Christmas Traditions: A New One for Me and Mine

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So if you didn’t gather from the last post, I love Christmas!! I love the lights. I love the combining smells of cinnamon and conifer. Of course, I love every excuse to bake all things yummy and pretty. But what I love best are the stories. No shock there as I am a writer. In fact, every year that I am able I reread Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and A Cricket on the Hearth. This year I am adding, In the Dark Streets Shineth, if I can manage it, to my grown up Christmas reading.

But more than that I am adding two new Christmas traditions. Before I tell you what they are though, I am going to riff on tradition a bit.

I’m not one who is all for tradition for tradition’s sake. Too often we get stuck doing things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. But thoughtful, meaningful rituals that mark the passing of the year can have a powerfully positive affect on our lives. Traditions connect us to our heritage. They remind of the struggles of the past, where we came from, and help us keep perspective as we move into the future. When we disregard tradition simply because it is old, we may call it out-dated, we lose the part of ourselves that is humble enough to learn from and honor the past and those that have gone before. And Christmas is a great time both to show reverence to that past and also to learn from its mistakes.

So this year, since my goals for the New Year mostly center on being the kind of mother I want to be, I am starting a new tradition with my kids. I have a pretty impressive collection of Christmas books. It is time they saw the light of day, and lit up my children’s lives. So this year, and I hope every year from now on, I will engage in a kind of literary advent calendar. A Christmas story every night. I do have a few that are a bit longer, and may take more than one night to read. And despite my kid’s young ages, I anticipate miraculous results. We will culminate with the story of the first Christmas read from the Bible on Christmas Eve. I will pop in each week to tell you which books we read and how they went.

For my second new tradition I wanted to start a yearly event for this blog. My favorite blogs have something that they do every year that is either fun or meaningful, so I figured, me too! So every day this week we will hear from a different author about the Christmas traditions they remember from childhood or do with their kids or whatever! Anyone who comments on the post will be entered into a drawing. We have four wonderful e-book prizes: The Anika Arrington bundle including The Accidental Apprentice and Mechanized Masterpieces- A Steampunk Anthology, Tamara Passey’s The Christmas Tree Keeper, Margaret Turley’s Never Again, or Diane Jortner’s Chimmeken Crossing the Delaware: An American Historical Fantasy. Winners will be announced on Sunday Dec. 7th. I hope you will enjoy getting to know how the Christmas Spirit is kept alive in their lives as much as I have. And that it inspires some new Christmas traditions of your own! Good Luck and happy reading!

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Thanksgiving vs. Christmas: What season is it anyway?

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I got this comic as it cruised around Facebook. I just love the pie in the corner.

I have been meditating on this topic for some time. Pretty much since August when the first hints of merchandise hit the less visible store shelves, and my knee-jerk reaction was to throw ornaments at the stock-clerk. I’ve seen a social media post here or there about how it really doesn’t bother people.

“Commercialism has no effect on me!”

“Why not have one big holiday season that never really ends? It’s great!”

“It’s all the same, because all good things come from the same source.”

Perhaps it is because my natal day rests smack in the middle of the month of November that I feel a strange fidelity to Thanksgiving as a distinct entity. Or maybe I have a greater appreciation than many of my city dwelling friends for the blessing of the harvest. I am married to a farm boy. Perhaps I am just a Grinch at heart (you know, one that’s a few sizes too small). But the longer I ponder the more I believe it is my personal reverence for Christmas that leads me to shriek angry epithets at the giant candy canes that appear in the Target parking lot the day after Halloween.

You see I believe, whole heartedly, that familiarity breeds contempt, or at the very least, apathy. Human brains (especially adult brains) can only see the same stuff over and over again before they weed it out as white noise. Which means for me, all holiday decorations become white noise somewhere around November 20th. AND IT IS PISSING ME OFF BECAUSE I LOVE CHRISTMAS.

My adamance regarding the start of the season being solidly the day after Thanksgiving stems from a belief that the Christmas season is sacred. As the northern hemisphere darkens we look towards the light of Christ. We ponder the truth that like each of us he came into the world an innocent babe. Through miraculous and simultaneously humble circumstances he entered mortality. Yet unlike us, as he grew and learned he retained his innocence. He led a life of such goodness that all the universe became burdened with love for him. And that perfect love allowed him to break the bands of death, suffer for our transgressions, and then claim us as his own before the Father, that we might share in His glory.

