I still get excited at Christmastime. I remember as a kid the anticipation started just after Thanksgiving, when we would combine rabbit hunting excursions with scouting for a nice Christmas tree.
It was always cedar and had to be perfectly shaped. Failing that, it had to have at least one good side to face into the room. Finding a sprig of mistletoe and shooting it out of the top of a tree with a .22 rifle was a bonus.
We usually cut the tree and dragged it home the Saturday after school was out for Christmas break and decorated it that night. The lights were multi-colored; I don’t recall ever having a tree that was all white. We bedecked our tree with colorful strands of lights — red, blue, green, orange, and a few pale white ones.
Christmas shopping occurred in a nearby five-and-dime store. Things were affordable there, mostly. And the selection was quite varied — toys, books, handkerchiefs, and doilies. One-stop shopping.
We (four siblings and I) wrapped presents and put them under the tree. The ones I wrapped always looked like someone had tossed them around a bit. Even now I’m not much better, so I mostly just stuff gifts in festive bags and toss in some tissue paper.
Within a week after Thanksgiving, mother baked a fruitcake. Early preparation was necessary, since to be good a fruitcake must have time to cure. Some cooks baste them regularly with a nice, fruity, cheap red wine. My mom (a fervent teetotaler) placed apple slices on top of the cake, wrapped it in cheesecloth, and sealed it in a tin. She checked frequently and replaced the apple slices as they dried out.
I have never baked a fruitcake, but I buy one or two every year and start curing them about the first week in December. I may be one of only about 12 people in the world who admits to liking fruitcake. (The ones I buy get the wine treatment, by the way.)
I have gotten away from, or at least modified, some traditions over the years. I can’t remember the last time we had a cut tree. Artificial, pre-lit ones are much less trouble. Sometimes I have to search, though; I still spend a little time right after Thanksgiving trying to remember where in the attic I put the tree and other decorations last January.
I kinda miss the rabbit hunts of childhood.
We used to hang real stockings from the mantle. I preferred boot socks because of their capacity for more fruit, nuts, and knick-knacks. The stockings we hang now are fancy, festooned with snowflakes, reindeer, and Christmas slogans. I can’t remember the last time one of them held an orange — unless you count those sweet, gummy, orange slice candies. That’s another tradition ... and it helps support my dentist.
I recall that Christmas was a happy time. As a child, I didn’t experience the stress, exhaustion, and sore feet that I later came to endure. But even then — and now — I look forward to Christmas. I enjoy the decorations, the anticipation I see in my grandsons, the opportunity to get something special for wife Pat and other friends and family members. And I look forward to the perennial question: “What do you want for Christmas?” My always simple answer: socks.
Finally, I look forward to a season during which we at least think about the possibility that one day we will see peace and goodwill among all men. Merry Christmas!