Tales From A Hungry Life

December 11, 2013

Christmas Spirit

by Maria Schulz

Now that the holiday season is here, it makes me think about all the ways we should display Christmas Spirit. That’s not really easy to do, though, since everyone is rushing, there are only 100 parking spots and 500 people shopping, and we have a coupon that’s about to expire and we WANT THE DISCOUNT.

In order to inspire some much-needed holiday spirit this year, I think it’s important to remember a few things. Just answer the following questions and you should have all the information you need to glide through the season with a smile on your face and no mug shot at the police station.

1. When you drive to the mall, you should always:

a) Honk your horn at everyone who crosses your path

b) Let pedestrians cross in front of you

c) Stay in the car, letting it run incessantly, because you HAVE to have the spot closest to the door

d) Cut off as many people as you can, because, hey—you were there first

Answer: B, possibly A, and definitely D

Don't forget the soda

Don’t forget the soda

2. Success! You found a parking spot 3 football fields away, and you’re finally in the mall. The first thing you should do is:

a) Stop at Loralei’s Pretzels and load up on necessary carbs

b) Go over to the engraver’s kiosk to get some gifts, because who doesn’t need another silver pen with their initials on it

c) Run to Thingys & Thingamabobs to make that mechanical puppy roll over 100 times, because that never gets old

d) Look at your list and buy thoughtful gifts that you know they want

Answer: Definitely A & C



3. There’s a doorbuster sale over at Lunatics ‘R Us. Naturally, this means you should:

a) Put on your running shoes, because you are going to run like there’s an angry bull hot on your heels and about to gore you

b) Print out about 300 coupons, because people on line love it when you use every last one of them

c) Wear roller skates, because you are going to zoom through that store and grab every toy on little kids’ “Dear Santa” lists, and then sell them online for a killing

d) Not determine that the salesperson is stupid, impossible or Satan incarnate and needs to hear what you sound like when you scream all because your coupon has expired

Answer: A & C

Even more lights than this

Even more lights than this

4. You’ve finally left the mall and are driving home. Along the way, you notice a house that has enough Christmas lights on it to be spotted from deep outer space. You immediately:

a) Buy a hot chocolate and go on over to take in the spectacle

b) Drive so close to the neighbors’ cars that you break off one of the side view mirrors

c) Double park right in front of the house, thereby stopping all traffic from passing

d) Go home and leave those poor people alone

Answer: A & D

Great toy drive gift

Great toy drive gift

5. You want to help people less fortunate than you this holiday season. The best way to do it is to:

a) Mention your intention to do this repeatedly, and then completely forget about it

b) Ask your friends how you can participate in something like this, while never really doing anything to make it happen

c) Join a local choir that goes to hospitals and nursing homes to sing such Christmas favorites as “O Tannenbaum” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

d) Pick up unwrapped, new toys that you can drop off at a local charity

Answer: C & D

So maybe my tree isn't as big as this

So maybe my tree isn’t as big as this

6. It’s time to put up your Christmas tree! This means you should:

a) Enlist the help of your family, who hasn’t enjoyed helping you do this in, well, ever

b) Begin screaming, because the “plug it in and go” Christmas tree you bought won’t light up and you can’t figure out which string of lights is bad

c) Engage in an all-out battle over who gets to put on the star at the top of the tree

d) Laugh over all of the ornaments you’ve bought together over the years just like they do in those commercials, only you’ll be making fun of each other’s choices

Answer: All of the above

Stamps! I need stamps!

Stamps! I need stamps!

