We are thrilled and grateful to announce that we've reached 100 founding members of Uncommon! The dining room table is filled with the many pieces that will be combined and mailed soon. We hope it's a special experience. Thanks to each of you for helping build and shape this community, whether through sending a kind email, offering suggestions, sharing your stories, or joining. Uncommon is what it is because of you.
This week, Lisa shares beautiful thoughts on rituals and rhythm.
On Friday afternoon, my husband and I stopped by a little shop to pick up new wicks for our oil menorah. The place was jam-packed with shiny candelabras and brightly colored plates. It was brimming with shoppers, too, of every sort—boisterous shoppers and tentative shoppers, men and women of various races and ages—busily preparing for the upcoming holiday.
Since Chanukah lasts eight days, there’s time to sink into it. It entails a simple departure from the daily routine—the lighting of candles each night, perhaps a song or two and the gathering of friends. The first couple of nights feel new and perhaps a little awkward. We have to remind ourselves how it’s done, arrange the matches, recall the blessings. The middle nights sail along swiftly, as if nothing is out of the ordinary, as if we always greet nightfall with the lighting of candles.
The last night brings fullness—all the candles of the menorah are finally lit—but it is bittersweet. Come morning, we’ll put away the lights until next year and return to our regularly scheduled programming. Sometimes I come away from the holiday wishing we could drag it out a little longer, or perhaps institute a candle-lighting ritual for every night of the year.
Some rituals are special because they do happen every day, but others take on their significance by taking place only at their appointed times. They are preceded by anticipation and preparation, and glowing memories of each year’s festivities are layered one upon the other, always tinged with the hope of next time. — Lisa
Last week's prompt
Last week's dispatch asked, What is your favorite family tradition, holiday or otherwise?
My favorite family tradition is more of an anti-tradition, I suppose. For Thanksgiving and Christmas growing up my parents refused to accept invitations to celebrate the holidays elsewhere and would never entertain our desires to travel. So we spent every holiday of our lives in the house we grew up in, with our immediate family. As a consequence I fear the day I celebrate one of those holidays out of the home, but more so I know I will deeply miss the intense shared experience with our core.
Every Christmas morning, my mom makes homemade cinnamon rolls and we drink sparkling cider. It is the most delicious part of the day!
My favorite tradition is brandy sniffing with my wife's family. We all sit around a table where ever we are and open a new bottle of brandy or single malt scotch. We then take our time to analyze every part of the experience - from the scent then into the actual flavor then about how it lingers and what nuance that brings. The interaction we have last for many eternities. After we stand up and leave that table, the timeless and uncommon tradition lingers — this is my greatest tradition.
I remember as a child my grandmother would cook huge meals on Sunday and a rotating cast of cousins, neighbors, and other family friends who would show up, mostly unannounced. They would spend the afternoon and often the evening in her home and always leave well fed. In my own home, my wife and I have maintained a similar tradition. Having a fully open door policy is tough, our family's and extended circle of friends know that there is always a good meal to be had here. For the holidays and other special occasions, we make a special effort to take in the 'orphans' -- people who live in NYC but can't get home. Typically, that means 10-15 people in our home for most of the day with my wife and I cooking and entertaining the entire time. To this day, I don't know how my grandmother did it all every week! We're exhausted after the last person leaves and we're a team of two!
Every summer my family would take a two week vacation in our funky orange RV. The five of us would pack it up with good food, fun times & head out across the US without any particular direction. We enjoyed exploring at our own pace, discovering new towns and bonding with each other. The spirit of those road trips is something I have carried over into my adult life and I now look forward to creating new memories with my own young family.
My favorite family tradition is always being with my wife on St. Valentine's Day. Yes, we know it is an invented holiday but that has not made a difference to us at all. Of all the family events, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries we have celebrated apart this is the one day we have managed to keep sacrosanct since we met (over 22 years ago). We celebrate it with a slow dinner together. Sometimes we go out for a fantastic meal. Sometimes we stay in. But we both love the grace note of this event in our year.
