Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas in St. Augustine

St. Augustine is on the east coast of northern Florida. The climate is on the cusp between temperate and subtropical and December days are usually in the high 60’s to mid 70’s. But despite the balmy temperatures and palm trees, St. Augustine is really, really into Christmas.

It is billed as the oldest continuously occupied European city in the country. Admiral Menendez de Aviles of Spain spotted land–no doubt with much relief that he hadn’t fallen off the edge of the world–on the feast day of St. Augustine, August 28, 1565. He named the town he established after the saint.

The Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos, completed in 1695.

The historic district in full of beautiful Spanish architecture, some of it original, some built later in a style to blend in with the older buildings.

The Plaza de la Constitucion

The Cathedral

By the third week of November the historic district is festooned with millions of tiny white lights. On the weekend before Thanksgiving, the tree lighting ceremony occurs in the Plaza de la Constitucion, marking the official beginning of the Nights of Lights.

Nights of Lights in St. Augustine

 

Santa’s Christmas Train takes tourists through the city every evening through January. Or you can enjoy the lights from a horse-drawn carriage.

Five blocks of St. George Street are blocked off for pedestrians only and a variety of shops line the street, as well as a few tourist attractions such as the oldest wood schoolhouse in the country. The shops and restaurants are also decorated for Christmas, some of them so brightly it makes your eyes hurt.

St. George Street shopping district

The Casablanca Inn

On the first Saturday of December, there’s a Christmas parade. That evening a group of re-enactors celebrate a short period when La Florida was a British colony. It was traded to England in exchange for the port of Havana in 1763, and then reclaimed by Spain twenty years later, at the end of the American Revolution. Dressed in British uniforms, the fife and drum corps marches through the historic district, followed by the “loyal citizens of the colony,” in period attire and carrying candles. The crowd is invited to join the procession, which ends in the Plaza with Christmas caroling around the tree and gazebo.

The following weekend is the Regatta of Lights. Boat owners from local marinas decorate their boats and sail along the Matanzas River next to the historic district, and through the drawbridge of the Bridge of Lions.

 The holiday week culminates with a Beach Blast Off at St. Augustine Beach on New Year’s Eve. I’ve never been, but rumor has it that live music, chili and fireworks are involved.

photo by Schofield Barracks, from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more on the Nights of Lights in St. Augustine, click HERE.

What exotic places have you been to around Christmas time? Please share so we can continue our vicarious travels.

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)

We usually blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics and then sometimes on Fridays or the weekend with something just for fun.Our blog is on semi-hiatus until mid January when we’ll get serious again. Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

 

CHRISTMAS in HAWAII

by JoAnn Bassett, author of the Islands of Aloha mystery series.

Christmas is big in the islands. The beaches are loaded with visitors who’d rather surf than ski, and the local people go full-tilt with gift-giving, ham-baking and tree decorating.

People have asked me, “But don’t Hawaiians have their own holiday traditions? What do Hawaiian people do for Christmas that reflects their unique culture?” The answer is simple: Hawaiian people didn’t celebrate Christmas before the missionaries showed up. And the New England missionaries brought some pretty old-school holiday traditions to the tropics along with their Bibles and their long-sleeved, high-necked cotton dresses. They introduced the Hawaiians to evergreen trees festooned with strings of popcorn; turkey dinner with all the trimmings (including cranberry sauce and yams); and even Santa Claus with his warm fur-trimmed red suit and black leather boots.

As you can imagine, living near the Equator presents some challenges for folks wanting to recreate a Currier & Ives Christmas. In Hawaii, evergreen trees are shipped in from the West Coast, mainly Oregon. They can cost up to three times as much as on the mainland and they only last about one/third as long. Santa is usually depicted on cards and in shop displays as a white-bearded chubby guy wearing sunglasses and flashing a shaka sign (the thumb and pinkie extended, other fingers folded down).

photo by PlusMinus, Wikimedia Commons

But if you take your kid to see Santa at most Hawaiian shopping malls you’ll find him wearing the full-blown red suit with white fur trim and black boots.