7. It’s time to write out your Christmas cards! Now you should:

a) Check your list and send out over 500 cards to people you never see or talk to or want to see or talk to

b) Write an elaborate newsletter that no one, including you, wants to read and send it to those 500 people

c) Curse yourself for not buying stamps before the rest of the planet decided to go buy stamps, because the people getting your cards won’t read your card if the stamp isn’t holiday related

d) Go to the post office at dawn to get your stamps

Answer: D



8. Christmas cookies are an important part of your holiday tradition. This means you should:

a) Tear apart the kitchen cabinets in search of your gingerbread man cookie cutters, because Christmas will NOT COME if you don’t find them

b) Make enough cookies to feed a 3rd world country for a week, then package them up and head to the post office so the people trying to buy stamps can curse you

c) Pull out your grandmother’s ancient cookie recipes and cover yourself in flour in pursuit of the perfect Christmas cookie

d) Buy the refrigerated “cut and go” dough and sit down with your feet up while they bake

Answer: A & D

Dance like Snoopy

Dance like Snoopy

9. Watching Christmas movies is a part of your beloved family traditions. So now you must:

a) Drag the kids into the family room to watch Scrooge even though they think it’s too long and get scared by most of it

b) Answer the age-old question, “why is Santa so rotten?” in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

c) Feel your blood pressure rise when George Bailey takes the fall for Uncle Billy during It’s A Wonderful Life

d) Get up and dance just like Snoopy while Schroeder plays “that Charlie Brown song” during Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown

Answer: All of the above

Get wrapping

Get wrapping

10. You begin to notice that your “needs to be wrapped” pile of gifts is beginning to resemble Mount Everest. You should immediately:

a) Close the door to that room and make believe the gifts are not there until the last possible moment

b) Put on some music and enlist your children to help you wrap the mountain of gifts so you don’t have your yearly epic meltdown

c) Wrap a few presents every single day so you don’t throw your back out wrapping gifts while crouched over the floor in a sweaty panic

d) Keep calm and use aluminum foil and gift bags to wrap all of your gifts

Answer: All of the above

Did you get all the right answers? Me neither. My advice to you is this: do your best to put a smile on your face and help other people whenever you can. That should make the holiday season better, and give the people around you many topics to discuss, like: “has she lost her mind?” “Why does he keep wearing that stupid smile?” and “who does he think he is, Santa effing Claus?”

As for me, I look to the memory of my mother for Christmas inspiration whenever I need to remember what this season is really supposed to be about.

My mother was much nicer then me. She didn’t like to disappoint people and she went out of her way to avoid it. Personally, I don’t enjoy disappointing people, but I figured out a long time ago that sometimes you just can’t help it…and I’m okay with that.

One of the ways that my mother showed compassion was by visiting an elderly nun that we knew. Sister Frannie was a kind, loving little old lady who looked to me like she was about 214 years old. She could have been 50 or 90 for all I knew; it was the same thing as far as I was concerned back then.

We would see Sister Frannie on Thursday nights when we went to the local prayer meeting. She would toddle over and help my mom get the coffee going in the kitchen and talk about the bible with her before and after the meeting.

Sister was a softie; she laughed at all of my jokes and never, ever tried to hit me. She had been a wonderful teacher for many years and now she was retired and living in the local convent.

My mother liked Sister Frannie. The two of them would sit together, chatting and laughing. So it was only natural that my Mom would feel bad when she discovered that Sister Frannie was going to spend Christmas Eve all alone in the convent.

“Can we stop by for a visit?” my mother asked.

“That would be lovely,” Sister Frannie responded.

Like this, only much older

Like this, only much older

Usually, I wasn’t really listening when my mother and Sister Frannie talked. I looked like I was, but I was actually watching my father talk to people across the room, or wondering if I could go get another cookie, or would we get home in time for The Odd Couple reruns? I never realized that I had agreed to spend part of my Christmas Eve in the convent with a centuries-old nun and my mother.

When I was 9, this was a novelty. I helped Mom pick out a soft blue scarf for Sister and then helped wrap the box. We knocked on the convent door, and Sister Frannie was overjoyed to see us there.

So warm

So warm

I sat there quietly while my mother and Sister talked about the prayer meeting, kids these days, who was sick and who was dead, and more riveting chit-chat. I didn’t want to spend any more time then I had to there, since the convent was dark and dreary, and smelled like mothballs and incense. I had never craved sunshine and fresh air so much.

