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Occupying the Holidays

As a new(ish) parent, I find myself hungry to revisit and revamp my childhood holiday memories. The process also involves reclaiming some of that emotional and traditional "freight" and re-crafting it to fit my values. This is for others there wanting ideas on exposing their little ones to whatever holiday rituals feel most natural at this time of year.

I started around Thanksgiving with my strong need to give back and help others. It's a struggle, but I recommend finding ways to make this kind of activity a part of what you do in December.  And that's a little baby step toward integrating it in year round.

Consider "the Christmas sandwich." Sandwich Christmas between 2 trips, a pre and a post-holiday trip, into San Francisco (or your nearest urban center). Great destinations here in the SF Bay Area include:

- The lobby of the Hyatt San Francisco which is filled with a giant Christmas village exhibit and leading up to Christmas. In past year, the giant lobby has also been host to some live performances, but I'm not sure that's a sustained thing. Close at hand to that is the ice skating rink in Justin Herman Plaza.

- For lights and shimmer, we enjoyed the tremendous ornament varieties offered at Gump's, which had a lot of stunning, handmade ornaments from Poland. Not local art and I had a lot of guilt about it,  but it was a wonderful holiday experience for my little one. I didn't know they made organic gardener/Slow Food Santas, not to mention the Harley Davidson Santa, a Pirate Santa or...the Leprechaun Santa. Our splurge purchase, however left us with a Boxing Day return to Gump's which hosts an after-Christmas swarm in the store. Some amazing fruit and vegetable ornaments out there this year as well.

- Union Square's giant Christmas tree overlooking ice skaters and the nearby Macy's windows dressed with miniature "home scenes" for SF SPCA kitties and puppies seeking real homes. Lots of spots had "adopted" signs which is always awesome.
- We aren't Christian, but we were raised with varying strains of it (Christian Scientist, Baptist and Catholic). It was really easy to unite on something we both love:  music. Jazz in particular. Yep, there's a church for that. We headed off for a candlelight Christmas eve service at Plymouth United Church of Christ in Oakland. They call themselves the Jazz and Just Justice church. 

The service brought us both tears of joy and wowed us. It wasn't a spiritual/sermon that amazed us, it was the deity of music. The congregation is a thriving hotbed of all ages, races, and persuasions of singer/songwriter/musician talent (piano, sax). Standing ovation for songwriter Lady Bianca! To boot, pastor Marjorie Matthews' sermon included science, politics and an almost Monty Pythonish kiss of perspective. We'll be doing that again next year.

- We also managed to celebrate all but one night of Hanukkah with Hebrew prayers and lighting candles on the menorah. Our daughter very much enjoyed the candles and prayers. So we'll be coming back to take this on again next year as well. There is no reason to choose just one faith, other than limited time and energy. 

- After Christmas, we cast our votes in the Gingerbread House Competition that we happened upon at the Palace Hotel downtown. We then had an amazing lunch at Maxfield's Pied Piper Bar. I highly recommend the Butternut squash soup! Brown sugar as the mystery ingredient (used as a thickener).

The "Painted Ladies" gingerbread street at the top was my favorite exhibit. This was also a very sweet one. Actually, I think I left my heart on BART, headed toward Oakland. But my dreams are always fired up when I look across the Bay to San Francisco.

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