Monday, December 20, 2010

With Care

Earlier this month the internet sang with discussion of advent calendars. On about the 3rd of the month I tweeted, "Will someone remind me next year that I want to make advent calendars, preferably before December 1st?" The Amber Show promised she would. Maybe I should invite her over for an adventing party. In July.

More recently I was having a conversation in real life about stocking traditions. How the whole experience of the stocking morphs or sometimes fades away entirely as you get older and depending who you hang out with. I don't think I've had an advent calendar or a stocking for years. Well, caveats, always caveats.

After the expose on Santa (no idea how old I was), rather than diminish, the stocking activity increased. By the time I was in my twenties my mother had gone so hog wild with the stocking stuff that she just made a huge mound of candy and toiletries and sundries and draped the stocking over it like a g-string on a hippopotamus. While not so extravagant Queen Bee still does stockings for her kids and for me that's one of the best parts of Christmas morning. She leaps on their beds and tosses the stocking at them and begs them to wake up and see what Santa brought, see see!!!! I like to take pictures. The stocking is filled up with shaving cream and new toothbrushes and deodorant, maybe some undies. How does Santa know what kind of razor you use? He's magic! There's usually something more frivolous in there but nothing crazy and yet, still my favorite part. One year Queen Bee's sister decided we needed an injection of "Nanny Stockings" in honor of their mother so she made us all a "Nanny Stocking." Each one was so big it was delivered in a garbage bag. It was long on underwear and hand sanitizer then included a tape measure, soap, even a hat and a work out towel, I think, all sorts of stuff. Nanny stockings always include underwear and plenty of it. Sometimes socks. That's the kind of thing I grew up with and absolutely love. I hate, even resent a little, having to shell out cash relentlessly on toothpaste and bras and facial moisturizer. So having Santa bring it to you is a hoot, plus he garnishes the acne soap with m&ms or something, which is awesome.

I realize this isn't the way some people do stockings. The evolution of the stocking in ChemE's family has brought it up to an art. A slightly pricey art. Often you find personal-sized condiments in your stocking. That's a throwback to when ChemE was a very picky eater and Auntie Blanche advised Santa to include lots of ketchup in her stocking. Usually there's other food, gourmet jam or cheese, and something to spread or cut it with. Alcohol can make its way in there. I think one year someone got a camera, but I might be making that up, that might have been a stocking-adjacent gift. The key to these stockings, though, is that they draw names for them so you're only ever making up one schmancy stocking per Christmas and you're not likely to have to make one up for the same person two years in a row.

As for advent calendars, my fascination is partly my nature and partly Pony Express's fault. My mom had a couple of paper advent calendars when I was a kid and she carefully stowed them each year and brought them out again. Often one was hung by the front door for some reason but I think we opened the little windows in the evening, right before bed. There was nothing behind the door, just a picture, but my Capricorn sensibilities reveled in the punctuation on each day. Then when I lived with Pony Express as an adult there came a time when she and her cousin began to exchange advent calendars. No paper doors with mass-produced head shots of Saint Nick for them. Each year was a challenge. First you found a receptacle - fishing tackle box, pocketed quilt, chinese food containers - then you chose what to put in it - fortunes, chocolate, toys, jewelry, rubber chicken lollipop holder - and you had it all ready to exchange in person right after Thanksgiving. I was like that itchy little kid who wants to play ball with the big kids but hasn't got the skills. I nearly drooled on every item as the calendars were assembled at our kitchen table amid the detritus of our Thanksgiving feast.

Did I ever make one? No. Have I made stockings for anyone? Absolutely not. Why? Because I am stupid. I forgot how much joy I get out of this sort of thing. Also, I overthink the process and want to do it for too many people or make each item too extravagant. Not to mention my lack of prior planning (see conversation with Amber on December THIRD for heaven's sake).

I entered a small Secret Santa project this year. It was part of my Year of Yes and (previously unmentioned) Christmas Rehab programs and I finished my shopping for it today. There's a very small financial limit but I wanted it to be something the person would have fun opening and I found a surprising number of cool small things to include. (I promise I didn't buy everything at the drug store.) But, more intriguing to me, I had so much fun doing it. More fun than might be strictly legal, especially at this time of year.

So next year? You're all getting advent calendars and stockings! What kind of shaving cream do you use?


  1. when I was single and living alone, my best friend had come over a few days before Christmas. She asked me if I filled my own stocking, I told her no, it was just a long standing habit to hang it for decoration. Imagine my surprise when Christmas evening I noticed that my stocking was quite full. Santa managed to find a middle aged single person's house on Christmas eve after all. I have NO idea when she did it or how she got in. But 20 years later I still remember the kindness and love it took to do it.

  2. We still do stockings in my family. Daughters each send a box that is chock full of fun stuff. My sister does the same. I start buying stuff for "stockings" shortly after Christmas.

  3. Stocking-adjacent gift. My new favorite word. It's perfect... too big to be a stocking gift, not quite substantial enough to warrant real wrapping paper.

  4. the moms do stockings in the boything's and my families. his mom usually does fun stuff, useful stuff, and some sort of potted meat. my mom goes nuts with candy, gloves, and usually one random moderately expensive gift. last year she filled my stocking with mostly candy and baking-related items.

  5. my friend Megan and I exchange stockings, cause I missed getting one from my parents once they passed and cause Megan's husband didn't feel like doing one for her. So now it's our little tradition :-)