Pass down a holiday tradition

Girl walking in snow

We have a holiday tradition that makes people gasp in horror. We open our presents on Christmas night. Not Christmas Eve, Christmas night.

It’s a tradition that stems back to the days when my grandparents owned a greenhouse in the 1930s in Cooksville (now Mississauga) at the corner of Highways 5 and 10, Dundas and Hurontario Streets. Christmas was one of their busiest times of the year, and they would often still be preparing floral orders and making deliveries right up until lunch time on Christmas Day. The only time they could sit down to relax and open gifts was after dinner.

It was a tradition my parents continued when we were young, and a tradition Dave and I have passed on to our children.

I love opening gifts at nighttime, with the fire crackling, the Christmas tree lights shining and a glass of Bailey’s in your hand. You don’t have to worry about jumping up and getting the turkey in the oven or baking pies and it prolongs the anticipation beyond Christmas morning. It also lets us get outside and enjoy the beauty and peace of the day.

I knew the circle was complete when on one of our nightly walks this week, Clare asked, “Mom, can we open presents Christmas night again this year? I really love it.”

My work as a parent is done.

Whatever your traditions or faith, I hope you have a joyous holiday. What’s your favourite holiday tradition? Leave a comment.

Giving beyond the holidays

Loblaw gift card

This week, Loblaw Corporation announced it will give anyone who registers online and who states they bought certain types of bread at their stores from 2011 to 2015 a $25 gift card as a goodwill gesture for price-fixing that took place in their stores during that time period. Registration will open around January 8th.

I plan to register, but I also plan to give my gift card to the local food bank when I get it. I can’t take credit for this idea—at a retirement function the other day, people were talking about the Loblaw gift card and someone suggested we all register and do this.

We give so much to the people we love over the holidays. This week’s #HappyAct to to continue the spirit of giving beyond this weekend.

And kudos to Loblaw Corporation. I’d much rather see millions of Canadians receive a gift card in a positive gesture that can do great good than see the money frittered away in a nasty class action lawsuit.

Be sure to check back next week for my top 10 happy acts of 2017. Happy holidays!

Have a hooga holiday

feet in front of a fireI have a new favourite wood. Hooga. Hygge (which is pronounced “hooga”) is the ancient Danish tradition of creating a warm atmosphere to relax in with friends and family. The origin of the word actually comes from a Norwegian word that means “well-being”.

Picture Christmas eve. You’re in your fluffy socks and fresh onesie from Santa, sipping cocoa or Baileys, surrounded by family and soft candlelight. You have nowhere to go, no set plans. Just time to visit and relax. That’s hooga.

It’s a philosophy that we Canadians as northern people should adopt. A philosophy that embraces simplicity, comfort and time to unwind and slow down and enjoy relaxing time with family or friends.

The Danes may be on to something. Denmark is regularly voted one of the happiest countries of the world. In fact, Copenhagen is home to The Happiness Research Institute and many Danes believe that hooga is a recipe for a happier life and well-being.

The art of hygge has become so popular, Morley College in London has started teaching it as part of their Danish language course.

If you’re not convinced hygge is for you, consider this. “The most important contributor to our psychological wellbeing is the strength of our relationships, and hygge definitely tends to encourage more close and intimate time with loved ones,” according to Dr. Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness at The Happiness Research Institute.

Yes, baby it’s cold outside. Let it snow. Be gay. We don’t care. We’re going to have a hooga holiday. Happy hooga holidays, everyone!

Ed. note: I am so grateful for my warm, cozy house, but my thoughts always turn to those who are less fortunate and homeless on the cold streets. Why not make a donation to a local shelter this holiday?

Wear a crown of flames

candle-of-flamesDecember. A time of darkness and quiet. And while the joyous preparations for the holiday season distracts us from the short days and long dark nights ahead, we lament the loss of light.

The season of advent has historically been linked with festivals celebrating the Winter Solstice and the return of the light. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights celebrates by lighting a candle each day for eight days. The Christian Advent wreath traditionally had four candles, one lit each Sunday before Christmas.

In Sweden, families light a candle every Sunday during advent and celebrate St. Lucy’s Day, the day of light. One young girl from each village would be chosen to wear a wreath on her head to form a crown of flames. She would walk through the village singing Christmas carols and bringing treats and food to the villagers.

In Canada, we take arms against the darkness by hanging Christmas lights and lighting candles to cast a warm glow and light into the night.

This week’s #HappyAct is to wear a crown of flames: light a candle, build a fire in the grate. Be at peace with the stillness and quiet of the dark until we herald the Winter Solstice and the return of the light again.

christmas lights

The gift of time

watch wrapped up as a giftTime is a precious commodity. This weekend, we will receive a rare and special gift: an extra hour in our busy lives.

