Category Archives: Holiday

From My Fam to Yours: Xmas Day

The day after Santa arrives is always a celebration, even if there’s the usual deflated expectations of hype and hoopla. This time around there was nothing but smiles, and a rambunctious crew ready to run wild until someone busted a lip open. Such is the excitement of Christmas Day, and the perils of a game of chase.

We’ve come a long way from the days of prim and proper behavior, of dressing up and settling formally into a church pew. I never thought I’d miss that, but part of me does.

Still, there is nothing that can dim the magic of Christmas, especially when you learn to embrace family and friends more than you do throughout the rest of the year. That’s the lesson I’ll try to remember as we begin the long trudge through winter darkness.


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From My Fam to Yours: Xmas Eve

Welcome to the Ilagan Christmas Eve Spectacular!

We have dancing girls!

We have dancing boys!

We have the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, coupled with a fancy surf and turf dinner!

Best of all, we have family!

I got all my sisters with me! (Which are none.)

I don’t know if I get more joy watching the twins open up their presents, or my parents open theirs.

That’s what Christmas Eve is all about.

Hope yours was as lovable as mine.

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Christmas Time is Here

Today’s the day! Blessed be to the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, King Savior and Queen of Mutha-Fuckin’ Everything! Praise be!! Christ is born, and hallelujah, and all that jazz. I could do a more meaningful and emotional post for Christmas Day, but I’ve gone deep before, and this year I’m more about experiencing the moment than documenting it in advance.

That said, I wish everyone who is kind enough to lend me an ear and an eye to all that I do here a very Happy Christmas and holiday season. We are more alike than we are different, and it’s something I will work on remembering on all the days that aren’t Christmas. That’s the true test, isn’t it? Anyone can be good for a day. It’s the rest of the year that matters.

Here’s a wish and a prayer that every dream comes true. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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The 2nd Annual Children’s Holiday Hour

Aside from the twins, my interest in children is limited to those of my friends – at least the ones that behave with a modicum of deportment and respect. (Luckily, that’s most of them, as my friends are pretty good about raising their kids in the same manner in which they were brought up.) So when Suzie brought up the idea of having another holiday get together in Boston, I was all for it. Even better was the fact that our friend Alissa would be visiting from South Africa, so the same cast that we had last year would be able to re-assemble for this year’s children’s holiday hour.

Boston was cold on the Friday I arrived, brutally so, but the condo is a cozy place. Kira wasn’t able to join in the festivities, so I hunkered down and watched ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’ by my lonesome – not an unhappy circumstance by any means. In the midst of holiday mayhem, an evening of peace and quiet solitude is a welcome oasis. I slipped into an already-infamous red union suit and cozied up to a cup of lemon ginger tea, then settled in for the night.

Saturday spent the morning snowing – about four to five inches of the white stuff – which made for a tricky bit of last-minute shopping, but I managed thanks to the ubiquitous Bean Boots. For once I was happy to just blend in with the weather-defying masses. To start the day, and stave off the wintry mix of nastiness, I made a bowl of pho into a late brunch.

For the adults who were arriving, I crafted another batch of ‘Christmas in a Glass’ – to which I added a healthy dribble of brandy, thus leaving Suzie’s cheeks seasonally flushed.

A warm mug of mulled wine works wonders on many winter woes. So does a Campari orange, which lends a seasonal citrus note to the proceedings. Accented by the Iris Apfel-inspired statement necklace seen below, we were off to a fabulous start. At times when children are present, I also do my best Auntie Mame impression and hope for the best.

The children commenced the crafts and games on hand (we remembered the glue and scissors) and the adults reconnected (we hadn’t seen Alissa since she moved). Soon it was time for hot chocolate with marshmallows, and then we ordered pizza.

All in all, a very fun Holiday Children’s Hour (or three) was had, and I may expand it to more kids next year. (Famous last words…)

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A Not-Quite-Traditional Christmas Song

Some holiday songs have not yet been done to death, and this is one of those refreshing ones that has not, but it fits finely enough with winter happenings. Written by the great Joni Mitchell and re-interpreted by the great Sarah McLachlan, this is one of those melancholy pauses in the parade of holiday insanity.

