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Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

Time was, the Christmas season began after Thanksgiving. Macy’s Parade signaled the beginning. The next day, Christmas decorations went up, people began to shop and send out cards, and I would start making fruitcake. We had a festive month, full of good cheer, leading to the most magical day of the year. Those were the good old days.

At some point came Christmas in July. At least it didn’t detract from the true season. Then, almost unnoticed, an insidious malady began to invade our lives. Stores started to put out Christmas items before Thanksgiving. Black Friday became a day, not just to shop, but to storm retail outlets like hordes of anarchists. (Does “Black” refer to bruises?)

In recent years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. Is it stress—gifts to buy and wrap, plans to make, goodies to bake, the flurry of so much to do? Or is it the darkness of days growing ever shorter? But it’s always been that way. What changed?

Year after year, the commercial Christmas season inches up the calendar. Stores began to put out their tinsel in mid-November, then earlier, and earlier. Unsold Halloween candy is whisked off the shelves, to be replaced with Christmas stuff overnight.

When I give magazine subscriptions as Christmas gifts, come February, I get notices that it’s time to renew. Really? Two months after I bought them? The notices stop for a while, then pick up again in early fall, week after week, bugging me to renew NOW.

Last year before Thanksgiving, employees at Walmart were wearing Santa caps and reindeer antlers! “Bah! Humbug!” I said to one.

“I agree,” he said. “But they make us wear them.”

This year came the coup d’état. BEFORE Halloween, red and green shared store shelves with orange and black. I beat a hasty retreat, preferring to do without than be accosted by a too-early Christmas.

I spent Thanksgiving in Arkansas. That morning, my mother and I watched the Macy’s Parade on TV, the first time I’d seen it in years. Back in the day, the floats, balloons, and marching bands were the focus of the broadcast, with announcers quietly telling the audience what we were watching. This time, celebrities hogged the camera, gossiping with each other, occasionally referring to the floats and balloons in the background. What a disappointment!

I got home in time for Hanukkah and lit candles every night, which was comforting, but the Christmas spirit continued to elude me. My Christmas cards stayed in the attic. I put up no decorations, baked no fruitcake. The magazines sent threatening notices. December crept by. I was turning into Scrooge.

Was I to be visited by three spirits? As if in answer, a distant memory from elementary school crept into my conscious mind. I had been cast as Tiny Tim in our Christmas play because I was the smallest child in the class. I tucked my hair up under my cap, leaned on a crutch, and delivered my one line, “God bless us, every one!”

Well, Christmas was coming whether I wanted it to or not. I half-heartedly began to make preparations.

With the Winter Solstice, I had an epiphany. The pressure to begin the Christmas season earlier and earlier each year had the effect of shutting down my enjoyment. I resisted getting the spirit too early. Once past Thanksgiving, my suppressed enthusiasm remained bottled up. Do the retailers realize what they do to people when they try to cram Christmas down our throats in October?

I needed a visit from the Spirit of Christmas Present. It came in the form of my Christmas cactus. Eleven months of the year, this plant fades into the background. All summer, it sits quietly outside in the shade, getting water when it rains, demanding nothing. All it asks of me is to bring it indoors when frost threatens. Suddenly, it burst into bloom!

The days grew longer and brighter. I came out of my hole. I made lists and went shopping. The Christmas displays no longer offended me. I renewed magazine subscriptions. Baking fruitcake for friends and relatives and cookies for my grandchildren further bolstered my mood. I started wearing my poinsettia earrings and tacky shirts decorated with bells and holly, and listening to holiday music. I put up a tree.

What about the Spirit of Christmas Future? I’ve made an early New Year’s resolution. Next year I won’t let the humbugs spoil Christmas for me. I’ll stroll through unseasonably decorated stores with an air of detachment. The day after Thanksgiving—you won’t find me at the mall!—I’ll be in my kitchen baking fruitcake.

In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one!”

(If you want my fruitcake recipe, you’ll find it here.)

Merry Christmas!

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Every year, the commercial Christmas season seems to distend earlier into autumn. This year, stores set out Christmas decorations before Halloween and soon broadcast Christmas music.

Bah! Humbug! Even store employees agreed.

I remember Grandma Rogers, one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, saying, “I’m going to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses”. This seemed so out of character. She was no Scrooge, but grew up in a family of modest means and reared her children during the Great Depression. The increasing commercialization of Christmas must have grated on her. Now I understand. I find myself making the same threat.

