Guest Post by Manda Pepper! A Mishmash of Holiday Traditions!

giftmas_100x100 A Mishmash of Holiday Traditions by M Pepper Langlinais

So here’s the thing. I started out Catholic, went to CCD until my mother got “born again” and started taking me to a much louder church. Dad was a holiday Catholic anyway, but Mom was all in on the (as she called it) non-denominational charismatic Christianity, so suddenly Christmas didn’t mean Advent and Midnight Mass. In fact, it ended up meaning a lot more time at church because Mom went Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights, and she dragged me with her.

The religious aspect notwithstanding, I grew up with some great traditions. The tree went up the weekend after Thanksgiving. Sometimes we pulled the old plastic tree out, and sometimes we got ambitious and went to get a live one. Having a live tree meant spending a large part of the season trying to keep our pets—we always had at least one dog and cat, often more—from drinking the water and that stuff you put in it to keep the tree from drying out.

Once the tree was standing, we’d put on the Christmas records (Bing Crosby, Andy Williams) and decorate. I’m an only child and very close with my parents, and holiday decorating was always a jolly time. We lived in the American South, so we didn’t have the traditional snow and cold, but Mom had grown up in Alaska and knew how to go all out with lights. Where she was from, winter meant 24 hours of darkness, so the lights were key.

We also had a very special nativity. It was from Italy, and I took great pride in getting to set it out each year. Besides the tree water, another big part of the holiday season was to keep the animals from knocking over the shepherd or chewing baby Jesus. (I’m sad to say one dog did get to the angel and, erm, clipped its wings. Our donkey also lost its ears.)

Having grandparents in Alaska had benefits. My grandfather convinced me he was a friend of Santa’s, that they were drinking buddies. So I always sent my wish list to my grandparents and would receive direct reports on what Santa had to say about it.

My birthday is the week before Christmas, too, which is a mixed blessing. There’s the fact that one can’t celebrate one’s birthday without being surrounded by Christmas carols and holiday decorations. It’s hard to feel special when everyone is celebrating. And there were always those friends who would hand you something and say, “This is for Christmas AND your birthday.” Um, excuse me? I bought you two separate presents, you can do the same, thankyouverymuch. And don’t you dare wrap my birthday present in Christmas paper either.

Also, my birthday fell at finals. And everyone was always traveling, or otherwise busy, so I never had parties.

But the up side is that my birthday does tend to be very festive. Like, there is usually a good mood around that time of year. And things are colorful, cheerful. So while I didn’t have birthday parties (still don’t), there was often a party atmosphere.

Also, my birthday is always around the time the big movies open for the holidays. All those Lord of the RingsI movies, and now the Star Wars ones . . . I can feel pretty special about that.

A few years ago I married a nice Jewish boy and had to learn how to incorporate Hanukkah into my seasonal festivities. We’ve blended things pretty nicely, I think. We decorate the weekend after Thanksgiving, just as when I was a kid. And we put up a tree but also have Hanukkah decorations. Blue and silver have been favorite colors of mine since I was young (were in fact my wedding colors), so I’m delighted to use them in my holiday color scheme. We light the menorah. We debate whether to do one big Hanukkah gift or several small ones, same as we argue whether to open one gift on Christmas Eve or wait until Christmas morning.

We have a tradition of going to Hallmark to each (we have three kids now) pick out an ornament every year. Lots of Disney princesses from our daughter, superheroes and space vehicles from our sons. Makes for a pretty eclectic tree.

No Midnight Mass. No church at all, actually, but I do bake a charm into a cake on Twelfth Night. Would decorate in holly and ivy if I could. As I get older, I lean toward embracing Yule. I’m not sure why; there’s just something about it that speaks more to me than other religious slants to the season. It’s so basic, this acknowledgement of the darkest day and the slow return of light. Something about that simplicity, when the rest of the season is so frilly and hectic, soothes me.

So at the end of the day, we’re celebrating a little bit of everything. Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, and my birthday (my husband’s, too, is December 2nd) all come crashing into December, filling it with light and noise and seemingly ceaseless activity. It’s sort of a beautiful train wreck, if there is such a thing. So that by the time it’s finished and we’re looking New Year’s in the eye, we’re breathless. Ready for it to be over. And for all things new to begin.

About the Author:

Best known for her Sherlock Holmes stories, M Pepper Langlinais is also a produced playwright and screenwriter. She holds a degree in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas at Austin, where she interned on film sets and participated in the Shakespeare at Winedale program. She also earned a Master of Arts in Writing, Literature and Publishing from Emerson College. M now lives in Livermore, California. Learn more about her and her work at Find her books at And join her on Facebook at

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