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river 
I could skate away on
But it don’t snow here
It stays pretty green
I’m going to make a lot of money
Then I’m going to quit this crazy scene
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on…

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The Goddamn Christmas Carolers

I’m a Scrooge/Grinch about many things.

Inept holiday shoppers who have never navigated a mall before.

The Loudonville Price Chopper, where ten employees are lounging around the registers talking but only one register is open.

Those Salvation Army bell-ringers who are blithely unaware that the organization is still virulently-anti-gay, most recently uncovered as not wanting to hire gay people for their bell-ringing efforts. (As if!)

For my part, I can defend my abhorrence of all of the above pretty easily. What I cannot defend, and I apologize in advance, is my ill-will toward carolers. It’s an odd stance, as I don’t recall getting any carolers at our home in over a decade, but we have a troupe that goes around my work building, and I avoid them like the plague.

It’s just a strange thing to have a group of people, most of whom are strangers, standing in front of your door, singing their little hearts out and staring directly at you for the duration of a song or two. It is the epitome of awkwardness. (And I despise all awkwardness I didn’t have an active hand in creating.)

I also get weirdly emotional when a group of people sings to me, so in addition to feeling awkward and on-the-spot, I also feel uncomfortably moved, and I hate being so vulnerable in front of a group of onlookers. Especially when they’re smiling and singing like a bunch of idiots, spreading their Christmas cheer and bonhomie, making it all but impossible for me to critique them.

And then when they’re done, what do you do?

Do you tip them? Throw a bunch of coins at their feet?

Applaud? A lone pair of hands applauding sounds even sadder than silence.

More awkwardness ensues. If it’s frigid out, you have to invite them in for coffee or hot chocolate or something, right? I don’t want strangers in my house! Get the hell out of here!

That said, it could always be worse.

Like those beggar children at Halloween.

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The Ilagan Tree Tradition

My brother and I have been going to get the Ilagan family Christmas tree (off and on) for our entire lives. Some years we skip it, but eventually we get back around to driving over to Bob’s Tree Farm and picking out a tree for the family. For the past couple of years, we’ve brought the twins along with us, with dinner afterward, preferably at the cozy Cock & Bull. This year we set out for the same adventure.

Emi wore her sequined high-tops.

I was more than a little envious.

She also showed me an impromptu drawing she did. That’s me. (Why do I look so fat? Don’t answer.)

We made it to Bob’s Trees and found this reindeer, then quickly found an acceptable tree. What used to be the most fun part of the night had quickly become the most trying, as all I wanted was dinner at the Cock & Bull. I’d asked my brother to call and make sure they were open (last year they were closed for a holiday party so we ended up at another place that everyone complained about for an entire year).

Of course, he never called, and when we arrived the Cock & Bull was not open, so we ended up in the same place that he and the twins hated so much last year. I shrugged it off because, well, these things are not surprising.

We made the most of it and the twins were fine once they made their salad bar trip and shared some chicken tenders. The holidays are not always perfect, and when things don’t turn out as perfectly-planned as you like, the only thing to do is go with the flow.

Christmas has a way of softening the most righteously indignant among us.

A full-pour Manhattan does too.

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A Realm of Woodland Creatures

It’s the stuff of cartoons and claymation, daydreams and childhood fantasies. As a kid, we had various toys of stuffed or wooden animals, and a few pieces of forest items to provide cover for them. A cloth log, rough and plain on the outside, opened up to reveal a hidden world of retreat for a family of chipmunks. A roaring fire was in the center of it all, and there was even a table where the family would have its dinner. In my mind, all of this was plausible, all of it was rife with cozy possibility.

The imagination can make a hearth in the middle of a winter forest. I wanted to believe that they felt the same comfort and warmth that we did. I longed to think that a chipmunk family could come together at the end of the day, put on their little nightcaps, and snuggle into their sleeping compartments until the sun peeked in the next day. Kids can will such happenings into existence. That’s the magic of childhood. The magic of Christmas.

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The Secret Life of Mrs. Claus

I love this commercial on so many levels and in so many ways that I’m posting it here for your early afternoon break. Lots of messages, lots of feels, and I simply adore a British accent.