And chimneys—what about Santa coming down the chimney?

I can count on one hand the number of chimneys I ever saw on houses in Hawaii, but still the old guy manages to distribute the gifts. In Hawaii, Santa comes in through a window and kids are advised to make sure at least one ground-floor window is unlocked so he can climb inside. Of course it’s Mom and Dad’s job to make sure that window gets locked back up after Santa leaves.

Hawaiians are proud of their culture and their traditions, but they’re also willing to embrace other traditions that celebrate hope, renewal and family. Traditional Christmas customs work in Hawaii not because the missionaries were heavy-handed about the ‘right’ way to celebrate and didn’t allow for variance, but also because Hawaii is a place where all types of cultures and traditions are welcome. Even if all the needles fall off the eighty-dollar tree five days after you bring it home.

Aloha!
JoAnn Bassett, author of the Islands of Aloha mystery series

 

Normally we blog here at misterio press once a week about serious stuff and sometimes a just for fun post later in the week. Our blog is on semi-hiatus for the holidays. There will be another Christmas in an interesting and warm place post next Friday, for your vicarious traveling pleasure. The serious stuff will resume mid-January.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

 

Are You a Bah, Humbug Person?

I hate to say it since I love the holiday myself, but Christmas is not for everyone. Some people just barely tolerate it, some flat out hate it and some find it incredibly depressing. And the fact that everybody else is so gleefully looking forward to it just makes their lack of pleasure in it that much more pronounced.

Is blue your favorite color for Christmas lights?

If you dislike Christmas, or know someone who does, here are some tips for handling the Christmas Blues.

#1: Stop feeling bad about not liking Christmas. And especially stop feeling bad about yourself for feeling that way. First of all, you can’t control how you feel, only how you act (I know I do harp on this idea, but it’s true!)

Secondly, I am quite sure you came by your negative feelings about Christmas quite honestly. Perhaps you’re not as fond of Christmas as you once were because the people you once shared it with are gone. Even though I still love Christmas, I don’t get nearly as excited about it as I once did. It’s never been quite the same since my mother died. I didn’t realize how much her enthusiasm was the driving force behind everyone else’s pleasure, not until after she was gone. I’ve had to adjust to the new normal for the holidays, that I am now the matriarch of the family. *shudder*

Or perhaps there are unpleasant associations to it because of experiences from your past. You are not alone. There’s a reason why “A Dysfunctional Family Christmas” is one of Saturday Night Live’s all-time favorite skits.

#2: Establish new holiday traditions that feel right for you and your family.

This really helped a friend of mine overcome his bah, humbug reaction to Christmas. He grew up with an alcoholic and abusive father. The holidays were just an opportunity and excuse for his father to get more drunk, more often. This tainted the traditions of Christmas since Dad was already sucking down beers over the stockings’ exchange in the morning, and by the time the turkey was served, he was beyond belligerent.

When his children were young, my friend and his wife lived in the country, with several cut-your-own tree farms nearby. They started a new tradition that the family would go together on the weekend before Christmas to pick out a tree. It became quite a ritual. The kids would spend an hour or more running around, trying to decide on just the right tree. Once it was cut down and paid for, while the tree farm staff tied it to the roof of their car, they would huddle around drinking hot cider and trying to decide if this year’s tree was better than last year’s.

Now the decorated tree didn’t remind him of his parents’ fighting anymore. It reminded him of the fun his own family had picking this tree out.

If you don’t have a family and/or it’s impractical to be with family who live far away, this may very well be why you aren’t all that into the holiday. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you are being bombarded with images of happy families celebrating, while you’re looking forward to a lonely day.

#3: One approach can be to think of the Christmas holiday as just another day or two off from work, like Memorial Day weekend or Veterans’ Day. Breathe a sigh of relief that you have the time off and do what you would with any other day off. Lay around the house in your jammies and read a good book, or even catch up on household chores or gardening.

#4: Travel. If you’re part of a couple but neither of you feel strongly about Christmas with your extended families, give each other a nice vacation, like a four-day cruise (or longer if you can afford it) to the Bahamas. If you’re single, find a friend or acquaintance in the same boat (no pun intended) and take that cruise, or go skiing in Colorado for a long weekend.

#5: An old standby is to volunteer at a senior center or soup kitchen serving Christmas dinner to those less fortunate. This can provide a sense of camaraderie and belonging with your fellow volunteers as well as a sense of satisfaction in the altruistic task.

#6: If dealing with extended family is what makes Christmas so hard, you can do one of several things. One option, if you’re not up for a family scene because you just didn’t show up, is to officially declare either Christmas Eve, or maybe the weekend before or after Christmas as your Christmas. Then Christmas Day itself becomes just another obligatory visit with the annoying relatives. (You may notice that nowhere in the Bible is the date of Christ’s birth mentioned. Biblical scholars don’t believe Jesus was actually born on December 25th; this date was chosen by the early Church of Rome because it was a pagan holiday they were trying to supplant.)

If you’re single, perhaps you have a circle of friends with whom you are closer than you are with your family? Then make them your ‘family of choice’ to celebrate the holiday with. Again, you may want to do this on a different day, so everybody can appease their biological families by showing up for turkey. But in your mind, make the day you gather with friends your “real” Christmas.

#7: Keep in mind that it’s one lousy day out of the year and this too shall pass! Again, it’s okay to not like Christmas.

Are you a bah, humbugger or do you love Christmas? Do you know someone who struggles with depression or loneliness over the holidays?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington Mystery series.)

Our blog will be on semi-hiatus over the holidays. We will have a couple light posts on Christmas traditions in some interesting and warm places, so our readers can do some vicarious traveling. Posts on more serious topics will resume mid-January.

A Nation Grieving, Let It Not Divide Us

I had planned to post on Monday about the Christmas Blues, with helpful survival hints for those who are sad rather than happy this time of year. Now the whole nation is looking at a sad holiday, and a post on grief seemed much more appropriate.

Yesterday, we experienced a tragedy that had grown men weeping unashamedly in front of television cameras–priests and first responders, friends and neighbors of those who had lost children, and even our political leaders.

I heard comments from both sides of the political fence calling for a discussion of “sensible” gun control. (NOTE: this is NOT a post about gun control!) While I have very mixed emotions myself on this topic and know as a psychologist that the issue of violence in our country is much bigger and far more complex than that, I pray that such discussions can occur and remain civil. I doubt my prayers will be answered, and not just because it’s such a political hot potato.

I fear that this tragedy will add to the divisiveness in this country, rather than heal it, because of grief.

There are two very important things to know about grief. One, it is quite illogical and messy, and two, it happens in stages.

Grief blows our sanity out of the water, temporarily at least. People say and do crazy things when they are grieving, and everyone grieves in their own way. Please keep this in mind, not just for yourself, but as you listen and respond to those around you. Don’t take the crazy things they say or do too much to heart, and try not to react to them if they are aimed at you. And give yourself permission to think crazy thoughts, but try not to act on them.

Sadly, we will probably see an increase in suicides this holiday season, beyond the normal up-tick.

Grief happens in stages but the stages don’t always follow a set pattern. Almost always there is shock, numbness and denial first. That is where most of us are today.

Often but not always, the next stage is anger. This is the one that concerns me regarding political discussions. We can pray that our political leaders keep their cool, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

But I am hoping that those of you reading this may avoid some bad experiences this holiday. I would suggest NOT having political discussions with friends and relatives (even ones you think will agree with you, because maybe they won’t; remember, grief is illogical).

Why do we get angry when we grieve? Because we humans have an innate need to find order in our world, to have things make sense. And when something doesn’t make sense, we get pissed off. When we are grieving for an individual loved one, we often get angry at them for dying on us. This is, of course, highly irrational and makes us feel horrible about ourselves, so we often suppress that anger.

Just one problem with suppressed feelings. They don’t go away. They just go underground and come spurting out in other directions.

This is what so often causes family fights over inheritances. It’s not really about who gets Mom’s antique dresser. It’s about ‘I’m angry at Mom for dying but can’t admit that, so I’ll take my anger out on my siblings.’ This of course, is operating subconsciously. Consciously, we really believe that we’re pissed because our siblings (who are also pissed at Mom but can’t admit it) are being so insensitive and selfish.

In this case, I don’t think we’ll have trouble admitting we’re furious that this tragedy happened, but we need to be very careful about where we point that anger. When we’re grieving about something like this, that is so senseless, it is easy to fall into the trap of finger-pointing so we can, one, find an explanation for the unexplainable, and two, have an outlet for our anger.

The next stage in grief is often depression. And the big problem with depression is that it changes our perception filters. When we are depressed, the world and life seem much worse than they really are. This can turn normal grief depression into a downward spiral. Again we need to let ourselves feel the pain and sadness so that we can get those feelings out of our system. But we also need to look for reasons to feel hopeful, and to remind ourselves of the good things in our lives and in our country.

Our nation is flawed, but it is still a great nation! We need to work together to fix the flaws.

Another stage of grief is often bargaining with God. This is more likely to happen when we or someone we love is in the process of dying. We ask for more time or beg for a trade. Take me, not her or him. After a death, this can take crazy forms and can get mixed in with the anger. We may demand answers from God, again looking for order and explanations in a not always orderly world.

This tragedy at Sandy Hook will have many questioning their faith. I have no answers for them but I pray that they find answers that ease their hearts and souls. For myself, I keep reminding myself that we all have free will. This tragedy was not God’s doing; it was the act of a human. As my husband posted on Facebook last night, “Today even God is weeping.”

Sépulcre_Arc-en-Barrois_111008_12

Sépulcre Arc-en-Barrois (photo by Vassil, Wikimedia Commons)

The progression through these stages of grief is not smooth and linear. It is messy and cyclical. We often go through them several times, in varying order, before we reach the final stage (and sometimes even after we’ve reached that stage).

The final stage is acceptance. In individual grief, this is the point where we come to grips with the loss and begin to truly move on. With regard to tragedies like this one, it’s more about we put it aside and stop thinking about it and get on with life.

Honestly, I hope we never get there with this tragedy. It is not okay to accept such senseless killings. We do need to figure out ways to make our society less violent. I have no answers to this myself, but I pray that we can find those answers in a civil and cooperative manner. Our country is better than this!

Please feel free to leave comments below regarding grief, but know that comments on either side of the political issues involved will be deleted. I do NOT want to have a discussion at this time about gun control or the causes of violence in our society. Right now, we need to band together and help each other grieve.

I will post the Christmas Blues post later this week. Then we will be on a semi-hiatus. We will have a couple light posts on Christmas traditions in some interesting, and warm, places, so our readers can do some vicarious traveling over the holidays. Posts on more serious topics will resume mid-January.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb

 

DDPP: Surviving the Stress of the Holidays (and a Contest!)

In my practice as a psychotherapist I did a lot of work with stress management. When my clients were in stress overload, I would recommended that they Dump, Delegate, Postpone and Pamper.  “Just remember, DDPP,” I would tell them.

One client jokingly said, “That sounds like a pesticide.” And thus DDPP was dubbed the ‘stressicide formula.’

As we move into this hectic and very stressful time of year, it is all too likely that we will end up in stress overload.

(photo by Benson Kua)

And once we’re there, everything becomes overwhelming. The thing about stress is that we have this threshold. We can be doing fine, reveling even in how much we’re getting accomplished in our fast-paced lives. And then suddenly, we’ve passed our threshold for coping with stress and suddenly we’re a basket case. We’re not dealing with ANYTHING very effectively anymore.

The stress threshold is like that. It’s an on-off switch. We’re good, we’re good, we’re great even as we multi-task and get revved up to accomplish even more, and then whammo, we’ve used up all our coping ability and we’re burned out big time!

