Let me set the tone right off the bat here: this post has absolutely nothing to do with Covid because I would like to keep Christmas untouched by it on this blog even though in reality, Covid has invaded Christmas’ personal space entirely. Instead, this post has everything to do with holiday norms and traditions when we were youngins versus the adult versions now because I have come to learn over the years that it slowly drifts away from what it used to be without even realizing it. This isn’t to say it is totally a bad thing…it’s just different. Most of you can probably relate to some of these things I’m about to share, but if not, think about your then versus now. I hope this brings you some laughter and a solid five minutes without thinking about the disease that shall not be named.
Making Christmas Cookies
Back in the good old days of Barbies and cartwheels; my mom, Christopher, and I dedicated one night to turn the kitchen into a mess of dough, flour, and sprinkles. My mom would make the dough, while my brother and I suited up in our aprons with our mini rolling pins and cookie cutters at the counter ready to fill the special Christmas cookie jar with cookies from our family’s secret sugar cookie recipe. While Christopher was pretty tidy and good at his job, I on the other hand, got flour everywhere it shouldn’t be, ate probably way too much dough, made blue trees, yellow mistletoes, and angels that were too thin and burned alive in the oven. I loved the quality time with my mom and my brother and was so proud of my ugly looking cookies. I protected them so no one else could eat them but me. The best part about it back then, was that my definition of making cookies was doing nothing except the decorating.
I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make cookies this year because I realized the ingredients, sprinkles, and cookie cutters still lived at my parent’s house and I would actually have to make the dough myself rather than have it magically appear before me like it used to. I convinced myself to follow through with my mission and made it happen by roping Jeff into helping me, and going grocery shopping at Casa de Casey for the ingredients-where everything is free. While pulling the cookies out of the oven definitely was a lot more anti climactic and less magical than it used to be, it was still a lot of fun sharing one of my favorite childhood experiences with Jeff, and proving to myself that I can make something edible. As much as I hate to say it, the dazzle of this experience has dimmed since I’ve gotten older, and I now make my Christmas trees green rather than blue which is the true indicator that I have reached adulthood.
As a kid I loved Christmas Eve, and honestly, probably more than Christmas. The anticipation of all that was to come was one of the best feelings. I was giddy knowing Santa was coming that night, imagining waking up to all the amazing gifts I would get, seeing half eaten carrots as proof that Rudolph was actually in my house, and knowing we were leaving for Kentucky to see all my family- it made me too excited to sleep. Because of that, I would make myself stay up super late (11 was midnight to me back then), and I would try to catch Santa in the act by sneaking around the house without my parents seeing me, which I never found out if they knew I did that or not. The naivety of it all back then made being a kid so much fun. My biggest concerns were if I would get all the gymnastics equipment or sparkly new leotards that I wanted. Somewhere along the way, the grinch must have bitten me or something because that giddy feeling of anticipation slowly started to fade.
Now that I am officially an adult, I gotta say, I am a little confused on how everything is supposed to play out. There is no Santa rulebook that declares what age or stage of life you should stop correcting your kids that Santa got it and not the parents when they call it out. It definitely will have a different feel this year since Christmas Break isn’t a thing in the work world, and I won’t be with the Sparrow side of the family because of it. I feel everything from my childhood is starting to become permanently a memory rather than a reality as deep and sad as that sounds. I mean, I definitely could lay out the carrots at my apartment, but I am pretty sure they won’t eat themselves now that I know Rudolph never did make it into my house. I could stay up late trying to watch for Santa out my window, but the only thing I would find is the sunrise the next morning and no Santa. I could lay my shoes out by the front door for Saint Nick to fill up but I’d still have a chocolate-less empty shoe, but rather, a full reminder to work out. You get it, at some point, special days that we had as kids become regular days as an adult, and for that, I whole heartedly wish I could zap myself into Little Lauren again who was excited over half eaten carrots. But hey, at least I still have the Disney Princess tree to blast me to the past.