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The Famous Holiday Jello Mold

Very few holiday traditions have remained intact from our childhood days at Suzie’s Victorian house on Locust Avenue. Thanksgiving and Christmas were always spent in that towering black and white home, while New Year’s Day was always at our house. In the last forty years, families have splintered, people have passed, and our holiday celebrations bear scant resemblance to those happier days. Still, there is one tradition I am hell-bent on keeping: the Ko Strawberry Jello Salad.

It begins, obviously, with that staple of American cuisine: JELLO. Unlike some kids, we never had much jello growing up. Every once in a while Mom would put together a bowl of the stuff, and we’d peer into the fridge as the gelatinous alchemy worked its semi-solidifying magic. But jello was mostly the stuff of school lunches, and since we brought our own we always missed out (not unhappily) on those little plastic cups of green, orange or red squares.

At holiday time, however, jello insidiously snuck into our Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. It took the place of that other tradition – cranberries – in our amalgamation of American habits. (We also had ‘Green Beans Exotic’ in place of the more common green beans and onion dish.) It was a more adult version of jello salad, with some fruit suspended in it, and cut through with a layer of sour cream that lent it a fancy decorative kick, while also toning down the sweetness. I have to admit: it was never my favorite dish. But it was always there, and I always took a small spoonful of it out of obligation and habit. The striking red of it was the perfect accent to any proper holiday plate.

One year, in the early 2000’s, after Suzie’s Mom had moved out of the Victorian, we had a holiday gathering and there was no jello salad. The outcry was swift and vicious, and never again would we be without it. (I probably made the biggest stink, because in a world of change I was flailing, and doing my best to hang onto whatever little scraps of my more-or-less happy childhood I could.) The next year it was back, and would continue to be part of our holiday dinners until Elaine started spending the holidays in Florida. Therefore, we’ve been without it for a couple of years, but before giving it up, she gifted me a jello mold, and this was the year I tried my hand at crafting that most festive and garish of dishes.

Along with strawberry jello, there are fresh bananas and pineapple in it, which adds some texture and bite, and while it won’t be winning any gourmet awards in the near or far future, I’ve actually come to enjoy the taste (in limited doses). That layer of sour cream makes all the difference in the world.

Far more than the taste, however, is the collection of memories associated with this simple dish. It’s an arsenal of happiness I keep close to my heart, of days when Suzie and my brother and I would roam the expansive floors of her home, dodging admonishing adults and troublesome older brothers, free from adult concerns and responsibilities. We never knew how wonderful we had it. Childhood comes with its own perils, I remember those well, but it also comes with a carefree freedom that we don’t realize until it’s long past.

That little dollop of red jello on my Thanksgiving plate reminds me of those times. And that’s why, even if 95% of it goes untouched, it’s still important for that jello mold to be there. Maybe one day far in the future, when I finally give up and give out on making it, they will miss it, stage their own rebellion, and take up the mantle of tradition.

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Christmas Riches

It was dusk when I arrived at the edge of the forest. A blanket of snow had lent a deceptive light to the lateness of the day, and I’d lost my way. Unlike Hansel and Gretel, I’d neglected to leave a trial of breadcrumbs, or even Swarovski crystals in my wake. (Do not try to make sense of this. It was a dream or a wish or some strange bit of holiday trickery.)

The warmth of the cottage windows was a pleasing visage, but such things were not to be trusted. For all I knew a witch was just waiting to devour me, and it was so cold and so late that I might have leapt gratefully into the oven. Still, some sense prevailed, even in a dream, even in the darkness. I hesitated at the front walk. Two enormous holly bushes threatened with their thorny leaves and seductive red berry carriage. The wind whipped around, rushing off the charming eaves and swirling leaves and snow before the front door. Looking back over the path, I saw my footprints fade away in the diminishing illumination of the day. Either that or the wind-driven snow was obscuring them.

A bay window stuck out to the right of the door, and I stepped closer to peer into the cozy-looking scene. Diamond-shaped window panels allowed a broken view of a Christmas tree, and it seemed as if each little frame was created for one specific ornament. A red one dangled closest to me, catching the warm light and sending it into the outside. Behind and above me, the sky deepened to a dark indigo.

