I grew up in the Midwest during the end of what climatologists call the Little Ice Age; a short period of time when the Northern Hemisphere was supposedly much colder than normal. What I recall about winter, up through my undergraduate college days, are frequent cold snaps and snow falling shortly after Thanksgiving accompanied by a season-long hard freeze. We built snowmen, had snowball fights and sledded down a hill at the local cemetery for the entire month of December. Snow continued to fall throughout the month, and rivers, lakes, and ponds were solid enough to support ice skating—and/or the occasional teenaged driver slipping and sliding in his hotrod from shore to shore. We did not have sleigh rides—those disappeared (along with stringing popcorn) with my parents’ generation due to the invention of the snowplow. Sudden thought: Once in a while we’d “bully” each other by taking someone down and “washing” his face with snow—gave one a nice ruddy complexion, y’know? |
Starting about the second week of December, raucous office parties took place, and in the streets, inebriated carolers reeled from house to house; except carolers from churches (I surmise) remained sober. They sang longer, but not as loud as their intoxicated counterparts. Inside, mistletoe hung, chestnuts were roasted over a fireplace, bowls of nuts with nutcrackers were on tables, and mothers made divinity and fudge. Christmas trees had simulated snow called angel hair wrapped around the bottom, a substance made from spun glass that children were warned not to touch. Bubble lights hung on the tree with homemade red and green chains, and tinsel was liberally thrown from top to bottom. I also remember little gumdrop trees on tables, and bowls of red, green, and white hard candy. The latter makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it.
Downtown was gaily decorated, and Christmas music was piped into the streets competing with Salvation Army bell ringers. People were bundled up; stores and bars did a bustling business—happy folks buying each other cocktails. Churches had Nativity scenes—and I believe the town did as well in the town square—ours was actually a triangle.
In other words, these are scenes now only lived in Hallmark movies. Perhaps there are places in the northeast or Minnesota where they still play out. I don’t know. I do know that after I returned home after living in SoCal everything had changed—mostly the weather. Often, snow doesn’t fall in quantity until January, and hard freezes are rare—certainly not enough for ice skating. The latter probably doesn’t matter since sue-happy society has relegated skating to inside rinks; if you can find one. Much of the Christmas Hallmark scenario has gone the way of hayrides and apple-bobbing at Halloween—that is, gone for good.
Also gone from yesteryear is (practically) everyone smoking, thinking maybe lighting-up helped drive away the chill; holiday-decorated cigarette cartons, and gifts like cigarette lighters, and other smoking paraphernalia. Christmas (not Holiday) specials were also different back-in-the-day featuring a mix of happy snowman and Santa Claus tunes with religious songs batting clean-up near the end of the show. The presentation was joyful and upbeat often with cast family members making an appearance: Perry Como, Lawrence Welk, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Arthur Godfrey, Pat Boone, etc., etc. That said, I am traumatized to this very day by one particular show ending. The scene was an attractive woman in white—overcoat, hat, and muff—with snow falling and a white church steeple in the background. The light was filtered making the scene even more compelling. Music began with the familiar intro notes to “O Holy Night”. Then “it” happened; the woman opened her mouth and started to sing. It sounded like an out-of-tune Bob Dylan-type voice with poor enunciating skills. Talk about nails on a chalkboard or grinding gears. It was Cher! Now I have no problem with Cher except when she decides to warble a difficult song written for an operatic soprano. What were the producers thinking? It was gosh-awful—worse!
My point is Christmas is no longer like a Hallmark movie except in our memories or in the fantasies of younger folks. So-called political progressives are against Christmas songs, Christmas trees, Nativity scenes (crèches), that “racist” Santa Claus dude, colored lights, and almost everything else that makes the season fun. Aside: Here’s a good idea to get the whining wimps to buy-in. Why not call a crèche, a three-sided homeless shelter? That PC label should stop their complaining. Nah. Who am I kidding? They love being miserable, and want—no, demand—the rest of us share their wretchedness.
I’ve lived in the southwest desert for the past three Decembers. Sand substitutes for snow, and Saguaros for snowmen—except for the blow-up kind from Walmart, and we have enough sunshine to lay some off on Pittsburgh. Kay still goes over-the-top decorating the inside of our home, and music by dead people fills the air—Bing Crosby, David Seville, Gene Autry, Ray Conniff, Nat “King” Cole, the Andrews Sisters, Mel Torme, Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como…
Come to think of it, in my youth decorating wasn’t nearly as lavish as depicted in the made-for-TV movies. Mainly, we had a real tree with a few strands of lights, and colored spherical ornaments. You mainly saw the tree, not solid lights and hanging knick-knacks with no part of the tree visible. The rest of our home, and others, basically looked the same, that is undecorated, although some people did string colored outside lights on their eaves.
Kay grew up in Southern California where decorating throughout the house was typical maybe to make up for lack of a Winter climate. Her mom also loved the holiday season; and I suspect Kay relives her youth, and remembers her late mother during the process of converting our home into a Christmas showplace. When we lived in a home with three floors, there were four trees along with every other kind of Christmas paraphernalia. Me, I still enjoy the season as much as I did as a youngster, but no longer feel the excitement in the pit of my stomach that festooning a home used to bring. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the look of the house when everything is done, but the prevailing thought that nags me constantly is what a pain in the rear it’s going to be to take it all down and stow it when the season passes. Other than that Grinch-like sentiment, all is well. I enjoy the smells, music, gatherings, drinks, and food. I’m ambivalent about shopping, receiving and wrapping presents; and absolutely annoyed with the vocal minority of whining, tightly-sphinctered, politically correct, so-called progressive (actually regressive) steaming lumps of excrement in society than insist the season is racist and/or offensive.
In a few days, our community is going to have a Christmas—er—Holiday Parade that ends up at the bandstand where a local band will play. For the benefit of our local Shalom Club, a really nice collection of friends and neighbors, I will present a Chanukah song about a dreidel that spins off the counter, down the stairs, out the door, and drills into the ground where a tree grows with millions of dreidels for all. That will be my tribute to Judas Maccabeus, the hammer, who led the Hasmoneans in kicking the crap out of Seleucid forces.
Bottom line: I consider myself fortunate for having grown up in the Golden Age of Hallmark Christmas when the scenes were real, not a mirage—and free of people who attempt to stamp out anything and everything that brings joy. With that in mind, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays (select one).
By the Spirit of Christmas Present himself (aka Gene Myers), a right jolly old elf.
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Little Ice Age, Hallmark movies, decorating, Judas Maccabeus,