Breaking Traditions at Christmas

If you’re going to break The Christmas Rules, don’t settle for a misdemeanor: go for a full-out felony.

So said my husband this morning, December 7, as I hung a few ornaments on the fake Christmas tree, thereby breaking at least three of my mother’s Christmas Rules:

  1. The tree must be fresh;
  2. You purchase the tree the Saturday before Christmas so it can soak in water overnight; and,
  3. You decorate the tree the Sunday before Christmas. Amendment One: If the Sunday before Christmas is less than three days before Christmas Eve (I know, it’s new math) then you can do 1-3 the prior weekend.


Only “ordinary people” do otherwise.

There wasn’t a rule about outdoor decorating because we usually didn’t: Italians, Colombians and Spaniards enjoy vendors’ lights and decorations. I don’t remember what we did during our 5 years in the Maryland suburbs; maybe some lights on the yews?

We were bending the rules before this year, purchasing the tree on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and decorating the outside of the house a week later, but we’ve gone whole “ordinary people” with a fake tree this year. It’s the little lit one we’ve had outside by the door, where this year we’ve moved other plants to make thing merry. I tucked it into a corner of the family room where it has gradually gained ornaments, family cards, the tree skirt and presents. It’s great. I feel OK about shattering tradition.

However, we’re breaking the Super Christmas Rule this year by celebrating Christmas early. On December 25th, our daughter will be in New York City with her boyfriend.  I was sad about that for about 5 minutes and then realized that my husband and I were free to do as we pleased that day.  On December 25, and for a few days before and after that, we will be on a Caribbean cruise.

Before that, we are celebrating what our daughter is calling Fakemas. On December 15 my community is doing caroling and cookie exchange, so we are making the 15th our Fakemas Eve and the 16th Fakemas Day.IMG_8106


IMG_8104All other traditions are intact. Using Mom’s spritz press and cookie cutters, I’m baking cookies and giving them away to friends — and to the hard working volunteers who serve on our Home Owner Association Board, a thankless and necessary job! I’m draping lights around the house, covering table tops with red, green and gold. I’m assembling the The Christmas Crèche  ,
IMG_5439around which Catholic countries base their traditions. Some of the figurines are as old as I am.  My Norwegian nisser have resumed cheery holiday oversight role on a cabinet in the living room.

It all starts to feel a whole lot like Christmas — until the air conditioning clicks on and I look out to the lanai and the palm trees that frame it. South Florida has colored my decorating: a mango sits in the “apple tree;” real ponsettias stand by the front door.


I think Mom would completely understand. She did what she could to keep herMidwestern traditions going through all our moves, such as carefully picking tinsel that her parents sent us off the tree and packing it away for next year, but evolved our habits as we went. Our Christmas Eve meal — tacos, before this was “a thing” — devolved from the Venezuelan hallacas that marked the first four Christmases in the Foreign Service. We’ll be downing tacos on Fakemas Eve.


It’s a festive time of year no matter what your traditions. Enjoy lighting candles against these dark days. We’ll be turning the corner toward longer days on December 22, and at least two of us will be celebrating that truth at sea!

Cheers! IMG_8043

Cultural Surprises in Caracas

My mother, Nancy Amerson, was part of a group of friends on Cape Cod that met each month under the moniker of “Stitch and Bitch.” Some of these women also were part of Mom’s book group, which operated a little differently than the “Oprah bookclub” model: rather than all reading the same book, each participant contributed a synopsis of the books she’d read over the prior four weeks, a great way of expanding everyone’s reading universe. Her recommendations, which inform my library searches, will fill a future post.

But today, here are her thoughts as she stitched and bitched in October of 2004:

“Sometimes our group of six friends – five of whom were born overseas – hits on a topic to talk about over tea. This one was my suggestion: incidents that took us by surprise as we moved into other cultures. What I will mention are three episodes from Caracas, our very first post:

  • A lesson on family names from the registration official in Caracas when I was trying to register Susie’s birth. [My sister, now Susan Robb Amerson Hartnett, was born in Caracas when I was two.] The official did not understand, nor would he accept, that the baby’s middle name was not Maria or another first name but my maiden name, Robb. The Venezuelan naming custom  would have been to name her Susan Amerson (father) Robb (mother). We tried to tell him that, to be culturally correct, she was Susan Robb Amerson Robb. He disagreed and won the argument. Susan Amerson Robb is in the registry for December 31, 1956. Happy New Year!
  • A lesson on telling girls from boys from the man who gave pony rides in our Palos Grandes neighborhood.  He assumed that two year-old Janie, with her short hair and pants, was a boy. When I corrected him, saying she was a girl, he asked where her earring were. I responded that we did not put earrings on children.  To which he said, “Señora, you are not living in your country now.”
  • And a lesson on not pushing the boundaries too quickly. Bob’s Venezuelan staff at the Embassy had been talking about what kinds of food were typical from our home in the Midwest, and I mentioned growing up with things like waffles for dinner. People were interested in trying them and I had Bisquick in the pantry so I about broke the bank finding syrup and sausages and even blueberries. As the waffles were passed around the table, each person took one section and then waited for the real food. I was mortified.”

Mom was only two years into what turned out to be a twenty year Foreign Service adventure. She more than held her own!IMG_5187