Sunday, November 26, 2017

It's Time for Holiday Nostalgia

We never put up our Christmas tree this early in the season, but yep, it's up now. Probably a taller one than we've ever had before; I think the Christmas tree lot mislabeled the height. Thankfully, we have a living room ceiling to go with it.

Last night, Christmas carols infused the atmosphere while we breathed in the pine scent of the fresh-cut tree, just as we have for countless Decembers in the past. The lights were up, the angel and star in place, and the branches just awaiting their customary decorations. Only problem was: it's not even December yet. Christmas, as of last night, was still a month away. As for putting up our tree, at least in our family, we were getting it done about two weeks early.

Our family has never been one for the tradition (at least around here, where Thanksgiving temperatures hover around seventy degrees Fahrenheit) of setting up the tree the minute the turkey leftovers are packed away in the fridge. Unlike our California neighbors, our family has usually gone for a more sedate timetable. Sometimes, we've erred on the opposite side of the spectrum, including the time my mother rushed out to the store in a panic the day before Christmas because she hadn't yet found time to buy a live tree before company was coming over. (Now you know where I get my procrastinator's tendencies; my DNA comes by them honestly.)

There's a reason why we've reversed course around here this year: once again, my husband is off for another teaching assignment in the Middle East, but this time, he won't arrive home until just before Christmas. If he is going to get his chance to soak in the holiday cheer, it will have to be A.S.A.P.

So even though it's still November, we listen to the same songs we've heard recycled each holiday season, and remember the mood that surrounded us the last time we heard each tune. Some of those songs reach back farther in our memories than others—some to the earliest glimpses of childhood, other more recent arrivals coming fresh with newer scenes.

My daughter, having spent a fall semester at college in Ireland, used to mention that, in Europe, the stores rolled out the Christmas ambience more gradually—a trinket here, in early November, additional hints of seasonal color a week later, then the usual lights and decor throughout the month of December. I am thinking, besides our uncustomary earlier start, our household will follow suit this year. We've got the early start now, so why rush it? Adding a bit each week will seem so leisurely, after our customary last-minute-rushing style of past years.

I remember years when we baked enough cookies to fill a dozen tins or more for gifts, or assembled gift baskets to distribute for our annual caroling event at church. Not so much, any more. It seems the less we do, the more busy we feel. I'm not sure how we managed that kind of schedule downsizing, but it makes me yearn for a simple season. One filled with carols, quiet visits with good friends, and heartfelt moments with family.

It seems so strange to think the magic of Christmas could change so much over the years, but I think it has. I wonder how much our celebrations are like those our grandparents remembered as children. The singular image of the children receiving their one gift—an orange—in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series imprinted itself on my mind long ago, and though I've never experienced the simplicity of a Christmas like that, I wonder how it would feel to have that suffice as a holiday blessing. Is our life so different today that we can't even relate to the context of that lifestyle?

Above: "La Famiglia," circa 1894 by Italian artist Cesare Vianello; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I am impressed! And a real tree too! Don't you have a cat? Ours used to climb the tree and hide and chew the light cords:) I hope your husband has safe travels.

    1. Thank you, Far Side; those safe travels wishes are much appreciated!

      Yes, we have a cat...or two or three or...but our inside cats are well mannered. So far, no one has crossed the line, not even the kitten who adopted us this past summer.


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