The last week of school, Emma told me she would guest post on my blog. This is a huge treat for all of us. Emma is a writer. She can make words beautiful in ways no one else can. She's also a really wonderful debate partner, club co-founder, event attender, off-roading-over-medians adventurer, and occasional confidant. Emma is that friend who I don't spend a lot of time with but who I can talk to about anything. And she has beautiful Tongan hair that is not straight and blonde, which is always a nice change in Utah. She's going to be at Columbia next fall, where I am sure she will do wonderful lovely world-changing things. If nothing else, she will be kind to everyone I she meets (she's that kind of person), which might be the most radical thing you can do as a freshman at an Ivy League college. I know I am very lucky to have Emma as a friend.
A good jacket, flour, Ms. Powers, and Microsoft Word are just a few examples. In their respective spheres (wardrobe, a Western diet, a Waterford education, computer programs), each is integral. Irreplaceable, and frankly, necessary. A staple.
I first heard the term “staple” thrown around by my dietician aunt, and then thrown around even more by Stacy and Clinton on TLC’s What Not to Wear. Staples have always been secretly fascinating to me. They’re mundane things, made incredible simply by the fact that we cannot seem to function properly without them. For instance, peppermint tea. Insignificant in and of itself, but I don’t know if I’d survive each dreary, polluted Sandy winter without it. Another example: black flats. They’re the cure-all to any fashion dilemma. Formal, casual, comfortable, simple, classic – I swear you could survive off black flats alone. They’re the rice and beans of the footwear department.
As I look back on them, my family’s Christmases all revolve around a few key staples. And really, that’s what I love about Christmas. Not the novelty, but the tradition. The holiday season is like one big play we perform, year after year, and the lines are sacred in their familiarity. We sing the same songs and say the same things and smile the same smiles and go the same places and make the same mistakes.
My Christmas staples are simple. They are insignificant, and mundane, and holy. They’re important because they’ve happened before, and will, without a shadow of a doubt, happen again again again.
So here they are. A few of them, at least. The Uluave-Miller Christmas staples.
I don’t remember when exactly, but one year my parents decided “From Mom” or “From Dad” wasn’t enough when it came to gift giving. So they started putting different names on the tags. Last year, I received presents from “Ms. Rands”, “College Board”, “Buddy and Spike” (our two pet doves), “Hanukah Harry”, and “Future Dwight”, as well as a variety of Clauses: Jammy Claus, Foodie Claus, AP Chem Claus, Mickey Claus, and even Obama Claus. Apparently Santa has quite an extensive network of gift bearing relatives.
This year I’m holding out for something from Tiffany Claus, but Harmon’s Claus is known to be a much more frequent visitor.
In true Miller fashion, I consider myself a Christmas music aficionado. And “Barenaked for the Holidays” is definitely my favorite Christmas CD. It lives in my car from about mid-November till December 26th, classic carols with some interesting twists. My favorite song has got to be “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlement/We Three Kings”. Sarah McLachlan even shows up about a minute into it, and I’m totally confident that it’s the best Sarah McLachlan song there is, and the only one that would not go well with a Humane Society commercial. Have a listen
Every year, under the tree, I find at least six very heavy, carefully wrapped cylindrical gifts. I don’t have to open them to know what they are: freeze dried, nutritionally dense, expiration date free cans of food. My parents don’t often stock the food storage closet in our basement, and Christmas seems to be their time of redemption. And there’s something really practical about turning groceries into Christmas presents. For one thing, it extends the present opening period by about fifteen minutes. And it certainly beefs up the haul under the tree a decent amount.
Geeky Movie Marathons
What film to watch after Christmas dinner is a pivotal decision. In fact, it’s arguably the most important choice you’ll make post-feast. In years of making bad decisions, my family has finally come to realize that nerdy sci-fi/fantasy series are really the way to go. They don’t require much effort on your part. They’re fun. They’re geeky. And the “series” part guarantees up to nine hours of entertainment (because let’s face it, at the end of a long Christmas, 137 minutes just isn’t going to cut it). Movies of Christmases past include Star Wars (never the prequel though – Hayden Christensen single handedly ruined II and III, and the Phantom Menace, while there was some potential, couldn’t hold a candle to the originals) and Lord of the Rings. This year I think it’ll have to be Firefly.
Moment of nerdy fangirling: Firefly is the greatest TV show that ever has existed or ever will exist. Like, really. I mean it. Seriously. Here. The pilot will be on hulu for another week or two (they rotate through the 14 episodes, five at a time). Damn you, Fox for canceling. Damn you.
Every year, in the toe of my over-sequined stocking, I find a shiny penny, because that’s what they got in Little House on the Prairie. I get a Clementine for the same reason.
Living in Germany for two years on an LDS mission, my dad picked up the tradition of Advent. The four Sundays leading up to Christmas we light a candle and read parts of the nativity story. It’s really a lovely tradition. When I go to college, I think I’ll be taking a copy of our Advent binder with me, and lighting candles in my dorm when the RA isn’t looking. We sing songs and read the familiar words. We listen to the Messiah, and everyone is under strict orders to conduct with both hands the “Unto Us a Child is Born” segment. It must be quite a sight, the five of us flailing wildly in the living room, belting Handel at the top of our lungs.
One night of Advent we always sing Silent Night. We begin with the first verse, followed by a verse of Silent Night in the language of your choosing. My dad opts for German, my mom for Spanish, my siblings for some variation of pig Latin and gibberish. It’s become my favorite hymn. Not Silent Night itself, but the version we sing. “Stille Nacht Noche de Paz Sirentonaitu Sillafailelefent Naillafait”.
Also, if you sing Silent Night to our doves, Buddy and Spike, they laugh. They don’t do it for any other song.
The Present I Bought for Myself
Some call it a perversion of the holiday to buy things for yourself, but I think it’s important to buy one gift for yourself each Christmas. For one thing, it’s fun. Christmas shopping for yourself is different from regular shopping. It’s special. You buy less and look harder for that one perfect thing. For a self-gift to be done right, you have to choose it carefully. You have to purchase it as carefully as you purchase gifts for the people you love, and you have to wrap it and not use it until Christmas morning. No peeking.
This year, I bought myself a ring. It looks like this
and I love it. Though I did realize about halfway through my fourth store that what I was really after was this:
It’s light blue for Columbia, and the card is affectionately signed, “From Self-Congratulatory Kate Middleton Wannabe Claus”.
I hate re-watching movies. I can’t handle it. There’s no point in watching a film if you know how it ends. My exception to this rule, however, is Christmas movies. Three of them. Elf, A Christmas Story, and Love, Actually. All are brilliant. The first two are entirely family friendly. Downright heartwarming. The last one is not. But it’s got Collin Firth. And it’s really, really funny. One year, my parents both got it for each other, so we own two copies. I think I love the fact that, of all the Christmas movies in the world, they both decided upon the irreverent, vulgar, R-rated British comedy. It’s heartwarming too.
This is how I want to be proposed to:
By now this blog post is way too long. So I’ll go away. Thanks for reading and all that. I’m leaving you with a quote from the above-mentioned movie. It’s fitting, I think, because the final, insignificant, wonderful staple of my family’s Christmases is, without a doubt, simple love.
And in all honesty, I just really love that movie.
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion... love actually is all around.”
Much love, and merry Christmas to you all.