The Christmas List:
Oh the joy of the Toys R Us , GK, and Target catalogs. I would spend so much time flipping through the pages with a pen and circling everything I wanted as well as putting a bunch of stars around what I REALLY wanted. My list back then was filled with anything and everything from American Girl, gadgets I’d see in commercials between my episodes of “Spongebob,” or crafts which ended up on the shelf (and still are there). It later turned into gymnastics equipment to fulfill my dream of a home gym, and ITunes gift cards for the days I used to spend hours downloading songs to my brand new Ipod nano. Clothes were no where to be found on my list unless they had “gymnast” on it. I hated getting clothes back then, specifically “church clothes” that I had to pose with every time I opened them, or anything fancy that was farthest away from a leotard. I didn’t care how expensive or ridiculous my asks were, even the 9 ft tall uneven bar set that I figured we’d just put it in the basement with an 8 ft tall ceiling and call it good.
Now that I am paying for my rent, groceries, car, gas, and all the other things I wish I didn’t have to pay for; my list has changed. If it was socially acceptable to put my grocery list, a few months of car payments, or a month of rent on my Christmas List, I would, and I am not kidding. I’d be overjoyed if I unwrapped a brand new bottle of laundry detergent and toilet paper, or pulled out of my stocking a giant roll of trash bags or shampoo, because that stuff is expensive! I’ve reached the age where clothes are the most exciting thing on my list, followed by kitchen cookware, bed sheets, replacements for things that broke, and car mats. Since starting my job and living on my own, I have learned that every dollar truly counts, and I now see holidays as chances to get what I want rather than need because my salary goes to all the things I need rather than want…except at Target. I miss the days where I was too embarrassed to unwrap a bra, fancy underwear, or pull razors out of my stocking in front of my family and they’d all go “ohhhhh Lauren what’s that for?” as my face turned the color of Rudolph’s nose.
One of my favorite things about Christmas was all the good food I got to scoop onto my plate that my Gram made and ultimately did not eat because my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Back then; I didn’t know what food allergies were or that I had them, calories were not in my vocabulary, and Instagram was not a thing which meant diet culture was not all up in my face 24/7. Christmas dinner at Gram’s is quite a sight to see for all those who aren’t accustomed to it – it is like Thanksgiving on steroids. This was the one time a year I got to eat all my favorite southern dishes such as broccoli casserole, Gram’s homemade mac and cheese, sweet potato casserole, banana croquettes, “cranberry fluff”, pineapple pretzel salad, her fluffy mashed potatoes with a pool of butter, cornbread dressing, and of course there was turkey and country ham but I didn’t like those because they weren’t carbs. If you thought that was a lot, dessert was so overwhelming and I never knew where to start! Rum cake, chess pie, Japanese fruit pie, carrot cake, peanut butter fudge, Gram’s christmas cookies, chocolate cherries, white chocolate pretzels, five versions of cookies and donuts from the famous Burkes Bakery, and boiled custard all made an appearance. I miss the days where I ate everything I wanted, and as much as I wanted, with no worries at all about how I’d feel, both physically and emotionally the next day. I also miss the days of getting my own gingerbread man to bite the head off of.
Everything I have listed above has not changed. The Christmas dinner table still is full from edge to edge with all my favorites, but now, my body has decided to reject dairy which eliminates all my favorites except the country ham and turkey which I never touched back then. That right there is karma. On top of that, it’s hard to ignore all the social media posts about new years resolution weight loss, calories in your Christmas dinner meal, making healthier versions of everything, and all the other hooey that Instagram and Facebook nail into our minds. It causes us to look at things subjectively rather than objectively- one meal will not make you gain 10 lbs like we all think, people! Yeah, it’s important to watch how much you eat in a meal, but more for the reason of not upchucking while opening gifts after dinner, not because calories are the devil. It’s been a battle the past couple years learning to enjoy the moment and not stress over food due to calorie counting and my dairy dilemma, but I have gotten used to my new “now” and have found other ways to enjoy myself like wearing questionable sweaters. I definitely will miss even the sight of the Christmas table spread this year since I will be stuck in MN, but I know my mom will snapchat me some broccoli casserole- same thing, right?…
Christopher and Lauren’s Button Factory
For those of you who have not seen or received buttons over the years, they are a grid pretzel with a melted Hershey Hug topped with a holiday M&M. They really should come with a warning label because they are highly addictive. Back in the day, my parents would take one night a year to get Christopher and I all set up to make buttons so they could escape and go on a Christmas shopping sprint since we kept them too busy on weekends with all day gymnastics meets, basketball tournaments, and math help for those dang word problems about marbles or oranges that made me cry. Christopher and I would make these for hours on hours straight, and never got tired of it. He was head chef, aka, was in charge of handling all things in the oven, and I was his sidekick. We cranked up the Christmas tunes and the hours flew by as I unwrapped hundreds of hershey hugs while standing on my step stool so I could reach the counter. I have always looked up to my brother, and I loved this time with him because I thought he was so cool for knowing how to use the oven. We would give our finished products to all our extended family, friends, and of course, fill our Christmas treat bowl with them so I could eat them before dinner when my mom wasn’t looking.