Beyond the tree, wooden walls glowed with the flickering shadows of a fire. I backed away and traced the trajectory of the fireplace up to the chimney. A small plume of smoke rose into the darkness, gray against the firmament. Slowly it transformed into a golden hue, and the wisps coalesced into bits of golden glitter, sparkling and twinkling in the sky. They whirled and spun themselves into an assembly of an angel, with wings and flowing robes, but a disturbingly headless body.

This golden angel, with golden feathers and a golden robe of gracefully ephemeral gauze, fluttered about the roof of the cottage, almost alighting on a corner like some wayward pigeon, before disappearing into the air above the forest. Bits of angel dust floated down like golden snowflakes on my nose and eyelashes. They spun wildly in the air around me, suspended in surreal flight, until I could see that they were little disco balls of mirrored light.

It is the season of sparkle and shine.

Walking back into the woods, as this was not my home, I look back once but can no longer make out the cottage. A curtain of evergreen boughs closes behind me. The night does its best to confuse, but there is snow to light the way, and a rising moon to see us through to the morning.

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Shades of Salmon, Sights of the Season

Two of my favorite things: amaryllis and pomegranates. Perfectly paired for a holiday table tableaux. Refreshingly devoid of red and green, with a spin on salmon versus those overdone traditions. This is the sort of holiday presentation I enjoy most – simple, elegant, festive but not overbearingly so. A certain element of the garish will always be part of Christmas, but it need not inform everything about the season. This display is proof that holiday decorations, especially when focused on the natural, are at their best when kept unfussy.

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Holiday Stroll Coda

Some weekends long to be drawn out for as extended a time as possible. (Most weekends actually.) The holiday stroll weekend is no exception to that, so here are a couple of bonus shots that didn’t make it into Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 of my strolling recap. This is my partner-in-crime Kira, lounging for a brief fireside break at the wonderfully cozy lobby of the Lenox Hotel. No matter how rushed or busy I am in Boston, and no matter where I might be going, I always manage at least a walk-through of this grand hotel, especially around the holidays.

There’s also a little pop-up stand featuring some heavenly Beekman Boys products, and some signature lions named Logan. If you need a pause in the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, do stop in and rest by the fire.

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Holiday Stroll 2016: Part 3

Sunday began in slightly less brilliant form than its predecessor. There was a light covering of clouds high in the sky, lending the day a muddled gray tinge. The sharpness of our sunny Saturday was muted, as if the universe was joining us in mourning the end of a weekend. We weren’t quite through, though, and a brunch at Boston Chops was the perfect start to the last leg of our holiday stroll.

We did some window shopping in the South End, but when you get to a window as pretty and sweet and colorful as the one below, you go in.

Filled with candy and confections and the catty guy from the Eagle, it was a surreal experience. A collection of temptations tinged with the innocent exuberance of childhood surrounded us, all of it intertwined with a slight danger like that which pervades the Nutcracker. Dark magic lurks on the cusp of holiday dreams, and sugar plum fairies can sometimes turn out to be meddlesome tricksters.

We tread across to one of our favorite holiday sights: a field of Christmas trees and wreaths whose scent signaled the happy arrival of the season. I paused to breath in the fresh pine, and all those Christmas eve memories came rushing back. This was what our holiday stroll was all about: memories old and new colliding in wondrous unison.

We crossed back to Boston Proper, where we edged along Arlington. Unaccustomed to the magic squirrels of the Boston Public Garden, Kira freaked out when she turned around to see one staring her in the face. I crouched down and took a few photos of this little guy, who seemed quite ready for his close up and almost ended up in my lap.

We stayed to the edge of the Garden, and made our way to Beacon Hill, and the stretch of charming shops that carry the magic of another era. Antique shops filled with sparkling jewelry, stationary stores bursting with holiday cards and wrapping paper, and bustling cafes overflowing with other shoppers looking for respite lined the street. We loitered a bit too long, and as we made our way back to the condo realized that Kira would have to take a later train. That boded well for making one last stop at the Copley Fairmont and its fanciful Oak Room.

Our holiday stroll had come to an end, but the season had only just begun.

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