The definition of Southern Hospitality

You only know what you know and all I know is how my family celebrated Christmas.  In years past, we have gone to church and then to dinner, in others, we would go to a friend's house and most recently, we would open presents, eat Christmas dinner and gather together on the couch to watch movies. This year was different, as I would spend the holiday with Doug and his family in Florida.  Knowing nothing of how they spent their Christmas or any traditions their family celebrated, I was looking forward to seeing how other families celebrated their holiday.

Doug's family is from South Alabama and truly embrace all of the stereotypes of the Southern culture.  The term, southern hospitality, attributed to Jacob Abbott, came to fruition while he was traveling through the South in the 19th century and defined the Southerners willingness to provide a stranger with food, shelter and entrance to their home as a part of the culture of southern hospitality.  The southern culture focuses heavily on etiquette, such as "yes ma'am/no sir," holding the door open for woman and the removal of hats upon entering a home.  It also focuses largely on cooking, food and eating!

The preparation of food began early on Christmas Day, with the boiling of a fresh ham and putting a roast in the oven.  A female friend came late in the morning to help with the preparation of the meal and brought with her a turkey, deviled eggs and a bundt cake.  From there, the women prepared potatoes, sweet potatoes, sauteed squash, cornbread stuffing, stuffed celery, spinach salad and green bean casserole.  Also on the table, one could find: spiced peaches, different types of pickles, olives, pickled crab apples, cranberry sauce and a various assortment of breads.  And that was just dinner! Dessert included pound cake, rum bundt cake, ice cream, both a chocolate and a caramel layer cake, ambrosia, and two kinds of cookies.

While I have a lot of extra calories to burn, it's warming to the soul to enjoy food that is prepared with love, where eating is an event in and of itself, and most importantly, that I have felt loved and welcomed with open arms into a family, with different traditions and a whole lotta Southern hospitality!

Thanks A Lot

As the clock ticks closer to Christmas Eve, I recognize that we are indeed in the season of giving thanks. While generally give thanks for health, happiness, and more embarrassingly, the promotion, the bonus, the new person that entered our life; sometimes, that thanks can take another, more practical form. For it is the little things that add up to big things. In my case, the proverbial little thing came in the way of a lost and found bag.

Yes, the one thing that holiday travelers fear the most: "I'm sorry ma'am, we can't seem to find your bag anywhere in the system."

To be more specific, I tried to bring a bag with me on my flight down to Florida, which the good woman (who was not filled with holiday cheer) at the US Air gate told me was "one inch too big" to fit overhead. She did, however,  offer me the 'courtesy' (quotes intended) of a curbside check to my final destination. After a brief back and forth, I reluctantly relinquished my carry-on size roller bag full of six days worth of clothes for my trip to Florida and walked down the jetway to my seat.

Foreshadowing aside, when I got off the plane in Florida, my bag was not on the conveyor belt. I was forced to do the traveler's walk of shame to the US Air claims office where the woman at the desk attempted to track its whereabouts, only to tell me that it was "no where in the system."

As I stood there, assessing the six-day durability of the jeans, scarf, sweater and flats I had opted to wear on the flight, the computer--which was a box style display, not the more modern flat screen set-up we've all grown accustomed to seeing--pinged. The woman told me that my bag was still in my connecting city and that it might be here, in Florida, by 10pm. As I filled out the paperwork, I couldn't help but think of all the planning I'd put in to perfectly selecting, thinning, and ultimately packing a week's worth of stylish, practical and cute outfits into one bag, only to have that bag 'lost in transit.'

Merry Christmas from Florida... 

We gathered our things and left the airport. As I headed to the home where I would spend Christmas with Doug and his family, something clicked inside of me and I had to smile. Here I am, sitting in a car, driving to a home where I will be surrounded by people that love me, underneath a moonlight sky with stars so plentiful that they are too vast to count (and not so easy to see in DC). I have my health, my family, my friends, my passions, and my presence. I am loved and I have people to whom I give my love. Why am I so worked up about a bag of clothes? The question was rhetorical, and the answer was simple: it's just a bag, and it's just clothes inside.

About 90 minutes after I came to this resolution, the good people at White Sands Delivery called and said that my bag had arrived and would be delivered to the house within the hour. A reluctant smile crept across my face and I realized that once again, I had unsuspectingly learned the lesson of holiday gratitude: that it is and forever will be about what we have, not what we do not have. That our blessings are measured in what we are able to do, not by our limitations. That our wealth is measured not in currency, but by the faces of family in friends, we hold dear with each passing year.

So with that, I must pause to give my own holiday thanks. For the bag? Sure. But more so for having yet another subtle realization that the genuine joy we all seek to find, is right there before us and inside of us... sometimes we just need a reminder.

Christmas Trees in the Nations Capitol

While New York City has the ginormous tree in Rockefeller Center, we here in DC, we have three trees of relevance: 1) The Christmas tree displayed in front of the Capitol Building 2) The indoor White House Christmas Tree and 3) The outdoor White House Christmas Tree.

