The Christmas season has caught me by surprise this year. It always does. I figure I should start hauling out the decorations after I notice that my Jewish neighbors across the street have put up their tree.
While most people relish the Christmas holidays, I find them a bit overwhelming. First, I feel immense pressure to decorate. I’m a minimalist by nature so the idea of stuffing my living room with a bunch of Noel–themed tchotchkes is anathema to me. When my kids were young, I had no choice. But now that they’re older and their tastes have become more refined (ahem, like mine), I can afford to be selective with my Christmas decorating.
I put out a modest, little wooden crèche on my mantel, which my mother purchased for me so I would never forget the true meaning of Christmas and that I was baptized a Roman Catholic. And then I rely on my daughter, Meg, to do the rest.
Meg is almost 14 and still has one foot in childhood. She loves the magic of Christmas even though her mother is a Scrooge. Every year, Meg breaks out the Christmas music and decorates the tree. My husband helps with the lights while my son, Kerry, and I find other important things to do. Meg finds places for my carefully curated Christmas collection and transforms our home into a veritable Santa’s workshop that has been stripped down to wooden benches with some red and green accents.
I buy all family and friend presents, and generally speaking, I do not like to shop. I manage this by shopping a little on the Internet and visiting the Mall in two-hour chunks during off-peak hours and taking regular breaks. I spend a fair amount of time planning my purchases in advance so I usually know what I’m going to buy before I enter a store. This makes for a more efficient shopping experience.
I’ll also go downtown for a morning of shopping, but never all day. I find it too tiring and am unable to carry everything. Even though I’m not a big shopper, I do like to give thoughtful gifts. I realize this stands in the face of everything I’ve just told you, but the recipients of my gifts always seem to like my presents, at least that’s what they say.
I try to get all of my shopping done before the kids break for Christmas and then plan some outings with the family to enjoy the season. One of my favorite outings took place five years ago where I forced my husband and children to do a walking tour of Chinatown through San Francisco City Guides, which is an incredible free resource, by the way. I even managed to drag my two older stepchildren along for the ride.
We traveled to the oldest Chinatown in North America on a crisp, sunny winter day and followed an extremely knowledgeable guide around the back alleys visiting Chinese herbal shops, temples and historical sites. Our kids rolled their eyes throughout the tour and mocked me for my choice of activity until we came to the fortune cookie factory.
This intrigued my family, especially when they learned you could buy X-rated fortune cookies, which featured suggestive messages. The fortune cookie factory owner implored us in her heavy Chinese accent to buy her “Sexy Fortune Cookies.” In the spirit of the season, my husband bought several packages. Thus, my tour had been redeemed and forever inscribed in our children’s “Fond Memories of Christmas…Growing up Crowley” book (destined to become a bestseller).
Afterwards, we walked down to the waterfront full of laughter and fun and took our Christmas card picture. We made our way to South Beach, home of AT&T Park and my friend Janet’s famous ballpark restaurant, MoMo’s, where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch.
As we were eating, my son spied Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback , four-time Super Bowl champ and hero to all San Franciscans, Joe Montana, casually eating lunch across the dining room with his wife Jennifer. We played it cool even though we were anything but, and did not bother them. We kept stealing glances in the Montanas’ direction and reporting to each other on every move that Joe made.
We finished our meal and left before the Montanas, proving that we weren’t so star struck that we needed to linger. Besides, we had to get home and begin making enchiladas for our traditional Mexican Christmas Eve feast.
Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun and Feliz Navidad!
Some of my favorite Christmas music is featured on the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait album. I think Karen Carpenter had a voice like silk and left us way too early. Enjoy her haunting version of “Little Altar Boy.”