Here are ten things I never seem to have time for that you can do with your extra 60 minutes from Daylight Savings Time:

  1. Get a head start on your holiday shopping. Adidas and Reebok outlets are featuring 40% off everything in the store this weekend as part of their friends and family event and Indigo has a special 25% promotion on
  2. Go for a long walk in the woods before deer hunting season starts
  3. Sort the stray socks on your dryer and see if you can find a match
  4. Make a prediction for Tuesday night’s U.S. election. Check out sites like oddssharkcom and Paddypower.com, both predicting a 75-90% chance of a Clinton victory
  5. Clean out your pantry or medicine cabinet
  6. Linger with family or friends after a meal over a bottle of wine
  7. Give yourself a manicure or pedicure
  8. Change the batteries in your smoke alarms and check your carbon monoxide detectors.
  9. Start the project you keep saying you’ll start but never have time for
  10. Sleep in

Guess which one I’ll be doing? So much for best intentions. What will you do with your extra hour? Leave a comment.

Be a citizen scientist

Grace in charge of the count with her clipboard
Grace in charge of the count with her clipboard

What’s 115 years old and North America’s largest citizen science project? If you guessed the Christmas bird count, you’d be right.

Yesterday we spent the morning at Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre north of Kingston. They were holding a special Christmas Bird Count for kids. I’ve always been interested in the Christmas Bird Count and was excited to find out more and participate in this important initiative.

The CBC as it’s called started in 1900 and happens between December 14 and January 5. Local groups choose a single day during that period and conduct the count—counts are carried out within a 24-km radius.

We took the red trail and saw 17 perch birds (songbirds like chickadees, junkos, nuthatches), 4 other bird species and 20 water fowl (ducks). The night before I watched Bear Grylls—his guest celebrity this week was Barack Obama and they talked on their trek in Alaska about the effects of climate change. To see 20 waterfowl at this time of year is highly unusual. It’s been so warm, all the lakes are still open, causing migration cycles to alter.

I have to admit, even though we love the outdoors, birds and nature, I’ve always thought of birdwatching being as exciting as watching paint dry and we thought the kids might be bored. We were wrong. They loved it and felt they were making a difference when we explained the research we logged after would help scientists understand migratory patterns and the effects of climate warming.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take part in one of the local bird counts near you. What better way to celebrate the holiday season and work off that turkey than getting outside and seeing if you can spy a wild turkey of your own? To find out more about the Christmas Bird Count, visit http://www.birdscanada.com or if you live in the Kingston region, contact the coordinators for our area Carolyn Bonta or Michael Johnson at 613-353-7968 or bonta.johnson@sympatico.ca. Happy holidays everyone!

bird's nest
Tiny bird nest we discovered on our hike

girl holding bird seed

Play in the big leagues

girl watching zamboniYesterday, we attended the Empire Life children’s Christmas party at the KROCK Centre in Kingston. It’s always a fantastic event with Santa, crafts, cupcakes and lots of good cheer.

The absolute best part of this annual party for our family is being able to skate on the KROCK Centre rink. For one day, we get to play in the big leagues.

We swish down the long straightaways past the blue lines and centre line to the sounds of Christmas music on the loud speakers. I marvel at how big the place is—the rink is cavernous. I look up at the bright lights and ads adorning the walls of the rink, the big Canadian flag and scoreboard and my co-workers eating pizza in the stands. We feel like we have the whole arena all to ourselves.

We play a serious game of tag. The kids are too fast now—I can’t catch them, but have fun trying. We watch from the visitor’s bench as the Zamboni makes its rounds, leaving the ice a slate of sheer beauty. It’s so perfect you feel like you’re skating on glass. Grace and Clare perch at the opening to the door on the bench, determined to be the first back on the ice.

Yes, it was a great day. A day when you can imagine, just for a moment playing in the big leagues.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find something you can do with your friends or family that makes you dream big. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your own rink of dreams.

Ed. Note: As a follow-up to last week’s blog, I posted the question “Does being a leader make you happy” on Quora. You can see the conversation here.

Wrap it up in a big red bow

 

ATV with  a red bowIt’s officially here. The season of gift giving. The shopping frenzy starts with Black Friday and continues for thirty days of mall madness to Christmas and Boxing Day.

We’ve never been extravagant gift givers in our house. When the kids were little, we followed the ABC rule—a toy, a book and one outfit of new clothes. We’ve never done the “big gesture”. There’s been no trips under our tree. No diamond rings or necklaces. The gifts under our tree have always been modest.

Well, all that changed last week in a culmination of happy acts. In October, I blogged about the 23 years I’ve been married to Dave in “Marriage is a Life Sentence”. My happy act that week was to do something special for your partner in crime in life. I wracked my brains to think about something special to do for Dave and could only come up with one thing.

