It’s been unseasonably warm here in NYC. I’m not complaining – I spent a couple hours wandering in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon and it was lovely – though I am of course worried about the environment. But in a less cosmic way, the warm weather is throwing off my sense of time passing. The last six months have sped by for me and I’ve been making an effort over the last few weeks to stop and enjoy each day of the holiday season.

For me that has meant decorating my apartment, lighting candles, singing Christmas carols with two sets of choir friends this past Saturday, watching Muppets Christmas Carol (and some sappy Christmas romcoms that shall remain nameless), buying cards and making and buying presents. If I can find time – more likely to happen after Christmas than before – I want to visit the origami tree at the Natural History museum and the angel tree at the Met. I think I’m going to swing by Rockefeller Center on my way home from an event this week, just because.

I was looking through old photos on Facebook and noticed how many times the photo stream was punctuated by holidays – carved pumpkins, Christmas trees, holiday dinners in college, reunions with friends from home for Christmas Eve mass. Time passes, friendships and relationships grow and change, people come into our lives and leave them, we move between apartments and cities, but holiday traditions can be threads that pull through each year. The best ones are fluid, changing a little each year, opening up to include new people, cast off if they become rigid instead of rewarding.

My family used to cut our Christmas trees down, which was fun, but also really cold sometimes. Now instead we pick out a pre-cut tree, which leaves us all with more energy for decorating (usually). But we always make these delicious sugar cut-out cookies (with buttercream frosting), and we almost always go to the children’s mass on Christmas Eve so we can see the Nativity pageant, complete with Santa Claus bringing a gift to baby Jesus. As kids my brother and I could never sleep in on Christmas morning, so our parents instituted a 6 AM rule – no waking them up before then. Sometimes my brother and I would still wake up and would talk while we waited for it to be time. It’s been years since we’ve woken up at 5 AM – but we also don’t sleep all that late on Christmas in our family.

photo 2-3

Everyone thinks about fresh starts and goals at New Year’s, but I like that the holiday season starts with Thanksgiving – a reminder to look back on what has happened and what we have and be grateful for it, to think about where we’ve been before we decide where we’re going. December can be such a hustle, but even with everything that goes on, I do try to slow things down just a little, enough to look around. The traditions help with that, creating continuity and structure that gives me a little more perspective on the chaos. Without them, I find that I lift my head from the day-to-day life only to realize the weeks are blurring together for me.

This is a little more philosophical than I usually get on this blog, but hey, it’s December 15, 2015. What are you doing to mark the passage of time this holiday season?