As the calendar moves rapidly towards the shortest day of the year, Dec. 21, everything seems rushed and frantic. Make a concerted effort to keep the true meaning of Christmas in the forefront of each activity, meal, conversation or shopping trip. Spend quality family time sharing memories of the year 2016 and creating unique remembrances for this holiday month. Fit in a few of the festivities below to add to the Christmas merriment and close out another fun-filled, family year.
International Mountain Week - Did you know that mountainous terrain covers about 22 percent of the earth's land surface? How many mountains has your family traversed? Start now planning a summertime mountain excursion in north Georgia or on the other side of the Continental Divide. In the meantime, read about some peak-top adventures just before bedtime with books like "When I Was Young in the Mountains" or the Newberry classic, "My Side of the Mountain." (The protagonist of the later adventure is a 15-year-old who uses survival skills to live alone in the mountains and may be too intense for much-younger children.)
Maple Syrup Day - Get in the holiday spirit with a family viewing of the Christmas favorite, "Elf," starring Will Ferrell. The author of this column, however, can't endorse Buddy the Elf's spaghetti recipe, topped with maple syrup, though I must admit my own children concocted other disgusting food combinations. Try instead a sweet chili recipe to warm tummies on a cold December evening. Work together in the kitchen to brown one-half pounds each of sausage and ground beef with a small onion, diced, and one garlic clove, minced. When completely cooked, drain meat mixture. In a large crock pot, combine the cooked meat, one can of preferred beans, one-fourth cup brown sugar, one-fourth cup barbecue sauce, one tablespoon maple syrup, one tablespoon mustard, one tablespoon ketchup, salt and pepper to taste and one package of chili seasoning mix. Stir to blend, then cook on low for two hours.
Card Playing Day - Play a variety of card games over the month of December or plan a marathon, card-playing weekend to crown an overall champion. Play longtime favorites like Crazy 8's or Go Fish or Old Maid or search the internet for new card games. Or get really creative and use up old, incomplete decks of cards. Pick a day to prepare the cards by locating various family pictures over the last year. If possible, find at least one memory-shot for each month of 2016. Print double copies of the 12 pictures, small enough to fit on a playing card. Collect 24 cards from an incomplete deck and glue the pictures on the numbered sides.
When the glue is completely dry, play Memory with your Memories deck of cards by mixing up the cards and turning them face down on the table. Players take turns flipping two cards at a time to try to find matching pictures. If the pictures match, that person keeps those two cards and flips again. A non-matching turn sends the play to the next contestant. The person holding the most matched memories at the end of the game is the winner.
Poinsettia Day - Create these fun table decorations using construction paper and glue. First, make bract and leaf patterns from cardboard or sturdy paper. Draw a simple, gardenia-leaf shape about 3 inches long for the bract pattern and one about 5 inches long for the leaf pattern. For each flower, trace and cut five bract shapes from red construction paper and five leaf shapes from green construction paper. Fold each shape in half lengthwise, then unfold but don't completely flatten.
Glue the five red shapes together in a star-shaped design, using a dab of glue to attach each petal in the center of the star shape. Glue the leaf shapes behind and between the petal shapes. Use a hole puncher and yellow construction paper to punch out the flowers for the very center. Glue six or more yellow "holes" in place. Read about a special star seen in Bethlehem years ago in the New Testament book of Matthew, chapters 1:18-2:12.
Christmas - Gather a group of friends and visit a local nursing home or assisted living facility for a fun evening of carols and cocoa. Talk to the manager of the facility prior to your visit and arrange the most convenient time to arrive. You may decide to gather a day or two in advance to practice your best singing voices and review favorite Christmas carol lyrics. Sip on cocoa after the rehearsal and/or after the caroling concert.
Remember the birth of the commoner so many years ago who would grow to be not-so-common and ultimately welcome all with outstretched arms. Make the month of December a time of great joy and happiness and merriment.
Drink hot cocoa, watch old and new Christmas movies, sing carols loudly in the car, drive around town to view Christmas decorations, make time and goodies for those less fortunate than you, and may God bless us, everyone.
Statesboro native Julie Bland Lavender is married to David Lavender and enjoys celebrating with children Jeremy, Jenifer, Jeb Daniel and Jessica.