Prepping for our upcoming unSUNg concert, a very multicultural affair, Ariel and I have been exploring a number of ways that people celebrate different parts of December. It’s also led to no small bit of nostalgia.
When I was growing up, my mother bought two gorgeous cross stitch Advent calendars as kits in Solvang, each decked with more than a dozen whimsical elves who delivered candy on little hoops, one for each day between December 1 and 24. Once she had spent hours stitching up the wonderful pieces, she would fill them up at the end of November, hanging them near the kitchen in December’s wee hours.
So for many years, we arrived for breakfast on December 1st to find a collection of individually wrapped hard candies, caramels, and always a mini candy cane on the 24th, each tied with a little red ribbon. We each had a calendar to ourselves, and we emptied them steadily as the month wore on and we inched (ever so slowly, it seemed) toward Christmas Eve.
While the calendars haven’t faced the years very well, and are now spotted and frayed around the edges of the red taffeta that backs them, the memories are strong. My sister now has established other seasonal traditions with her own four children, and the first of the merriest month is still a reminder to me, every year, to start sprucing up the place — even if the spruce is a little 3-foot artificial tree that sits on a table near my front door.
My decorations have become more diverse over the years, including some Hannukah tchotchkes that are treasured gifts from my ex-husband’s family and friends at the various temples where I’ve sung over the years. I will avoid the conceit of decorating for everything, but I do reserve the right to admire and appreciate others’ traditions from afar. And what I have come to believe is that the many rituals and visual symbols of our diverse end-of-year traditions are as important as what they portray. Decorations are important.
In a year like this, it may feel too exhausting to tackle the decorating as well as wrangling everything else, especially since we’re spending far more time at home, and space may be at a premium. But don’t give it up entirely. Even just a few little favorite bits, grouped here and there, can lift your spirits and reconnect you with loved ones far away. Don’t neglect your nostalgic self. It can reinvigorate your imagination and remind you why you make music in the first place.