By the time I was 12, I couldn’t wait for this ritual to end. Sure, Sister Frannie was nice, but why were we spending so much time with her every Christmas Eve? My mother handed her a gift and I realized I would be as surprised by what was inside as Sister Frannie was because I didn’t help pick it out and I definitely didn’t wrap it.

“Oh this is lovely,” Sister Frannie said, as she opened a box of candy. “I do so love my sweets.”

I was gazing out the window when my mother nudged me.

“What?” I said.

“Sister Frannie is telling us a story that she wants you to listen to,” my mother said. By the annoyed look on her face, I could tell I had better pay attention.

“Maria dear,” Sister Frannie began. “I think I know what the future holds for you.”

I did not know how to respond to this. “Um. Okay.”

“The Lord wants you to become a nun.”

I burst out laughing and only stopped because my mother kicked me.

“Why are you laughing, my child?” Sister Frannie said.

“Because I thought you said the Lord told you I was going to be a nun.”

“That’s what I did say, dear. It came to me in a vision.”

“Maybe it’s time to get your vision checked, Sister.”

My mother gave me another good shot in the shins before I could get away.

“Oh, I’m quite certain you’re going to become a nun some day. I think God is calling you.”

I shook my head. “Sister, God may be calling, but my phone is off the hook. He better change His plans. There is no way I will ever be a nun.”

Sister fastened her hands around mine. “You will if that’s what God wants.”

I opened my mouth, and then saw my mother out of the corner of my eye. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

When we walked out to the car, my mother was angry. “You were rude to that sweet little old lady. Why can’t you just go along?”

“Nope,” I replied. “No way. Can you see me as a nun?”

My mother laughed. “No, but you hurt her feelings. I think you disappointed her.”

“Why do I have to agree with her if I know it’s not true? Besides, if I don’t protest, every time she sees me she’s going to try to get me to join the order. No thank you!”

My mother eventually forgave me, and she even allowed me to stop coming with her to visit Sister Frannie. Eventually, Sister Frannie went on to her reward, and I didn’t have to make believe I was entertaining the idea that I might be a nun some day.

Years went by. I grew up, got married, and had children. My mother ended up with Alzheimer’s disease, and sometimes, she had visions too.

There came a day around Christmas when I took my mother to my local hair salon so we could both get our hair done. The women in this salon were very kind; I purposely brought my mother there on Tuesdays because it was quiet, and they could devote extra time to her.

If I was getting my hair washed, I didn’t have to worry that my mother would wander out the door while I wasn’t looking; the ladies at the salon watched her and kept her safe.

That day, while we were both getting our hair done, I looked across at my mother and realized that she was talking to someone. I put down my magazine and looked around. There was no one there.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. My mother was having a very spirited (and apparently amusing) conversation with herself in the mirror, but she thought it was a very attractive and like-minded new friend.

My face turned beet red to the roots of my hair. Still, I didn’t know what to do. If I pointed out to my mother that she was having a long conversation WITH HER REFLECTION, she would deny it and get mad at me. But if I did nothing, wouldn’t I be encouraging her in her delusions?

The woman who washed my hair was also watching my mother, and then she came to me with a cup of tea.

“My mother is having a long conversation with herself.” I said.

“I know,” Linda replied. “But she seems happy.”

“This is embarrassing,” I said. “I should stop her.”

“No one is here and she’s not hurting anyone,” Linda said. “Can’t you just go along?”

I nodded as Linda squeezed my shoulder and walked away. My mother’s words from long ago, “Can’t you just go along?” rang in my ears.

I let my mother continue talking to her new friend. Eventually, Linda took her over to the sink and my mother said goodbye to her reflection/pal. I took my mother home, where all was forgotten about her new “friend” and even the fact that she got her hair done.

But for just one moment, my mother was happy. Couldn’t I have done the same thing for Sister Frannie so many years earlier? So what if I was never going to be a nun. Couldn’t I just smile and feel happy that she saw something in me that was good, and she wanted to share her happiness with me?