The world cannot produce the preciousness of the Christ child. It cannot replicate the whisperings of the Holy Spirit that draw us nearer to our maker and teach us eternal truths. All the world can make is stuff that will eventually end up in a landfill. (Now envision Jim Carry’s green hairy face as he says, “You see what I’m saying here? In your garbage.”) And yet for some reason it is as if the corporate world thinks that they can copy/paste the trappings of a holy day enough times to make us think it is December 20th, and spend our dollars accordingly.

Yes we hang lights, we trim trees, we give gifts, but this should all be done with the meaning of each symbol in our minds and on our lips to our families and friends. That is not possible when “Grandma Got Run-over by a Reindeer” has been on the radio since November 1st. Keeping the season small forces us to keep it sacred. Minimizing the time we have for the trappings helps us prioritize.

By this point there are some (most) of you that are thinking that I am a total kill-joy. “What about Santa? What about Rudolph and Frosty cartoons? Can’t we at least sing Jingle Bells without you jumping down our throats?” I get it. I do. And I am all for children pouncing on their parents at 5am Christmas morning screaming Christmas carols and “look what Santa brought me!” But here’s the deal. Kids make their own magic, when the adults make meaning. When the grownups in their lives make things spiritual, their instinct is wide-eyed wonder. To me that is what Christmas is. It is viewing our Savior with the innocent astonishment of children who are understanding for the first time that angels, REAL ANGELS, appeared to shepherds who were just doing their jobs one night. Marveling that three men with the education and means to do and be whatever they wanted traveled hundreds of miles to lay extraordinary gifts at the feet of a toddler. To understand that the love of God was so powerful it called into existence a new star that shown so brightly it astonished the world.

Perhaps it is simply commentary on my own cynical nature. Maybe it is just me. But I want to be delighted when I hear the first crumby rendition of “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” come Black Friday on the radio, rather than roll my eyes in utter disgust when I stumble over it on Dia De Los Muertos. I want to step into the season of wonder deliberately. Not have it pushed at me by someone else’s retail schedule. And more than that I want my kids to know, this time, this month is different. This one is special. It’s not like the other times before. And that can’t happen if the season never really starts because for Walmart it never really ended.

I sincerely hope this rant hasn’t dampened anyone’s spirit. I only hope that it will cause you to pause and reflect on what having a season of Christmas means to you. Now you know what it means to me.

I wish all of you an excellent Thanksgiving: full of foods we tolerate for traditions sake (turkey is always dry, always. I will be roasting a chicken instead), awkward family conversations (“Indians should be glad we let them sell their jewelry on the side of the highway in AZ”- actual quote from a relative one year), and of course gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us in the USofA. And then I hope as I post about the holiday traditions and trimmings of my own life in the coming weeks you find them uplifting, fun, and full of Christmas magic in the heart of a very special season.

Anika Goes to the Movies: Interstellar

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Technically, the title should have been Intergalactic. But I suppose Interstellar is technically correct, too.

Quick rating: Somewhere between 3.25 and 4 stars/5 depending on the portion of the movie. It was long. REALLY long. But some of it was really good. So I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, but I’m not going back for seconds, either in the theater or at home.

In complete antithesis to the movie this one is quick. The movie is worth the long sit through. Really wonderful in terms of provoking thought and playing with science and realistic future hardships. And just conceptually wow. Really. Wow.

Execution is not terrible. I didn’t even hate Anne Hathaway one time (a first for me since Devil Wears Prada). Matthew McConaughey is great. That is almost always true, but this time it really is. I didn’t find Casey Affleck annoying. A pleasant surprise. And really the whole cast was pretty great.

I keep feeling like there had to be a way to condense the thing, though. I mean, three hours? It’s not that I regret it, and frankly I wish that more film makers would make films that warrant real length to accommodate their depth. But with this one, it just felt a little forced from time to time. Almost like if we shaved 20 minutes it would have been perfect. I’m just not 100% sure where those minutes would come from. Apparently neither was Christopher Nolan, cause he left it all in there.

And I’m sorry, but the score is just not great. Or least it isn’t well placed. The one bit that made me really happy because it was perfectly jarring was the cut to silence when MM is getting his 23 years worth of messages. Just gut wrenching enough to be awesome. The rest. . . whatevs.

There you have it. I could go deeper and divulge all kinds of stuff, but it would just take the fun out of it. No need to pick this one apart. Go see it in the theater, the big screen is where the impact is. The chances of me owning this one are slim to I-hope-it-comes-with-a-gift-reciept.

For anyone curious, I have read the Hunger Games series so I will not be reviewing the upcoming film. But I’m totally going to go see it! In all likelihood the next few posts will not be me at the movies *sigh* Too much else to do.