The button factory unfortunately lost a partner once we got to the age where we were old enough to be without a babysitter or needed to stay entertained while there was no parental supervision. Instead, I have kept the tradition running all by myself and still have loyal consumers. I gave them to all my friends, and sorority sisters in college, as well as professors and staff at Gustavus because the way to a person’s heart is always chocolate. This year, I made them in my apartment for my family, friends, and Jeff to get him addicted, too. It was nice to have a sliver of normalcy even though everything around me is different, including the fact that this was the first year I made them anywhere other than my childhood home, and burned myself on a different oven than the one I’m used to burning myself on once I got to the age where I could reach it without a step stool. While I still enjoy making them every year, and still probably will for as long as my fingers are able to unwrap that finicky foil, I miss the days where my brother was right there beside me yelling at me to not go near the oven.
I think it is pretty obvious that as an elementary school kid, I did not have an income except for the cash I’d get in my holiday cards or the penny I’d find in the Target parking lot. With that, my definition of gift giving was picking out something my mom bought to put my name on and say I got it for them. Half the time, I didn’t even know what I was giving people and was just as surprised as they were when they opened it. Christmas was about receiving and not giving….the closest I ever got to giving a gift was wrapping (badly) to help out. As much as I don’t like admitting it, I bypassed the true meaning of Christmas, and as they say on “The Bachelor”: I was in it for all the wrong reasons- being getting as many presents as possible.
There’s this thing in psychology called buyers remorse: buying something and once the act is done, instantly regretting it. I experience this every time I get anything for myself, but never when I get something for others. This is not a good thing for my bank account, and I have realized that this year more than ever now that I pay for my own things to help me survive. Even knowing that I was on a budget and didn’t have to go all out for my family, I still chose to buy the perfect gifts rather than make sure I had enough money for groceries this month (whoops). It’s hard to refrain from buying more or nicer things for the people in my life who have already given me so much. I’m now at the point where I would rather give than receive anything at all (unless it’s my groceries, you can buy me toothpaste any time you’d like) because watching the look on my friend’s and family’s face as they receive the gift they didn’t know they needed or wanted is enough satisfaction for me, such as, much needed fashion upgrades, or pjs with my face all over them. Eventually, the goal is that my whole family and friends will be hit with Lauren face socks.
This isn’t exactly Christmas related, but society has seemed to pair Christmas with snowmen and snowflakes. When I was little, I was a snow bunny. I was out there for hours sledding and launching myself off homemade sketchy and totally unsafe ramps with the neighborhood crew, making elaborate connecting igloo forts, and fancy snow KY wildcats and MN gophers. I’d bring my snowpants to school everyday because our elementary school had a giant hill that we could sled down at recess or body slide down the one part of pure ice. I didn’t care how frostbitten I got (except for the one time my mom found a scream crying Lauren at the back door in the dark because I could’t get my glove back on and my hand was traumatized). As nerdy as it may be, shoveling snow was one of my favorite things to do, and after I got done with our driveway with my mini shovel, I would go do the neighbors’ just for the heck of it. Maybe the key to getting kids to do chores is to make all things miniature, because it would not have been as fun for me if I had to use something other than a “Lauren sized” shovel. By the end of 4+ hours outside; my hair would have icicles on it, my snowpants would be soaked, and every part of my body would be frozen, but it was all worth the hot chocolate with mini marshmallows (See? Mini is better!).