While my mother isn’t here anymore and can’t give me candy or scarves to let me know she’s thinking of me, I can still remember how easily she gave of herself at Christmas. I remember how she bought gifts that were small, but thoughtful. I remember how she saw a little old lady who had spent her life giving to others and reached out to make sure she wasn’t alone and forgotten on Christmas Eve.

I remember all those things and try my best to be kind, even though I am still stressed out, obviously the anti-Martha Stewart, and a far cry from Mother Theresa.

Because that’s what Christmas is really all about, Charlie Brown.


Christmas Cookies

Yay! Christmas cookies

Yay! Christmas cookies

Get your Christmas cookie groove on with this list of 25 Essential Christmas Cookies, including chocolate chip, fudge crinkles, sugar cookies, and oh yes, gingerbread men.


So, Hungry Lifers: what do you do to try and keep the Christmas spirit? Who do you look to for inspiration? What’s your favorite Christmas cookie? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks, and have a happy 2 weeks until Christmas!



  1. No you couldn’t just go along with sister Frannie. That would scare the hell out of most 12 year olds. As an adult it’s easy to be hard on ourselves. Your mom sounds so wonderfu and I love how you keep her alive with all your stories. I feel like I did know her. She did pass on her Christmas Spirit by giving you the memory.

    Comment by Suzanne — December 11, 2013 @ 8:31 am | Reply

  2. Oh Maria, you just broke my heart! What a beautiful tribute to your mom (and you still made me laugh–then cry!). Very beautiful! Really hit home having just lost my Aunt who lived alone, yet reached out to so many via phone always. God bless your mom and may all of us ‘try our best’.

    Comment by Kathie — December 11, 2013 @ 9:14 am | Reply

  3. Ditto! And your friend even spells her name just like me. What a wonderful post. I was laughing so hard at work, thinking about you becoming a nun, they must have thought I was going insane. Your mom was such a beautiful person and she taught you well! This post made my day!

    Comment by Kathleen Lagalante — December 11, 2013 @ 9:59 am | Reply

  4. Sister was the first to greet your mother and me when we entered the hall where the prayer group met. She was nice, didn’t seem to have a bad streak at all which was really unlike most of the sisters we encounter. She went to her mother house in Pennsylvania I believe to live out her life. I am sure she has read this blog and is happy you never became a nun for obvious reasons, the most obvious are your daughters. Sarita was truly a nice person who liked to laugh and enjoy life. I am sure she is enjoying her life now even more so because her children, and her guy still love her so.

    Comment by Bglou — December 11, 2013 @ 10:08 am | Reply

  5. What a beautiful story about your mother; thank you for sharing it. We should all remember its lesson … 24/7/365.

    Comment by lisa — December 11, 2013 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  6. …and I would have been upset had I missed even one rerun of “The Odd Couple”!!

    Comment by lisa — December 11, 2013 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  7. Wow, Maria. Your tongue-in-cheek countdown took a sudden and unexpected turn as I found myself crying from your beautiful tribute to your mother. “Can’t you just go along” is a universal mantra that passes from parent to kid and back again as your example touchingly illustrates. I will read your story to all my children for them to digest. I will practice it when I visit my dad. And I will teach it to my growing grandson when the occassion lends itself. Have a beautiful Christmas with your family.

    Comment by Emmi — December 12, 2013 @ 1:15 am | Reply

  8. Maria, the people who keep my Christmas spirit alive are Kathie, the love of my life, and Kate (you know your god daughter). Kathie becomes mother earth with the planning and is child-like when she participates in the rituals our family shares. Although Kate is almost 21 she will always see things through a child’s eyes, which allows me to remember how it was when I was a kid. These people are two gifts the Christmas season reminds me of. Who needs frankincense and myrrh when you have those two to keep you in the holiday spirit?

    Comment by Tony Lagalante — December 14, 2013 @ 5:09 pm | Reply

    • As our grandmother would have said “how sweet!” Kathie and Katie are great Christmas elves.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — December 15, 2013 @ 1:07 am | Reply

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