It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas,” I say hopefully each December when the temperature drops down in the 30s. I say, “feels like Christmas,” not “looks like Christmas,” because we Okies know that a white Christmas is as rare as a partridge in our pear tree. It does happen, once in a while, but I am not one of those looking at the sky and dreaming of a White Christmas because snow can really foul up travel plans for everyone but Santa Claus. What I’m hoping for, starting with the first weekend in December, is the perfect day to put up the outside Christmas decorations. A perfect day I define as somewhere between 33 and 99 degrees, not raining, although a little mist would be OK, and wind gusts no more than 25 miles per hour. I would make a list each year. Read it to my husband: “Go to the storage place, get 15 boxes of decorations. Cut enough cedar boughs for the lamp post and front door. Decorate lamp pole. Decorate front door. Put lights in tree.”
“What was that last thing?” he always asked suspiciously.
“Put lights in tree,” I’d say cheerily. “We’ll just work it in on a pretty day.” He would look noncommittal. He knew I was using the editorial “we” and it was he who would have to lug the ladders around the front and climb up and down them to string lights in the elm tree.
“I’ll help,” I’d add quickly. “I’ll go get stuff and hand it up to you.”
Eventually, I’d encourage him – well, OK, nag him into climbing up into the elm tree to string lights. The Christmas spirit curve took a nosedive around our house during this stage. It was a task he hated, as he continually reminded me in left-over Marine Corps terminology. But I always got a great rush of Christmas joy when I’d drive up to the house and see our elm tree aglow with twinkling-colored lights. Since our three sons were always here for Thanksgiving, it finally occurred to me that they could take over this essential part of the Christmas festivities. As it turned out, they didn’t find it very festive either. I insisted for several years until, finally, one son, high atop a ladder, said bitterly, “Mom, you just ruin Thanksgiving making us put these lights up in the tree.”
That got my attention. What kind of a Ma Scrooge, what kind of a Grinchette had I turned into? So, I hired it done by people who put ads in the paper saying if there was anything they loved to do, it was climb up in brittle old trees and wind strings of little light bulbs around even more brittle branches. Or, more precisely, “We do what others won’t.”
That elm tree is more than 50 years old now, which is not that old for a tree, but high winds and bad ice storms, have taken their toll. This year, there aren’t enough reachable branches to wrap lights around. I finally had to concede that what we’re reminded of every year – that the true spirit of Christmas lies not in decorations, in gifts, in celebrations, but in our hearts – that’s what is important. I just wish I could find a way to string some lights around it.