November 27, 2012

Christmas Traditions -- Koz Style

As my family ages, I find we are collectively less interested in opening gifts, and more focused on the true meaning of Christmas. Gathering as a family, now that we are suffering family loss as well as scattering across our country, carries the anticipation that pretty wrapped presents once held.

Years ago Ray's side of our family decided instead of buying a gift for each one of us, we would pick a name from a bowl to buy for. We did this traditionally at Thanksgiving. Each of us would write 3 items on a small piece of paper, fold it and put into a bowl. Whoever we picked, we bought for. Sounds simple, right?

Marlene sets up the feast
Marlene, oldest sister, was our token left-handed family member, and her fast-talking, hummingbird-like personality created some of our family's best loved, best cherished memories. Yep. She chose her own name from the bowl...and kept it. Decided she didn't need anything, so why bother? Love that! Marlene passed into God's hands at Easter 2004, but her spirit is still strong within our family.

One year the idea of a gag gift exchange entered our family. Gary had us all wrap something from around the house...white elephant type newspaper. Then we picked a card from a deck, and Gary -- our family Game Show Host personality -- chose from the deck the identical cards to decide who would pick in what order. Thing was, he called out the cards a second...sometimes a third time in order to give us a chance to take away a gift from someone who had chosen before us. Then, when we'd exhausted the exchange, we opened in order.

The first year we did this, Joe Camel arrived. You recall the Camel cigarette character that ultimately lost his job because he was too successful at tempting teens to smoke? A rather scary Joe Camel leaning against a cactus was among the white elephants opened. I forget who got it, but Joe returned the following year...and has now become a tradition to participate in the exchange.
Kristen gets Joe Camel
 Not only does Joe Camel participate, but he also travels throughout the year with whoever gets him. Joe has been to China, Norway, Hawaii, Michigan State campus...countless places that our family has traveled to over the years. Yeah, there has been some behind the scenes manipulation as to who gets him some years. I mean, Kristen had just moved to Norway and was home for Christmas. Joe had to go back with her. And of course a photo album had to be made to hold all the places Joe went.
Gary passes Joe to Judy 2011
Ray's family still gathers in their childhood home. And the stockings made by Mom K all those years ago still hang from the fireplace mantle. Mom also made stockings for those of us who married into the family...Judy, me, Jim, Chip and Vickie.

Buddy & Herman's stockings join ours
Other Kozlowski traditions include Mom K withholding the Baby Jesus from the Nativity until Christmas morning. Years ago she made a red tree skirt and had each of us sign our names with a felt marker. She then embroidered over the names to make them permanent. One year she was heavily into ceramics and made small figurines of all her children to go with a village, with all the married couples arm-in-arm, our names penned onto the bottom.
Christmas 1978...hey! where's Ray?

Brothers Koz: Ray, Ron & Gary
Ray's favorite tradition is playing a Perry Como Christmas album among other favorites on a stereo built back in the late 60s. Yep, it still works. It's never played anymore, except at Christmas, with the same records stacked in the same order for the past umpteen years.
Proud Grandparents
Mom K with her grandchildren
 Another Ray tradition is sitting with his brother-in-law, Jim, in the corner of the crowded living room (family now numbers 15) and laughing non-stop. I usually sit next to Ray but honestly, all I hear are under breath comments and laughing near tears.'s become a tradition.
Jim and Ray take a breath between jokes
Andrea, now of age!

Oh! Food! Yep, the food is traditional. Polish kielbasa with sauerkraut, sorrel leaf soup, pierogis and Judy's famous crab dip are among other favorites. We used to go through the wine pretty good, but (sigh!) age brings on medications which don't always mix with alcohol. Still... we toast to the holiday and the memory of those who have passed into God's hands.

This image hasn't changed in years. Judy's crab dip a favorite!
Mother & Daughter love their wine!
For years now my tabby Buddy has been traveling with us, not only to Michigan for Christmas, but he goes everywhere with me. He's diabetic and needs insulin twice a day. And now he's 21, going on 22, and his daily care is a bit more complicated. His stocking is always filled with his beloved Fancy Feast pate, and a catnip toy. Yeah, his playing days are over, but bless his heart, he always seems appreciative.
For years Holly joined Buddy at Grammy's in Michigan

Traveling with 2 cats takes practic
Last Christmas 2011, Herman joined Buddy in traveling up to Michigan. Frankly, Herm needed a break from his ongoing war with Barney and Opie. To our surprise, Herm loves to travel and did a great job in the van. He also discovered trucks and ever since when he sees a truck, he stands on the seat (or my legs) with paws on the window to get a better look.

We usually drive the 14 hours straight through but last Christmas we stopped in Ohio to check out a mega-supermarket, so Herm got to experience his first hotel visit. Yeah, we smuggle our cats in. Over the years Buddy has stayed at so many hotels he's an old pro, but Herman we wondered about. No worries! He embraced the experience and got to sleep with us on the bed for the first time. Only Buddy sleeps with us at home, but Herman snuggled at my feet throughout the night.

Herman checks out Ohio from room
Herman was noticeably in awe over Mom K not having any pets. He hung out with Buddy on the guest bed for awhile, and then explored the house. The living room became his favorite place with the lovely tree (we no longer have a full size tree at home...thank you Barney).
And Herman also enjoyed getting presents, meeting Kristen and Vickie for first time, and showing off his Santa Paws outfit.
Herm with Kristen
Herm with Vickie
Traditions start with love.
Sending you warm and wonderpurr
Greetings from my home to yours.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah!
Ray and Kim


  1. What a wonderful blog post. So many great memories. I'm amazed at how well your kitties travel. Although our first cat logged many miles too - he was a long distance haul cat! he he

  2. I am truly blessed to have met you and look forward to our continued exchanges.
    I, as my husband says, come from a family of wolves - each of us left to fend for ourselves. It is nice to know that the true love and spirit of Christmas is alive
    Peace be with you


  3. I've found that family isn't always blood-related. I've been blessed to add family to my life over the years that started out as friends. And Belle -- you and your meowmy are family!

  4. I am honored as is my meowmy - fanks you - We feel same ways 'bout you (& Ray)

  5. Kim, thanks for posting all the wonderful memories that truly make our Koz family Christmas gatherings so special. Looking forward to seeing you & Raymo soon~ xoxo