Greetings from the spirit of camp!
It’s been a tough year. I know that none of us like what COVID has done to upend our lives, to put so many people through so much, and even to take away our time at camp. But I know ‘Ghany Girls and I know we’re not going to let this get us down!
Yes, we’re all going to feel a pang when we can’t visit with relatives or friends that we long to see. And it may feel tougher than usual to just to relax and be worry free while enjoying the holidays.
I want to keep it simple. This year offers one silver lining in that because we’re forced to do less, we’re more able to go at it all with fewer heavy expectations. That much is a gift!
In fact, most families have some traditions that don’t involve big groups, parties, or travel. So it’s perfectly possible to keep traditions alive even if you’re not with the whole extended family or bopping around to make that holiday visit to dear friends.
The Basics (In Red & Green)
When we decorate our tree we dedicate a night to it. As we pull ornaments from their storage boxes it leads to all kinds of reminiscing, like where we got the ornament, or who gave it to us, or what is symbolizes for us. It is SO SIMPLE yet it brings so much joy because that’s the moment when we’re really setting the stage for the season.
During December we make time for the Advent wreath and Sunday Advent devotionals at the dinner table. In so many ways this creates the context for everything else.
We also make time to shop together for a child in need by choosing an angel from the Salvation Army tree at our YMCA and then putting together what we can provide that’s needed or wanted by the child.
Teaching my boys that others are struggling, or that a child might not have much for Christmas is truly part of keeping the real spirit of the season alive. I see my boys light up at the thought of helping someone. It taps into their inherent goodness and lets them really embody the meaning of the season. This costs so little and gives so much — not just to our recipient, but to us.
In all honesty one of my favorite holiday traditions at home with my family is simply to bake Christmas cookies with my kids. There’s so much entertainment value and bonding in letting them make up cookie shapes and go at it with colored icing and a few sweet baubles. Yes, it can be messy — but hey, they’re only young once!
We actually roast marshmallows right in our fireplace to make s’mores — or we’ll put the warm marshmallows in hot chocolate or coffee. The ritual and preparation process is half the fun. And then hanging back to eat (and drip) and sip and chat…that’s so sweet, too. Simple pleasures!
It doesn’t cost much to bundle into the car and take a spin around our town to see Christmas lights, including the loop road light show at our local Gypsy Hill Park. We’ll often pair this with getting ice cream — though maybe this year will start a new tradition of having that ice cream back at home when we return.
And what would the season be without a few Christmas movie nights? Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Sometimes it’s with the whole gang, sometimes it’s just the kids, sometimes it’s me alone and a Hallmark tearjerker that’s so bad it’s good!
Pulling out all the supplies to wrap gifts together is always cause for giddiness and fun. Little fingers, sticky tape, blunt ended scissors, and low expectations for neatness allows us to find the joy in making Christmas come alive for everyone on our list.
Not This Year (Or NEW This Year)
Some things of course can’t happen this year. We won’t be getting all dressed up and going to see The Nutcracker. Instead we’ll bundle into jammies and watch a version of it on TV to make it special.
Our town typically has this huge Christmas Parade in our Main Street America downtown, and a breakfast with Santa event. Both cancelled. 🙁
Never fear — we decided to take a simple family trip down to Jamestown to have a different kind of family time together during the holidays.
My eldest son Mason’s big school field trip would have been at Jamestown this year as they study Virginia history in 4th grade. But virtual school meant no field trips. All three of our boys have had varying exposure to Virginia history this year, so when we saw that the weather one weekend in December was supposed to be in the high 60s in the Williamsburg area, we booked it last minute and surprised the kids!
The weather was glorious (quite the opposite of the winter storm we just had, a mere few days later!), and we got in some history, education, and valuable family time.
We hit up Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg as well, and it was so much fun. The boys loved it and of course asked if we could do it every year. So we thought that whenever the weather is decent, why not make it a tradition? There’s always something new to see in the “historic triangle” that we would likely never grow bored with it, especially as the boys age up into new interests and ways of taking the history in. And I’m sure the grand illumination of Williamsburg at Christmas time will be a must-do at least once!
Keeping the Lanterns (and Candles) Lit for Camp
And we have a tradition at camp that connects us to our campers and our campers to us that’s called “Candlelight Campfire.” At our summer Candlelight Campfire (the final Campfire of the summer, at the end of 2nd Term) we gather for our campfire and everyone is given their own candle, which we light up one by one by touching candle to candle until the whole camp has their candle lit. And we close by reminding our campers to “light your candle from Candlelight Campfire on Christmas Eve in remembrance of your friends at camp.”
This Christmas, please pull out your candle from 2019 and light it. Or if you can’t find it, if 2020 was going to be your first time at camp, or you’re a 1st termer, light any candle in honor of ‘Ghany.
When we’re at camp, my mom, Bonnie Dawson, reads us The Night Before Christmas over the loudspeaker on July 24 (Christmas Eve in July). And while she still did that during Summer 2020 for the few staff who were in camp (!), you don’t have to despair of having missed it…hint hint. Get excited for a surprise video coming your way on social media this week and let’s all keep the lanterns…and candles…lit for Alleghany!
Merry Christmas! Stay safe and healthy!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls