Holiday Gloom and Drive-By Nativities

Christmas 2012 002editedI have seriously committed to the Christmas Spirit this weekend. After waiting until practically the last minute to do any decorating at all, this weekend we have put up the Christmas tree (with an insane amount of lights), put lights, decorations, candy canes and everything else you can think of inside the house. LED Christmas tree in the den? Check. Miniature tree with tiny ornaments for the kitchen? Check. Shiny silver garland in the kitchen? Check.

I even put some lights up outside around the kitchen door because we decided – spontaneously, at the last minute – to have friends over for a holiday party. Last night! I had to whip the family into action and drive them like a drill instructor to get everything done. But we did and it was awesome. The house looked great, the hastily thrown-together food was fantastic, the company was especially wonderful and there was so much laughter my daughter has seriously sore abs tonight.

In addition to socializing and eating and drinking, we did two very fun things to entertain ourselves:

Gloom1. Holiday Gloom – If you’ve never played the game Gloom, I highly recommend it. It’s especially fun for writers and people who love to tell stories. Here is a link to a video of Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame) playing Gloom with friends. The goal is to make your opponents’ characters happy and your own miserable and be the first to kill off all your characters. How fun is that? The thing that made our game last night so fun, though, was that we made a rule that all scenarios in the game had to be Christmas-themed. It’s amazing how many ways there are to suffer and die at the holidays! 😀

drive-by nativity2. Drive-By Nativity Scene – Okay, we jokingly called it a drive-by nativity, but it was really a drive-through nativity scene. A local church has been doing this for 28 years and they do a great job. They have scenes from the Christmas story set up and the narration for each scene plays on a loop. You have to roll down your windows to hear it, though, and it was 38 degrees. Some of the actors looked fairly miserable, having stood out in the cold and dark for 2 hours. It was, in parts, unintentionally hilarious – say, when the 60-something year-old Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel (a lovely teenaged girl of about 15 with long, gorgeous blonde hair) that she was to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Believe me, if that little lady was impregnated by anyone, it would be a Christmas miracle! There was also a sheep with a little 11 day-old baby sheep that was beyond adorable. So much to love at the drive-by nativity scene!

We had so much fun we decided we should make this get-together a new tradition, complete with Holiday Gloom and the Drive-By Nativity. I will try not to volunteer to teach Sunday school the morning after this party next year. As it is, I will be in my Sunday school class leading the lesson this morning. I need more sleep to support all this insane Christmas festivity!

Do you have any non-traditional “traditions” at your house? Any friends or parties you particularly anticipate as you await Christmas? What is your favorite Christmas ritual as you anticipate the holiday?

Since it’s the 12 Bandita Days of Christmas, I will give an e-book copy of my latest novel, TIARA WARS, to a commenter today. Thanks for playing with us! 

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  • Deb says:

    Golden Rooster?

  • Jane says:

    Hello Caren,
    My cousin and I have Christmas brunch before the big meal. We started this tradition about 5 years ago. For the first couple of years it was just us two, but this year most of the relatives are going so it should be fun.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Jane, what a fun tradition! It’s also a nice way to spend some extra face time with your cousin and other relatives without the distraction of presents and expectations. My brother and SIL started having us all over to their house for brunch before our big meal in the afternoon about 3 years ago. We all really look forward to it now. I hope you guys have a wonderful gathering this year!

  • Deb says:

    Well, my husband’s family has a non-traditional tradition at Christmas time. It has taken me 16 years to get used to it. His family has had tuna salad sandwiches and strawberry pop by candlelight on Christmas Eve since the early ’30s. Yes, I know. But, sigh, Tradition! His grandparents were young, poor newlyweds. Grandma H. whipped up tuna salad sandwiches and Grandpa H. bought 2 bottles of strawberry Crush, and they ate their Christmas Eve meal by candlelight.
    So, we now add chips and chili or other soup to the meal.
    P.S. I remember those days of late Saturday nights and teaching Sunday School, Caren.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Deb, what a fun tradition! It’s great because it helps everyone in the family remember why they have tuna salad sandwiches and who started the tradition. I love this!

      And yes, I’m about to head out to church now. At least with my adult class, everyone understands prepping to lead class in haste! We have ALL had that late Saturday night at some point. 😀

  • Amy Conley says:

    the biggest tradition we’ve ever had was when the kids were little and we made them wait until you’re my girl got here. After Grandma and Grandpa got here they were allowed to open their stockings and then we all had biscuits and gravy for breakfast and is into all of our gifts

    • Caren Crane says:

      Wow, Amy, that is a great tradition! Of course, pressure is on the grandparents to arrive in time. 🙂 It probably wasn’t so bad in the days before cell phones, but these days the kids would be up at dawn texting the grandparents and telling them to get a move on. LOL

      Then again, anticipation can and does make things a bit more fun and exciting. I kind of like having to wait most of the time. I know, I am WEIRD!

  • Helen says:


    I think I am finally ready for Christmas 5 cakes done the pudding done tree up presents bought (just need to wrap them ) and I need to do some grocery on Tuesday pick the park up on Wednesday then all will be done.

    As for traditions we have Barbara and her up hubby up for drinks and nibbilies on Christmas Eve and we watch the carols by candlelight on the TV and this started many years ago when my kids were little and I would hide all of the presents at Barbara’s place so they couldn’t snoop (they still haven’t forgiven me lol) and Barbara would bring them up and it has carried on and has become a tradition that we would not miss out on

    Have fun

    • Caren Crane says:

      Helen, congratulations on getting Christmas prep work done! I am slowly getting there. Still haven’t wrapped a thing, but at least most things have been bought!

      I love that you and Barbara have been friends for so long and have wonderful memories and traditions now. I wish my bestie lived down the street. It would make life so much more pleasant!

  • flchen1 says:

    Those traditions sound hilarious and very fun, Caren! I’m blanking on non-traditional traditions at the moment… alas!! 😀 More cookies, please! 😀

    • Caren Crane says:

      Fedora, there can never be too many cookies! 😀

      A man at church today told me that when his FIL was alive, he, his FIL and a BIL would go out in the backyard every Christmas eve to cook pickled herring. His in-laws lived in eastern NC, where salting fish is a centuries-old tradition for those who live on the coast and along the tidal rivers. He said they would go out to grill and drink bourbon while they did. He misses that. I’m sure I would, too!

  • Franca Poli says:

    My Christmas traditions are: do the tree, the crib and lunch on Christmas day with my family. 🙂

    • Caren Crane says:

      Franca, isn’t it wonderful to gather with your family on Christmas day? For us, it means piling all the presents in the car and driving 3 hours to Charlotte, NC, every year. It was a challenge when the kids were small, but it is an ingrained tradition for us. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a huge pile of Cranes, kids and in-laws!

  • Shannon says:

    The tradition at home was a sweet breakfast–usually butterhorns (a pastry that’s better than a croissant). This year, I have brandname orange rolls.

    Then it was to make stuffing early so that the bird could go into the oven. This year I’ll be putting together everything for a pot roast into a crockpot around 2 or 4 or something this Christmas AM for various reasons: a) Bill doesn’t want turkey after surfeit of that for Thanksgiving, b) We dont trust J***** with the turkey with her dementia, c) I don’t want anyone doing bunches of dishes, and d) we’re going out to a movie. Who know, this too may become a tradition.

    • Shannon says:

      Yes, this an old, old crockpot that Mom gave me when I first got out of college in 1982.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Shannon, we never have turkey on Christmas, either. After all the bounty of turkey at Thanksgiving, we prefer to have ham! Except my husband no longer eats ham, so we tend to get creative with chicken, at least a small something for him. 🙂

      It’s great that you have evolved your traditions as the needs of the family have changed. I can think of much worse traditions than going to the movies on Christmas day. I don’t know that we’ll do it this year, but my mother really wants to see Into the Woods, which opens on Christmas Day, so it might happen.

      I also love that your old crockpot still works. I love the old ones, which are practically indestructible!

  • Mozette says:

    I’ve created a tradition at my place to put streamers outside my house on my Jades. They’re so cute and it really give my townhouse a real sparkle at this time of year. I’ve been doing this for the last 3 years. And when Little Miss Stevie was alive, she loved the reflections the streamers made on the ceiling during the day.

    Then, I get all my shopping done and finished by the first week of December… and then try not to go to any shopping centres until grocery shopping day. It’s been a hard and fast rule of mine for years – I just don’t like crowds.

    Otherwise, I sent out my Christmas cards by the second week at the latest and have the house decorated by the end of the first week as well…

    It’s just something I do..

    On Christmas Eve, we all get together at either Mum and Dad’s house or my brother and his girlfriend’s house and have dinner and open all our gifts. It saves us doing it on Christmas Day and we can just pack up and go out to lunch nice, slow and easy.

    This year, we’re spending time at Mum and Dad’s house on Christmas Eve to have dinner and open our presents. Then, we’re all going home that night.
    The next day, Mum, Dad and I are heading off to the north coast to Caboulture to have lunch and spend time with my brother’s girlfriend’s family. Then, we’re coming home and Mum and Dad are continuing to the coast.
    The next day or two I’m packing my car to get my butt to Brunswick Heads. Seeing I want to take my time and not rush, I’ll be doing this on my time (which Dad will pout about, but he just has to understand that a full day out and then a full night of me driving just doesn’t work with me).

    But yeah, this is Christmas for us. 😀

    • Caren Crane says:

      Mozette, your streamers look so fun! I’m sure Little Miss Stevie loved watching them!

      What a lovely thing that your family has adapted Christmas to be relaxing, fun and easy for all of you. It’s easy to get caught up in things being a certain way, so it’s especially impressive you can look at it with some perspective, then keep what works and change what could be even better.

      Safe travels to you and yours. I hope it’s a fabulous Christmas for all of you!

      • Mozette says:

        And Merry Christmas to you too!

        Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year – not to mention a safe one – do come back to us all in one piece in 2015! 😀

  • Maureen says:

    One of my favorite traditions is when we decorate the tree together.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Maureen, isn’t it special to get together and decorate the tree? In my home, we each have ornaments that are special to us for different reasons. I have some I painted, some the kids made, ones I got at the annual Dirty Santa ornament exchange with my Sunday school class. We love to talk about our memories of the ornaments and linger over the process. The gorgeous tree is almost a side benefit! 🙂

  • Teresa Hughes says:

    We play Rummy and Yahtzee. While we are playing Dog the Bounty Hunter or some other reality show is generally on.

    This year I am looking forward to seeing my grandson open his presents. Last year he was 5 months old so you didn’t really get to see the wonder on his face like we will this year.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Teresa, I haven’t played Rummy in years. My siblings and I used to have all-day Rummy marathons when I was growing up, so I’m surprised we never play now. And Yahtzee has so many wonderful memories for me! It’s fun for everyone because so much of it is pure luck. What fun!

      I hope you have a very special Christmas with your grandson this year. There is nothing more special than the wonder of Christmas to an young child. Enjoy every moment!

  • Caren, what a fun evening! I feel for the Nativity actors.

    I don’t know that we have any nontraditional traditions. In the runup to Christmas, we watch Jingle All the Way and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version). During actual Christmas, we watch the marathon of A Christmas Story on TV.

    Last year I bought a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of Santa and Mrs. Claus relaxing with elves in their giant library (at least, that’s how I’ve chosen to interpret the art–there are no Christmas trees). I just worked it for the first time, and this may become a tradition.

    The dh and the boy help me with puzzles, and we do have a tradition that the boy gives me a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas and for my birthday. As soon as we no longer need the table for holiday entertaining, I start the puzzle.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Nancy, I so love watching Christmas movies and cartoons! And we look for to the “A Christmas Story” marathon every year, too. Ralphie’s dilemmas bring back memories for all of us, I think, no matter when we were children!

      We, too, work puzzles every year as soon as Christmas dinner is cleared. My mother is a puzzle fiend and I adore puzzles. My kids and DH love them, too, so we have piles of puzzles with 1000 pieces (or more!), as does my mother. This is always a group affair at Mama’s house, with people coming and going as their temperaments allow.

      My older daughter is fairly obsessive, though, and tends to stay far too long at the dining room table, until she is tired and frustrated and needs to go to bed (usually in the wee hours of the morning). The rest of us have learned moderation – or at least our limits. 😀

      • Caren, I didn’t know you were also into puzzles! I tried a 1500-piece once, and it barely fit on the table. So I’ve decreed no more than 1000 pieces for the sake of logistics and not having to hunt pieces on the floor all the time.

        • Caren Crane says:

          I have to admit, Nancy, that the bigger the puzzle, the more pieces we lose. It’s maddening! But my mom’s dining room table is very large and we can add two leaves, so it accommodates the largest of puzzles. 😀

  • Anna Sugden says:

    Love the sound of Gloom, Caren – may have to invest in that! And also your drive-through Nativity sounds awesome (poor actors!)

    One of my favourite traditions is that I get to drink a glass of my favourite red wine on Christmas Day – I try not to drink red wine the rest of the year as it can trigger migraines, but throw caution to the wind for one day!

    Christmas Eve is also my nephew’s birthday, so I love going to their house to celebrate his birthday. We always make a fuss of him, because we don’t want him to lose out with a birthday so close to Christmas! This year will be extra special as he turns 18!

    • Caren Crane says:

      Anna, I hope you savor your glass of red wine this Christmas and that it triggers no migraines!

      How special for your nephew that everyone goes out of their way to make his Christmas Eve birthday a real celebration. I have a niece whose birthday is New Years Eve, so we have to do the same for her.

      I hope you have a very happy Christmas!

  • We have a “drive-by” Christmas in our community too. LOL That is what I am going to call it from now on! Some years it isn’t bad, but some years the only performers who are enjoying it are the animals. This is a rural community with some resident eccentrics. Most years there are sheep, donkeys, horses,cattle, sheep dogs, etc. Some years there has even been a camel or two. Don’t ask. But I don’t ever recall a sixty-year-old Virgin Mary!

    At Mom’s the tradition is that the grandkids put up the tree on Thanksgiving Eve. This year the newest addition to the family participated. Miss Marilyn Rose is 11 months old and she had a ball !

    But Christmas day after the dinner and the gifts it is Cutthroat Monopoly. Things get ugly. Business deals that Donald Trump wouldn’t touch go down.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Louisa, I hope your drive-by Nativity is as fun as ours was. For some reason, this year there was a big bonfire out front near the road and there were some plywood camels kneeling around it. At least, they were supposed to be kneeling. They looked more like they were sunk to the knees in quicksand. Around a bonfire! I have no idea what they were thinking.

      I love that Miss Marilyn Rose got to help with the decorating of the tree. I’m sure that was extra fun for everyone! I can’t wait until we have babies in the family again. The only one we have is my cousin’s son, who is 2 this Christmas. He gets spoiled rotten because he is the only baby we have anymore!

      I had to laugh about your family’s Cutthroat Monopoly. We have had some Trivial Pursuit games that got deadly over the years. You would think the fate of the world hinged on who won! We had to stop playing Monopoly, because my sister Holli would always hide money under the board and inevitably turned into a slum lord. She was the worst to play with! 😀

  • Cassondra Murray says:

    Caren, what a fun tradition to start! I love the drive-by nativity story, and Gloom sounds like a great time. We love games, so I’ll have to look for that.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Cassondra, Gloom is amazing. There are different versions, too. One of my friends has the Cthulu version, which Jeanne would adore! Personally, I want to get the Unhappy Homes and Unwelcome Guests versions to play.