This year, the Capitol Christmas Tree was lit on December 7, in a small ceremony by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.  Daniel, a Wyoming school boy, helped with the tree lighting as a result of him willing a contest.  This year's tree, a 67 foot, 6,000 pound Engelmann Spruce, was donated by the state of Wyoming.   The 24-inch tree trunk was fitted with a watering sock, which fed it 65 gallons of water a day on its 4,590 mile trip to Washington, DC. Decorated with 5000 handmade ornaments from Wyoming school children and thousands of LED lights, the tree will remain lit though the Christmas holiday and until New Year's Eve.  The event could be watched live online.  

The National Christmas Tree stands on the White House lawn and was lit last night, December 9, by the President, launching the month long festivities known as the Pageant of Peace.  For 30 years, from 1942-1972, a newly cut tree was delivered each year for display.  But in 1973, in response to environmentalists and individuals alike, a 42-foot blue Colorado spruce, donated by the state of Pennsylvania was planted on the Ellipse, starting the tradition of having a living tree serve as the National Christmas Tree.  Unfortunately, this one deteriorated and the subsequent one was torn down in a wind storm.  In 1978, another Colorado blue spruce was planted, which has served as the National Christmas Tree since that year.

In 1995, the Tree was lit by solar energy for the first time and in 2007, LED Christmas lights were used.  At that time, the tree topper was refurbished to also use the LED lights.

The White House Christmas Tree, also known as the Blue Room Christmas Tree, was delivered this year by horse drawn carriage and given two thumbs up by the first daughters.  The 18 1/2-foot tree travelled from Pennsylvania's Crystal Spring Tree Farm, which also provided the 2006 tree. The tree is chosen through a contest among the members of the National Christmas Tree Association and because of the height of the tree, which stands nearly 20 feet tall, the crystal chandelier in the Blue Room must be removed for the tree to fit.  The theme of the White House Christmas Tree is selected by the First Lady.  In 2009, the theme was "Reflect, Rejoice, Renew."  This year's theme is "Simple Gifts" and will represent state and county fairs, and prize ribbons from each state and territory.

While they all claim the title the "National Christmas Tree" each has a distinct history and uniqueness to share with the residents of the Nations Capitol and with the United States as a whole.  So, which do you feel deserves the title?

The Truth about Christmas Traditions: The Christmas Tree

I love the Christmas holiday and everything that comes with the month of December. I revert back to a childlike state at the mere mention of the holidays! I'll listen to Christmas music in the car, watch movies like A Christmas Story, Elf, It's a Wonderful Life several times and have a general feeling of excitement during the entire month of December.  But when it comes to different Christmas traditions, I have no idea as to why we celebrate in such a way.  Over the next few days, I want to take a look at three traditions that I loved as a child, and that I still look forward to each year: the Christmas tree, stockings hung on the mantle and Santa Claus! The Christmas Tree: Pine, Pine, Pine! I love the smell of freshly cut pine, and to be honest, I even light a few pine candles around the house to really indulge my senses around the holidays and emphasizes the natural smell of the tree.  The tradition began in Germany, where trees would be decorated in connection with festivities taking place in the different German towns, and from there, it spread to other parts of Europe. German theologian Martin Luther  put candles on the branches as symbols of the stars twinkling among the forest’s trees. I love this fact, as it adds a romantic notion to the holiday.

Christmas trees weren't popular here in the United States until the mid-19th century.  In 1850, an image of the English royal family standing in front of a Christmas tree was copied and brought to the United States, which resulted in upper class Americans embracing the tradition. In the following decades, Christmas trees became popular among the rest of the population, with roughly 25-30 million Americans enjoying a fresh pine tree every year.  The star or angel placed at the top of the tree represents  the Star of Bethlehem or the host of angels from the nativity.

The environmental  debate between real vs. artificial trees is ongoing.  Some say that the PVC used in the production of artificial trees is harmful, with the lead in some of the older trees being the issue.  A study claims that one must use their artificial Christmas tree for 20 years to leave an environmental footprint as small as the natural Christmas tree.  On the other hand, the real trees are completely biodegradable and can be reused by tree farms or local governments as wood chips or mulch.  For the environmentalists out there, a Life Cycle Analysis report states that a natural tree will generate 3.1 kg of greenhouse gases every year whereas the artificial tree will produce 48.3 kg over its lifetime.

Recently in Washington, DC we saw the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.  An interesting fact: In 1979, President Jimmy Carter only lit the top star on the tree in honor of the American hostages in Iran. Stay tuned for a detailed look at the National Christmas tree and Christmas in the Nations Capitol, as well as other traditions in the spirit of the holidays...

What are your favorite holiday traditions? And do you thrive and become a giddy child at the first notes of Christmas music like I do?