow darkness. Or, using the language of Christianity, she's the face of Emmanuel for me. Her presence in my life is as clear a sign as I have that God has smiled on this speck of dust too, who a decade ago used to scoff at God-talk and such silly notions of the miraculous.

It has to be the stuff of miracle. Nothing I did earned this. Nothing I knew or believed mattered. This is grace, folks. At Christmas, the great gift is given indiscriminately to all by the shamelessly generous Giver, who doesn't really care what you were, what you used to believe or not believe, or how you used to think. Just like none of us can stop the solstice from happening, none of us can stop God's compassionate giving of the divine Self. And, I might say that Christianity's enhancement of an already-great festival written into the cosmos is that whereas the solstice is just an annual event in a given hemisphere, Christmas isn't limited that way. Every day is Christmas! Every day can be the day when the God-gift can be given and received. But for me, having such a great thing happen in my life at solstice time will always make this season special upon special.

Merry Christmas to my beautiful wife Kelli who has opened my eyes and softened my heart, and to all of you. Thanks for your submissions to this special series. It's not over yet, though! Read on through Epiphany, and then stay around to see what follows.

Saturday
Dec252010

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

My church featured this in its 2009 Advent reader, with submissions by a range of the church’s members. Sharon, the editor of the reader and my self-appointed “Spiritual Mother Hen,” flattered me by putting it in the December 25th slot.

Christmas 1999 was the bottom for me. It pretty much didn’t get any worse, though it wasn’t the last time such despair and hopelessness was upon me. I was deep within my agnostic/atheist period. I never wanted to hear about God and the great things that await if I would just get out of the way of whatever God had planned for me.

At the time I lived with my elderly grandmother Virginia. Though we lived a few rooms apart, we were miles apart during those years. Years before, she used to be my friend and confidante. She was my champion and defender against the more testosterone-driven forces in my family. So it was all the more tragic that we had a deep division come between us in those last couple years of her life. She had caretakers who lived next door and, living out their evangelical calling, they included her in a lot of their family life. It was not lost on me that their offer was better than the pathetic state of affairs back home. They brought her a lot of sunshine, something which I was almost at a total loss to do then.

Christmas day pretty much came and went, and it was as alienating and depressing as any other day (perhaps more so since many places were closed and other friends were off doing their holiday celebrations). Usually at the last minute I was offered to join another’s party or family gathering. I was often an orphan because there was so little holding my family together then. That year I fell through the cracks even more than usual. There is only so much cheer to be had with an elderly grandmother who can’t cook or host anymore, and a father who never liked the holidays. There wasn’t a lot to work with.

My grandmother lived in a room that was a couple rooms over from the living room. She could not hear or see well and often did not know what was going on the house. I started a fire in the fireplace and got it going to a blaze and then, at 11 o’clock at night, and almost as if I was not at the controls, I walked into her den and summoned her to come to the living room (but didn’t mention the fire). She was confused and incredulous. After all, I had been a pretty downer neighbor and she had come to expect little of me. Her Christmas was over. After a few iterations of my offer she got up and shuffled out where she was greeted by the warm orange blaze and her rocking recliner. She looked delighted but perplexed.

What followed was a conversation that eventually evoked the good old times. She was rather incredulous for a while, but as we sat and talked, the emotional ice melted and for a while—for about four hours in fact—we had something we had not experienced for years since I began my journey into adulthood and had started living a secret life away from the adults in my life.

It is hard to say who gave and who received the one Christmas present that passed between us that night. Though that night had some lingering magic, it was not sustained during the last year and a half of her life. Somehow though it was enough to show me how far gone I was. Implicit was the need to change course. Virginia lived to see one more Christmas but it wasn’t in our house. In the years since, I have striven to never be so disconnected again. It was only a modest deed that started this long slow redemptive process for me. These days—far from my agnostic days—it is clear that God needed me back in the fold, and that was made possible by bringing someone else back into the fold!

That night was an unplanned and unrecognized acting out of both the winter solstice and the birth of Jesus: after the descent into darkness comes the light. The solstice is the condition of actual darkness. The birth of Jesus is the illuminating light that will draw us out of the spiritual darkness that surrounds us. People trust the solstice because it happens every year and does not require faith. But the light of Jesus has the power to break into even the darkest corners of our souls when we least expect it, and even fear it and reject it.