      Come to think of it, I joined a club at a game store in town last time I was at my mom’s. One of the perks is you can check out games to try to see if you want to buy them. I am definitely going to see if they have other versions of Gloom. You should check it out. I think you would love it!

  • Sally Schmidt says:

    When I was a child Santa always came just after midnight. So we had to go to sleep, then as Santa took off with a jingling of bells after leaving our gifts we could get up and open them. Then we’d go back to bed in the wee hours.

    Then – for some reason I have never figured out Santa came BACK to our house before we got up again and left stockings. Seemed perfectly normal growing up and of course that was Santa’s routine when my children were small (actually even now when everyone is grown up). Boy, do Santa’s helpers get tired when they have to remember to sneak in and leave stockings laying around before anyone gets back up. Sometimes Santa’s helper forgets and what a scramble then.

    We used to cram everyone into the car and do the drive-by thing, too.

    My daughter stood too close to a candle burning on the mantle one year, but we didn’t turn that into a tradition!

  • Sally Schmidt says:

    I meant to say: My daughter stood too close to a candle burning on the mantle one year and caught her hair on fire, but we didn’t turn that into a tradition! 🙂

    • Caren Crane says:

      Sally. that was a great Santa tradition. But, as a parent, it sounds exhausting! I kind of liked it when my kids were older and slept until we made them wake up. Santa got lots of rest then! 🙂

      So glad you decided not to make Flaming Angels a part of Christmas. That could have gotten dangerous! LOL

  • catslady says:

    I’ve mentioned my tree trimming party but it really isn’t Christmas until that happens. Some years it’s early and other years it’s right before Christmas. We watch Christmas Vacation and it’s a houseful so lots of fun, food, drink and laughter. Tomorrow I hope to finish my holiday shopping – I hate the last minute but it seems to happen most years.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Catslady, I am still SO JEALOUS of your tree-trimming party. Since my girls will be out of college (and hopefully out of the house) soon, I may have to start that tradition at my house just so the tree will get done! 🙂

      I’m never finished with Christmas shopping. I invariably forget someone or something and end up having to dart out at the last moment. I hope your last-minute shopping is painless!

  • My word, Caren, you wore me out just reading about all you accomplished in a short time! My approach this year was a little decorating every day. I think it took three days to do the tree so that it would be done by Thanksgiving. (We had guests who wouldn’t be around for Christmas so we did it early). I haven’t decorated as much this year as I have in the past – less to take down and put away in January 🙂

    I’ll have to check out the Gloom game – that sounds like fun.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Donna, I have every intention of being slow and deliberate about things every year. Honestly, I do. But I am so slow to get motivated that unless I set a deadline (like the party we had yesterday), nothing gets done until the last minute!

      I am really enjoying all the decorations. There are lights everywhere! It brightens up the loooong, dark evening. Oh HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE, by the way!

      Definitely check out Gloom. It is a game all writers will adore – especially those who enjoy tormenting characters! 😀

  • Caren, love your posts. They always crack me up. You and Susan Sey owe me a new keyboard! Love the idea of the drive by nativity! But honestly, I’d rather do it down in Australia where it’s warm rather than up your way! Mind you, nothing worse than a sweaty Baby Jesus, is there?

    • Caren Crane says:

      Anna, thank you for the love. Susan and I will happily buy you a new keyboard. It’s a small price to pay for amusing La Campbell! 😀

      I can’t imagine a sweltering summer feeling like Christmas. I’m sure, after a lifetime of it, it’s the most natural thing ever. Still, poor sweaty Baby Jesus! The camels must be dying of thirst. The wisemen begging for a cold pint. Joseph wearing shorts and a wife beater. Poor Mary. So uncomfortable to nurse in the heat! Of course, we never hear about things like Mary nursing, but you know she must have. It’s just not the same! 😀

  • bn100 says:

    don’t really have any

    • Caren Crane says:

      You need to work on that, BN100. I’m sure we could give you some ideas. How about a Christmas drinking game where every time someone uses complete sentences, you do a shot?