But I do have a great series and a giveaway coming up for the first week of December so stay tuned. Keep reading. Keep watching. And I’ll be back the next time Anika Goes to the Movies.

Anika Goes to the Movies: The Book of Life

So last week I asked everyone what I should see and no one had an opinion so I went to see The Book of Life with my sister. It was fun-ish. I had buyers remorse. I was hoping for the Hispanic equivalent (in terms of greatness and setting the bar) of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was not so.

Quick Rating: 3.25/5 It was cute. But wait until it comes to Redbox, and then you might even want to have a “free night” code.

*In sign-song neener-neener voice* Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

*And again* Spoilers, Spoilers, Spoilers!!

*waves flashing sign* DETOUR! Spoilers ahead.

After the previous posts I am deciding to trust you now. . . let’s hope that’s a good choice.

The animation- was good-ish. Really cool in the “land of the remembered” Relatively lame everywhere else, especially in the town. Not much that felt original or authentic.

The characters- The guys were fairly two dimensional. The girls were absurd, but I think I will save a deeper discussion of that for a later post I am working on about female characters in storytelling. Just know that I have no interest in my girls becoming like any of the characters presented in this film. Everyone who was not a main character, with two exceptions, just sort of blends into the background. The priest, turned luchador(sp? my computer seems to hate all the spellings of this word since it’s Spanish) is amusing. Not original, but amusing. And the pink pig is pretty cute. Other than that and the nun choir that sings everything, it’s pretty much, meh. And it’s almost like the writers wanted it that way. They had dozens of characters or groups of characters that are obviously meant to be caricatures. It’s a style choice, I guess, but it was so not working for me. Also we learn that even when you don’t have to put up with his stupid facial expressions, Channing Tatum is not a good actor. And his accent did this stupendous disappearing act from time to time. Poof! Gone! And then back again! I was not amazed.

The story- Is not terrible. In fact, the merits of the story are pretty much what save the movie. The action is fast paced, but not so much so that you get to the middle or end and think, “Wait, how did we get here?” There are plenty of places where things slow down just enough for us to appreciate the few things that are done well in characterization. You get the epic quest feel without it being too campy, some fun surprises along the way, and a rather satisfying(though fairly hokey) last stand. I won’t give away too much, as that is the one thing you can look forward to, an interesting story. My one beef is that the female protagonist, Maria, is pressured into marrying Channing Tatum so that he will stay and protect the town. Why wouldn’t he stay anyway? It’s HIS home town, too. Is it because the town couldn’t pay him enough? Did other towns need him more? Why does she have to marry him to keep him there? No good explanation for this at all. Boo.

The music- One thumb up, One thumb down. Most of the songs throughout the film are covers. Some are great, like the latinized version of Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait for You.” Others were sad grasps after a specific feeling that just came off cliche and painful. “Fools Rush In” should not be rerecorded. It’s done. Let it go. And in my opinion, even as a ridiculous joke, the lyrics, “If you think I’m sexy, and you want my body, come on baby, let me know,” don’t belong in a PG film. Yuck. Oddly, the few original pieces done for the movie were lovely or fun and upbeat. So. . .*shrug*

The cultural over tones: I’m pretty baffled as to how a hispanic writer/director could willingly pour so much obvious stereotype into a kids film. If it was meant to be ironic or sarcastic in someway, kids aren’t going to get that. Examples: The mariachi band of the town is three fat guys of sequential height with clothes that don’t fit who never prove to be decent musicians, the “men” of the town are four nearly identical super thin guys with mustaches who cower every time anything vaguely frightening happens; the young women of the town are also nearly identical, what most of us would call fairly pretty, hide behind their fans, and look down on the female protagonist because, “she reads books for fun;” the bandits also all look the same except for the big scary boss that must be defeated in the end. He gave the country of Mexico a mustache. Like you zoom in over the country, map style, and it has this massive mustache. So all valid hispanic men have mustaches or something? Again, if it is supposed to be a joke, I don’t get it. Going back to the animation, it is almost like the director/screen writer, Jorge R. Gutierrez, thought that it would be really cool to animate a movie in the style of the Dia De Los Muertos aesthetic, and needed a story to go with it. He found himself having to make stuff up for the living in order to animate the dead and fell back on his training from MAD TV where he animated for two years. *shrug*

Overall: It was cute. It was interesting. It was a little dumb and not something I want to own. *shrug* Which seems to be my reaction to just about all of it.

Well, enjoy whatever you are watching until the next time Anika Goes to the Movies. And by the way, I am always willing to entertain suggestions. That’s what the comment section is for.