That’s when we need to apply DDPP.

DUMP: Is it really necessary or can we just stop doing it, temporarily at least. In the course of everyday life, when I’m stressed out, the first thing that goes is making the bed. I like a neat house and a bedroom with a made bed. But this is not essential stuff. I can let it go when other things are demanding my coping resources.

At Christmas time, DUMP becomes even more important. My to-do-list gets pared down to what is truly essential to do to make the holiday what I want it to be.

Two years ago, when my oldest grandson was right smack in the middle of the terrible twos, we dumped the formal turkey dinner and had a cold buffet instead. I cooked a couple turkey breasts in advance, sliced them and took them to my son and daughter-in-law’s house. We served them with a variety of cold salads and breads. And you know what, we actually had a better time than we’d had the year before while trying to put together a formal Christmas dinner and deal with an 18-month-old who tends to be hyperactive.

It’s become a new family tradition. I doubt we will ever go back to the sit-down meal, at least not until my grandchildren are a bit older.

All this baby needs in a big green wreath on it!! (photo by Ildar Sagdejev)

DELEGATE: Is there someone else who also legitimately shares responsibility for the task you are stressed about? Or is there someone you can trade off with to deal with the current stressors, and you’ll pay them back later?

We all go through periods of stress overload. So trade off with those with whom you share your life. You help me now, I help you later.

In the mid 1990’s I was getting burned out as a therapist, so I started teaching part-time and cutting back on my psychotherapy practice. My husband and I negotiated a new deal. During the last three crunchy weeks of the semester, when I had a gazillion papers to grade, final exams to write, etc., he would do pretty much all the household chores. Then during my winter and summer breaks, I would do pretty much all of them.

POSTPONE: I’m not advocating procrastination here. But if it’s anything that can legitimately be put off until after the first of the year, postpone it! A lot of things that are not Christmas related can often be postponed. I’ve learned not to schedule routine doctor, dentist or vet appointments after November 15th. If my body, teeth and dog have made it through the first 10.5 months of the year, by golly, they can hang in there for 1.5 more.

My husband started teaching a few years ago. Now we both have the end of semester crunch right before the holidays. One of his Christmas tasks has always been writing the Christmas cards. The year after he started teaching he decided to adopt the European tradition of sending New Year’s cards instead.

Now he can relax over the task and enjoy writing notes to old friends, catching them up on the happenings of the last year.

And last but definitely not least…

PAMPER:

SANTA, I WANT ONE OF THESE!! (The hot tub, not the blond tyke — photo by Bin im Garten)

Unfortunately when we’re stressed out, the first thing that goes is taking care of ourselves. But that’s when our bodies and minds need pampering the most. We need to pay more attention, not less, to getting enough sleep and trying to eat a healthy diet. Because when we’re in stress overload we are putting more wear and tear on our bodies than they can really handle.

A few minutes of relaxation, about three times a day, can do wonders. Stop, sit, put your feet up, close your eyes, take a deep breath. And do something relaxing, if only for ten to twenty minutes. Read, take a bubble bath, or just sit there and meditate (and maybe daydream about January 2nd!)

You can also use guided imagery to go to somewhere relaxing in your head. Imagine yourself strolling down sandy beaches on a warm day. It doesn’t even have to be someplace you’ve actually been. Make it up. I have this lovely rose garden inside my head that has never existed, and never will exist in my brown-thumb real world where I can’t even keep a potted cactus alive.

The time spent relaxing will be well invested, and not just from a health standpoint. You’ll find that you are more focused and productive when you go back to doing the multitude of things you need to get done.

And when each hectic day is over, treat yourself to a relaxing wind-down before bed so that you sleep well.

Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time. Somewhere along the way in our society, it has turned into a major pressure cooker. But if we can apply a little stressicide, some DDPP, to our holiday preparations, we may just be able to recapture the joy and peace of the season!

Please feel free to leave a comment, but if you’re too busy, I’ll understand. Do take a moment, however, to check out our MEGA December Contest that runs thru 12/23.

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

 

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