This last year was a big loss of family in number but a huge treasure in terms of the growth my sister and I had with one another. I think that's the new excitement for us, freedom of creation. We never really had much in the form of traditions as a family other that watching the claymation Christmas series on tv. It's been hard with her living thousand of miles away but I hope we can be inspired to start something new this year as the Amari sisters.
Nestled between the two most expensive holidays of the year, Thanksgiving gets short shrift these days. So, we started a family tradition called the Thanksgiving Tree to help our children remember and appreciate all they have. On the first day of November, I take all the kids out into the woods near our house. We roam the paths (sometimes bravely venturing off them), all in search of the perfect branches to create our tree. We excitedly return home to show Mom what we found, and then my wife takes over. She assembles all the branches into a vase, creating a miniature tree out of it. It looks pretty bare and pathetic at first. But, as each day goes by, our children add a color cut-out of their hand with something they're thankful for on it. The dead, empty tree slowly comes to life with the simple joys of being a kid. Dogs, a favorite food, friends and family, crazy memories, and everything in between fill in the empty spaces between branches. We've saved every note since starting, and now we go through them as November passes. We laugh about some of the things our kids were thankful for, they relive a special memory from the past, and we just enjoy slowing down and remembering as a family. It's a wonderfully refreshing pause before the insanity of Christmas hits, and a tradition that will remain my favorite.
Our family tradition isn't charming, or even very friendly, but ultimately (I think) improves the quality of our time together. My dad, always the tech enthusiast, was in the first wave of iPhone-buyers, which coincided with the launch of his new business. Quickly, he began using his phone to check up on his new company's proceedings, particularly in the first few months. It became a regular conversation at the dinner table, when his attention would shift to the device in his lap. "What're you doing on your phone?"
My father would look up like a guilty teenager. "Oh, just checking the network status!" As we all slowly joined the iPhone fold, it became a family accusation - whenever someone texts or checks email on their phone while we're all together, one of us will call them out. "Hey Sasha, checking the network status?" The admonition, while teasing, serves as a gentle reminder to all of us: this is a time for family rather than devices.
My favorite family tradition is going to my grandmother's house and having a delicious salad, steak, homemade french fries and incredible wines on her back patio. The warmth and joy flowing through everyone present are intense and fleeting. I usually sit next to my grandfather, who, with rosy cheeks and a contagious smile, waxes philosophical about life, travel and engineering. I wouldn't trade those nights for anything.
Every year, my Dad would purchase a tree and it would stay outside until Christmas Eve. My mom would grab all of my siblings and take us to Christmas Eve Mass and then when we returned home the tree would be inside the house with just the lights on it. All of us would go to sleep that night, dreaming of the gifts we would see under the tree the next morning, but secretly the gifts were second on my list. What I loved was seeing that big, beautiful tree that Santa decorated just for my family. We would run down the stairs after my Mom and Dad rang the special snowman bell we had hanging in the hallway and nothing can replace my memory of walking around the corner and seeing that tree all decorated and lit up!
I will never forget the first Christmas Eve when this tradition came to an end. Time marches on and we all grow up, so it was decided that we should decorate the tree together. While this was fun, letting go of Santa decorating our tree for the first 23 years of my life proved difficult. I will always treasure this gift that my parents gave me. This tradition still brings tears to my eyes when I think of it.
Digital Jubilee by Frank Chimero:
I was buried under countless emails, unread RSS posts, archived Instapaper articles, and a never-ending Twitter stream. I had set untenable expectations, because I believed I should be the sort of person who stayed informed and on top of things.
On the pleasures of using a 'dumb' phone by Peter Cohen:
I just don’t want to be tethered to the giant, pulsating übermind of the Internet 24/7 anymore. It was making me dull and more than a bit stupid.
With the new year rapidly approaching, we'd love to create a community reading list of delightful, surprising, thought-provoking uncommon reads for all of us to enjoy over the holidays.
What book or article did you read this year that you wish everyone could read?