These days I savor Advent and Christmas. I practice a non-commercial Christmas so I am left with the time and energy to enjoy the company of others, get to church and to anticipate—if not to actually bring—the light that pierces the darkness.

Saturday
Dec252010

What Does a Dog Want With Christmas?

What does a dog want with Christmas?
A fruitcake, an iPod, a new sweater, and more?
Does the tree make the day special,
Or does the blow up Santa in the yard hold a special place in his heart?
What benefit is it to go to church with the candles and poinsettias,
The hymns and carols, the readings and the pageants?

Is Christmas Day any different in a dog’s world?
Does the day change the fact he wants to be petted and fed?
When all the fluff is stripped away, does our canine friend
Wish for anything but what he always wants—
Our time and care, our presence and love
Our undivided attention, our cuddly communion

Saturday
Dec252004

Christmas

ed, kelli, and okua the wolf dog dressed in dismal christmas morning wear. okua has a reindeer antler jingle bell headband. ed has piggy pants and a crimson bath robe. in the back yars. Kelli and Okua, the wolf dogKelli and I had a very satisfying Christmas. So did our rent-a-pup Okua, despite the long face. Okua got a bag of huge rawhide chews, a huge rope bone with big knots in it, a rawhide sleigh filled with puppy treats of all colors, and a puppy play toy candy cane. She made out like a bandit.

Kelli got the new Ray Lamontagne CD, an Ani DiFranco/Utah Phillips CD, a Foreman grill, some foofy chick stuff, and more foofy chick stuff. I got a crimson red robe, some DVDs, and a hand carved mahogany piggy from Brazil.

We did the church thing on Christmas eve, as we always do. Kelli did one of the readings, as she is now doing every year. She reads the part that sounds better being read by a woman. We went to the so-called Calabrese Compound for a Brazilian style Xmas eve dinner, ostensibly at midnight, though I think we were all done by then and on our ways home. There was too much delightful food, and this endlessly fun name game for the best name to bestow upon the chosen drink for the night, Southern Comfort and soy egg nog (Silk soymilk). Imagine every permutation of "Southern Comfort" and "Silk Soy Nog" and you can get the picture. The drink itself was actually pretty damned good. Imagine that, a holiday drink that's actually good for you! Anyhow, the greater Calabrese family has in one form or another been our lifeline to family events for the last year. Papa Phil has been very hospitable to Kelli and I for the time since we have gotten together. This year, he gave her away at the wedding, standing in for her own father who died some years ago. Phil and his partner Nancy have been sooooo good to us, inviting us to all sorts of family occasions. This dinner was actually at the house next door to his (this two house arrangement being the "compound"), the one where son Adam lives with his Brazilian wife. Anyhow, Adam and Carol hosted this party and it was just a great time on my favorite holiday. We came home and crashed almost immediately.

Then today, Kelli and I did the Christmas morning thing with the dog. It was just us this year. No parents of any sort. Okua made for some fun times as we tried to get pictures of her with the silly reindeer antlers. Usually those are Kelli's to wear. Either way, it's cute. Then we went off to dinner at yet another Calabrese house (sort of, Cindy and Phil aren't married any more, but they still are very good at keeping the family activities going and healthy) for even more dinner! This house was packed even more than the night before. Kelli used to live there for about a year, so we both were sort of at home there. There was some food we recognized from the night before (so much of the stuff), and a whole host of new stuff too. It was amazing. There must have been 20 people there. There wasn't any Comfort Nog, but the wine flowed well enough! I even dozed off uncharacteristically in the midst of all the commotion when it came time for gifts to be traded and opened.

And then we came home and crashed again!

I have to say how great it was for the entire Calabrese clan to have us over, again and again during the course of the year. They have been cause for a good time, but really more than that. They've been family to us. Phil even went so far to say during his toast at the wedding that he had sort of adopted us. Aw, sweet. Kelli has long had a closer relationship with the family, but I have known them through the church for as long as I can remember, and there were times back in high school days when Kelli and I were at their parties for Thanksgiving or maybe other times. We go pretty far back, but from back then, it was hard to know what all that was leading up to. A lot of really great holiday experiences have been had with them, or maybe with other members of the church. Kelli and I are sort of like orphans, what with her mom being on the other side of the country, and my old man being too cool for holidays or something. The last two years we have had holidays with her mom and my dad and step mom, but this year, we just went our own way for our first married Christmas. At least it will go down as a good one.