For the past two years, all Dave has talked about is getting an ATV. Ad nauseom. We had been saving, but a car bill here, a washing machine on the fritz here kept putting it off.

Then last week, my post was about taking the Financial Weight Loss Challenge. The idea is to take action on the one thing you should do during Financial Literacy Month to feel better about your financial health. In that post, I said we’ve always taken a balanced approach between saving and living and right now, living was winning out.

So as Dave’s birthday approached, I decided to kill two happy acts with one stone and buy an ATV from Perth Powersports (the team there were great!) It just so happened I was working from home on Dave’s birthday, and would actually be at the house when he got home from work to see his reaction. They delivered it in the morning—a shiny yellow CanAm 450 Outlander with a plow. All it needed was a big red bow.

Dave’s reaction was everything we hoped for and more. He was a 12-year old boy again on the farm with a grin a mile wide. It’s still on his face.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find the perfect gift for someone this season and wrap it up in a big red bow. I still don’t think you need the “big gesture” to bring joy and pleasure in the gift you choose. It might be cliché, but it really is the thought that counts and finding that perfect gift, big or small.

Man and ATV

Christmas sweaters, me stuff and Father Time

Clock with time for me
Important stuff

Hi there. I should probably introduce myself, I’m Craig from Todays Chapter. Don’t worry, Laurie will be back next Sunday, but she has kindly offered to hand over the reins for a guest post. I’m a huge fan of Happy Act and Laurie’s thoughtful weekly advice to achieve happiness, so I’m fully aware just how big these shoes are to fill. Here goes nothing…

There is phrase often used when talking about personal finances, “Pay yourself first”. The basic concept is before you try to pay down debts or buy new things, you should carve out a little something for the ‘you’ of the future. It’s generally agreed that for this to be effective it should be done automatically, not something you consciously have to decide to do each payday. Money is finite but the list of things to buy with it is seemingly endless, so you should carve out a chunk to put aside before you blow it on that hand-knitted Christmas sweater that suddenly seems like an essential purchase.

Xmas sweater
Not important stuff

While I am terrible at paying myself first financially, I am a strong believer in applying this concept to my time. Just like money, time is a finite resource that needs to be carefully managed to achieve your goals. Unlike money you can’t earn more of it. This means we all try to cram more and more into a day.

As a new parent I particularly felt this strain. Overnight my time became someone else’s. In my initial panic to keep our darling daughter alive and happy, I stopped going to the gym; there simply wasn’t time. Then I stopped reading, then writing, then sleeping and showering. I did all of this for good reason, but the net result was a happy baby and a tired, stinky and grumpy Daddy. I’d forgotten to pay myself first. When I finally figured this out it seemed so obvious, but at the time it didn’t seem that way at all.

The solution was simple. I carve out 30 minutes a day just for me. Each day I figure out what to ‘spend’ it on, sometimes it’s a nap, others a blog post. I even manage to occasionally sneak in some video games. The other 23.5 hours a day are to spend on ‘stuff’, but that 0.5 is all mine. The difference that simple change makes is staggering, I feel like a new person. I have transformed into a tired, stinky but happy Daddy!

My advice to achieve happiness is simple, pay yourself first. Carve out a tiny slice of your day and make it all yours, then fill it with whatever makes you happy. Make this a habit, not something you do every now and again, because if you don’t you will always find other ‘stuff’ to spend that time on.

Ok, that’s it, I’m handing the controls back to our resident happiness guru. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a new Christmas sweater…

Enjoy the wizard’s light show

Christmas lights at Upper Canada village in Morrisburg
Alight at Night at Morrisburg

When Thomas Edison first hung a string of incandescent lights outside his laboratory in New York in 1880 so commuters on a passing train could see them, they called it the wizard’s light show.

As the Winter Solstice approaches, and the days grow shorter, we turn to lights to brighten the darkness and warm our hearts.

I was in Montreal this week, and even though there was a raging snowstorm, it was beautiful with magnificent wreaths, statues and lights gracing many of the buildings.

Every year, Regent Street in London lights up. Here’s this year’s lighting ceremony on Regent Street. Even though I’ve never been lucky enough to attend the Regent Street festivities in person, I watch it online each year. My favourite was the year Nokia sponsored the display and made the lights interactive, so the crowd could control the lighting. Watch this amazing video of how they created the Unity Nokia Regent Street light display that year.

For those of us in Eastern Ontario, Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg is a must-see. We went last year and it was magical. The entire historical village is lit up, and you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride or simply stroll through the streets admiring the lights and light shows timed to music.

Whether you live in a big city, small town or in the country, this week’s #HappyAct is to get out and brighten your night by looking at the lights of the season. For more information on the history of Christmas lights, read this interesting article.