The simple charms of a homemade Christmas
''Snow is falling in a quiet and serene natural setting. Inside the house, a fire glows in the fireplace . . . the only holiday decorations are a Christmas tree, candles, greens, and simple homemade decorations. Christmas presents, if there are any, are inexpensive remembrances, or intangible spiritual gifts. The family members are in a good mood and enjoy each other's company in simple ways, like taking walks or sleigh rides together, or gathering around the fire to sing carols or play musical instruments.''Skip to next paragraph
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That picture typifies a traditional Christmas celebration for many Americans, according to two researchers who have been conducting interviews throughout the US for a number of years.
Jo Robinson, co-author with Jean Staeheli of ''Unplug the Christmas Machine: How to Have the Christmas You've Always Wanted'' (New York, William Morrow, $14. 50), says the core of this ideal - simple gifts, natural decorations, traditional foods, leisurely schedules, and family activities - is well within reach.
''People are so ready for a simple Christmas this year,'' she noted. ''Because of the financial climate, they're finding that they can't go out and buy Christmas - they have to make it for themselves. And that usually means taking 10 minutes to sit down and decide on the one thing that's most important to their celebration of Christmas and then finding a way to bring that closer.''
Nineteenth-century Christmas celebrations often continued through New Year's Day with a wide range of family activities - parlor games, dancing, music, sleighing, caroling, and masquerade parties. Today, with more women working outside the home, with smaller families, more single parents, and more people living alone, holiday traditions often require some rethinking and retailoring. But by alternating favorite projects from year to year and scaling down social obligations, the authors say, people can learn to enjoy the season more and make it last longer.
What follow are dozens of suggestions the authors have collected over the years.
Activities for children: To make the season last longer, many families minimize gift-giving and promise children special activities to look forward to both before and after the opening of presents:
* Make a family calendar for the month of December with pictures of things that are going to happen on specific days: Draw a pine tree on the day the Christmas tree will be purchased or pencil in airplanes on the days that relatives will arrive and depart. Set specific dates to look forward to - Dec. 15: Put the wreath on the front door; Dec. 20: Set up the tree; Jan. 1: Have a potluck dinner for friends and their children.
* Make the morning of Dec. 25 special: The first person up that day puts his or her favorite Christmas record on the stereo and cracks a bowl of nuts for the rest of the family.
* Celebrate the 12 days of Christmas with activities for each day. Have a ''kids-choose-the-menu day,'' a ''hear-a-story-as-many-times-as-you-want day,'' and a ''grandmother day.''
* Open Christmas cards at the dinner table, taking time to look at the illustrations, to listen to the messages enclosed, and to talk about the friends and relatives who sent them.
* Begin opening gifts by reading the Christmas story from the Bible in the book of Luke. Open presents one at a time, showing young children photographs of faraway relatives who have sent various presents.
* After the gifts are opened, give the birds a Christmas treat by decorating a tree in the yard with strings of popcorn, rice cakes, and hard rolls.