But TODAY is the day after Thanksgiving. The Spirit of Christmas beckons. Don’t worry, you won’t find me at the mall, or even a convenience store. I may or may not glance through the stack of catalogs that have cluttered my mailbox for weeks, but I will start making lists. After almost two months of Scrooge, it is time to welcome Christmas.

This holiday embodies a magic unrelated to material things and goes beyond the joy of giving. Remember the Christmas Truce of 1914? During World War I, Allied and German soldiers in the trenches spontaneously stopped fighting, sang Christmas carols, and crossed battle lines to exchange fellowship, food, and souvenirs. Unsanctioned by their superiors, this event will long be remembered as a triumph, however brief, of love over hate.

The magic of Christmas survives adversity. In 1989, we had an ice storm.  On December 22nd, my children and I visited my parents in Scrambletown, planning to spend one night. My parents didn’t know that my sister Lorraine, a missionary in Africa, was coming home for Christmas.  She arrived with the freezing rain and snow.  Our parents were surprised and overjoyed and no one minded the bitter cold.

 But we cold not get home. The Ocala National Forest is a veritable island, surrounded on two sides by the Ocklawaha River and the St. Johns River on a third. The bridges were iced and closed. The only way out was south through Lake County, but weather conditions made travel inadvisable. Our northern friends may scoff, but they do not want to share icy roads with Floridians. We are a menace.

Sunshine melted the ice and I drove home Christmas Eve. Patches of frost remained on shady areas of roadway, but we arrived safely. We came home to no electricity or heat. Water left in a jar was frozen and my houseplants were history. However, our spirits were not chilled. With a gas stove, we could cook. Somehow I procured a kerosene heater. We survived and celebrated a very happy Christmas.

 Of course, Christmas cannot overcome all misfortune. A neighbor of my parents was killed one Christmas Eve riding home on a mini-bike intended for his children. These things happen. Lesser troubles occur. When I was about eleven, some of my brothers and sisters came down with measles and my mother had to stay home with them while the rest of us visited our grandparents on Christmas. The last year of my marriage, I was heartbroken when my spouse neglected to give me a gift. But my children’s generosity buoyed my spirits.

Christmas brings anxiety. As a parent, I always worried I wasn’t doing enough for my children. Then one year, when my oldest boy was about five, he remarked that he got too many presents. I used to have a recurring dream, that it was Christmas Eve and I did not have gifts for some of my loved ones. After a few years, the dream ceased to bother me. Then one year the dream did not come! I worried that I would actually forget someone.

Most of my memories of Christmas are happy. As a child, we would wake at 3:00 am and find our stockings filled. Santa must have come by at 2:30. One Christmas we woke to a living room full of child-size wicker chairs, one for each of us. I still wonder how Santa managed that.  One season we tried to peek into what our parents had bought us. That ruined our fun and we never did it again. Before we moved to Florida, Christmas lasted all day. We ate breakfast at home and opened presents. Then we went to Grandma Rogers’ for dinner and more gifts. For supper, we went to Grandma Masters’ for aunts, uncles, cousins, and even more presents.

Maybe that’s why I still try to make Christmas last all day. My children were allowed to get their stockings when they woke up, but they were not to open presents until Mama had a cup of coffee. Even then, my preference was to limit it to one gift before breakfast, which of course drove the kids nuts.

Occasionally, we went to the Christmas Eve service at church, but I prefer to spend that night at home. Before my children grew up and moved away, we had a tradition of snacking on hors d’oeuvres and wrapping gifts until bedtime. Last year, my daughter-in-law’s gift was to take me to the Christmas Eve matinee at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre in Jacksonville. The food was delicious and  “White Christmas” brought me to tears. Although the cast faced an evening performance, their spirits were high and some took time to chat with us afterwards and sign autographs for my granddaughter.

The magic didn’t end there. We stopped at the riverfront on the way home and enjoyed the scenery and the cool but pleasant evening. A handful of other pedestrians and bicyclists were abroad. Total strangers, we greeted one another with, “Merry Christmas!”

Today, after I post this, I will start my lists: cards, gifts, cookies, fruitcakes, and groceries. I will retrieve decorations from the attic and stick plastic poinsettias in my houseplants. That makes them happy. In a few weeks I will search the woods for a suitable tree.

Today is the day after Thanksgiving.  Scrooge has been visited by his ghosts. It is now the time to look forward to Christmas.

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