I now have turned into one of those people that takes in the first snowfall from the comfort of the great indoors; warm cup of coffee in hand, the fireplace going (I don’t have one so I pretend my candle makes up for it), and all the other cozy vibe things that millennials do. I can safely say I have outgrown my purple overall snowpants, and my answer to Frozen’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is a big no. It makes no sense as to why I love Minnesota and don’t want to move anywhere else because I hate being cold. The last time I went sledding was at Gustavus my freshman year on a cafeteria tray down the hill of Old Main. I must admit, I liked the rush I got from trying to dodge the concrete benches on the way down, and it was the same rush I got when I was trying to dodge trees when I was little. While I can definitely live without skiing, tubing and sledding- the one thing that I will sacrifice my warmth for is ice skating, and hopefully Lake Harriet and Centennial freeze over soon!
This one has always been a love hate relationship. Every year we have made the 13-15 hour (the hours got shorter because we got better at getting our bladders on the same schedule as we got older) trek down south, which is always an adventure in itself. Over the years, we have gotten stuck overnight on the interstate, found out what “homeless week” was for colleges leading to all hotels being booked all the way to MN, I got into the wrong van at the rest stop, have gotten stuck in Chicago traffic, caught stomach flu mid trip, and put Gracie in a beach bag with a bunch of other stuffed animals to sneak her into hotels. The part I enjoyed about the drive years ago was getting to do all the things I never got to do which was text my friends and current crush all day long on my new flip phone, watch movies on my portable DVD player, and pick out my favorite snacks at our favorite gas stations (Yes, we did have our staple gas stations. No, they were not Casey’s). What I disliked about it back then was being stuck with my family for a day – sorry, guys, your talk radio and adult conversations annoyed me – and the fact that I couldn’t do cartwheels whenever I wanted because I was strapped to a seat for longer than my legs wanted to be.
Everything has seemed to flip. I now love being stuck with my family for a day because that rarely ever happens anymore, and it’s like one giant catch up session that usually leads to a vent sesh, love life gossip, life advice, or reminiscing on the good old days. I love getting to sit there with my butt glued to the seat and do absolutely nothing until my legs go numb rather than feel the need to go do something because nowadays, my body and brain never get to rest as I am on the go all the time. It’s the perfect excuse to have 0 responsibilities (especially since I have never been asked to drive since I got my license 6 years ago…should I be offended?) It actually makes me sad that I won’t be able to go with the rest of my family this year because I like the quality time with them and the FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. On the bright side: Gracie will finally get a seat to put her doggie car seat in this year rather than putting her dog bed in the middle of the seats on a cardboard box!
Christmas with the Caseys
With half my family in the north, and half in the south, we alternate years for where we will be on Christmas Eve. But before we head on down to Kentucky, we always have a Casey get together. Being the youngest cousin, it always took me a solid hour to “warm up” and get the nerve to go interact with the older cousins, or honestly anyone, without my brother or mom being there to hide behind them. Once I finally did come out of my shell, I’d show them all my new gymnastics tricks (in full Christmas attire, not sure how I made that work). Casey celebrations were my favorite to go to because they never failed to make me laugh, especially during the Yankee Swap. For those who don’t know what a Yankee Swap is; there is a gift bank and each person takes turns trying to roll dice to get doubles. Once you get doubles, you can either pick a gift from the bank, or steal someone else’s. One of the perks from being the youngest, was that no one wanted to steal from me since there seemed to be an unwritten rule that it was illegal to steal from “cute little Lauren.” During this madness, you best believe there was full on family roasting going on, bartering, sarcastic comments, and weird gifts that began to appear in Yankee Swaps years to follow such as the magic head scratcher. While I did not say much during the entire night, I did occasionally like to drop my one liners that made the whole room burst out laughing.
Thankfully I’ve gotten past the stage of being too shy to say hi to anyone without my mom’s help. Since the days of tumbling in my Christmas dress; more Caseys have been added to the family, all cousins are out of college, and significant others have joined the madness making for an even more eventful Yankee Swap that still lives on. I now get my own stupidly practical gifts to contribute to the pile instead of piggy backing off my parents and ending up with our gift because I liked it for myself. Other than that, things haven’t really changed and when it comes to Caseys, and I’m not sure if it ever will which is comforting in a weird way. Dylan and Sam still sarcastically show their appreciation for the hand soaps they got but don’t want, Uncle Chip still tries to persuade everyone to take the fuzzy socks, and the unwritten rule of “don’t steal from little Lauren” is still alive. I’m excited to bring Jeff to his first Casey yankee swap because the 80th birthday party that included unnecessarily competitive croquet was just a warm up.
Christmas in the South
As long as I can remember, I have always had a green Christmas. Being in Danville, Kentucky for Christmas was always a non-negotiable no matter what was going on during the year, how much homework I had, if I was sick (one year the stomach flu led to upchucking on the curb at a McDonalds in the rain), or if I had a gymnastics meet coming up and missed a chunk of practices. This was the one time a year where schedules always lined up for everyone since the kiddos of the family were all on break. It was one of my favorite times of the year because I got to see all my family that I rarely see, sit on Grandad’s lap in his favorite chair while he read the paper, scooter or run around the Centre College campus, help Gram make “Big Breakfast” (by help I mean supervise), eat the best donuts in the world from Burke’s Bakery, play home run derby in the yard with my dad an brother only to lose the ball over the fence because the neighbors had a scary dog, wear my new matching “something” with my cousin Fielden, and drive the electric red toy jeep around the cul de sac with a cousin riding shot gun. This is how it went every single year until the whole getting older thing happened.
I told myself back then that I probably wouldn’t have to worry about things changing until I was “old and 20 something.” Well, that time that I never thought would come, has came, and my seven year old self would now consider me an old lady. This year, I won’t be going to Kentucky because I have this new addition to my life called a job, and unfortunately life insurance does not have a Christmas Break. But even then; things have, and are, still changing around me and will continue to as Grandad has been gone for several years now, family has moved, and my “little cousin” as I’d always say is in college which makes me feel like the old lady my seven year old self believes I am. I also now have someone to kiss at New Years instead of Gracie! This adds to the mix having more than my family to gladly share the holidays with which changes the who, what, and where to celebrate every year. As time goes on, work will probably continue to get even busier, and schedules aligning like they did when we were kids will become even less common. I’ve accepted that it just comes with adulthood as our lives become less intertwined.
Psychology says: we are less stressed, and we succeed, when we anticipate change rather than trying to keep everything the same. This has held true this year more than ever because of you know what, but also the fact that a lot of us are just experiencing normal life changes! As a kid, there was no way I could anticipate the fact I’d start to date some dude from a town I’d never heard of in my life in the middle of a pandemic, or that I would be an IT consultant rather than a sport psychologist and D1 college gymnastics coach like I thought I would be. I find it so weird how things can change right before our eyes and we don’t even realize it until hindsight. My dad told me a few years ago that circumstances would change once jobs and significant others entered the picture, and that it is OK that things will change, and still is OK that not everything works out like it used to. Hearing that has made the transition from childhood to adulthood a lot easier and less stressful with less feelings of guilt. The one thing I am still trying to cope with? The ugly after effects of believing that my dairy issues have magically gone away for a day and fully participating in a dairy loaded Christmas dinner despite the fact that I know that’s probably not the case!
Happy Christmas, y’all, and I sincerely wish everyone in the entire world a happy NEW year! May 2021 bring you more time with friends, family, maskless trips to public places, ample toilet paper supply, less Terrible Tuesdays, fulfilled resolutions, happy hours with coworkers, and whatever the heck normal is supposed to be now!
One thought on “Christmas: Then and Now”
Wow, Lauren, you covered it all! Enjoyed reading the past/ present and seeing those pictures. Even though I know you have grown up- and beautifully so- I still see you and Christopher like those early pictures. I guess I want to stay younger, too?! Sorry we will not be seeing you , but glad you have someone to kiss besides Gracie. Have a wonderful New Year and many blessings!
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