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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Hi Dee Hi Dee Hi Dee Ho Ho Ho

[Editor’s Note: This is a re-run from last year, with a new link to a new Christmas light picture site as the old one seems to be associated with an internet gambling site now. As if the Christmas lights weren’t tacky enough. Anyway, the new site seems to have the requisite holiday spirit. Also, it’s gratifying that last year’s reference to arguing about Christmas seems to be less apt this year. That usually means the side I liked surrendered, and there’s no use talking about it anymore. Whatever; Merry Christmas!}

{Author’s Note: There is no editor.}

I never hear the word “decry” for eleven months of the year, but I get it morning noon and night at Christmastime. Seems like everyone’s decrying some aspect of the Christmas thing, and if you look in more than one place, you’ll find people decrying the opposing angles of the same Christmas condition. Christmas is too religious for some. It’s too mercenary and secular two doors down. Me, I think Christmas is too tasteful.

Now, Christmas was a big deal when I was young and Johnson was president. We weren’t wealthy, and your birthday and Christmas were the only days you’d get any swag. We’d study the Sears catalog like we study Victoria’s Secret catalogs now, make our Christmas list, then we’d be schlepped all over creation — in a Rambler station wagon or a Dodge Dart with a steel dashboard or a Chevy Impala convertible with a hole in the roof — to our relatives’ houses to be spoiled a bit by their generosity. None of them were wealthy either, but they always seemed to have the time and money and affection to get even their most obscure nieces and nephews a little something. The younger you were, the better the present generally was, because after all, it’s easier to buy a present for a child, isn’t it?

What all those homes had in common when we visited was hospitality, and garish and hamfisted Christmas decoration. Jimmy Stewart was very much alive, but Martha Stewart hadn’t appeared on the scene yet, and it showed — metallic white fake Christmas trees with rotating muticolored spotlights aimed at them; big red, blue, and green bulbs strung along the outlines of the house; plastic Santas guarding plaster creches; spray-on frost riming the windows; cheap looking tinsel and home made tree ornaments that looked like you wore your mittens when you made them. It knew no race, or creed, or social station; it was all bad, and lovely.

And your Aunts would hug you, smelling of lilac perfume and the kitchen, and slip you quarters on the way out; your Uncles would tell stories and and roar the loudest at their own japes; and when you got older they’d crush your hand in a welcoming handshake to see if you still squealed.
The music was lively, and sometimes wistful, which was nice. Christmas in 1965 was only twenty years removed from WW2, and thirty from the depression, and most all my relatives were old enough to remember when Christmas wasn’t so jolly. And the perspective that the emergence from true want and danger lent to their mood was like the bubbles in champagne.

I can’t bring myself to decorate in the garish style of my youth. Jimmy Stewart’s passed away, and he’s on the flatscreen at Mr Potter’s now only, but Martha Stewart is in the here and now, out of jail and demanding once more that we straighten up and garland ourselves properly. My Aunts and Uncles have made their way to their reward, many of them, and the others are far away in distance, if not in our hearts.

But I have a weakness now that I indulge by visiting websites devoting to pointing a jaundiced finger at bad Christmas yard displays. I wonder: Am I the only one there, with a tear in his eye, remembering how genuine, and fun, and innocent these things were to the dearest people?

I cometh to bury Caeser, not to praise him.

Still, I’d like to visit one more time; put the kettle on.

6 Responses

  1. No, not the only one. I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone (all 35 houses) had a 6′ Christmas tree, spray-painted white, set on an orange crate wrapped in holiday red plastic, displayed in the front yard. All were lighted – some used blinkers and others regular bulbs. Wrapped presents (cardboard boxes of various sizes with bricks in them) were tastefully or haphazardly arranged under the trees and against the stand.

    Of course, all the houses had lights on the eaves. There wasn’t a lot of ostentation about the whole thing – no herds of lighted reindeer – but one or two cardboard santas might be found.

    One family did have an obviously fake tree in their living room that filled up the picture window. IIRC, small reindeer did revolve around it (or maybe the wholetree revolved ). I say it was obviously fake because one year it was pink, and another year it was baby blue. (It was the same tree every year, so I assume the husband painted it.)

    The tradition held firm for more than a dozen years, but began dying out the year after we moved away (1967). By that time, most of the original homeowners had moved on. A nice memory. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. Oh, and lots of tin ornaments adorned the trees (as well as the odd old ornament that had lost some of its glazing)! Does anyone remember the tin ones? They must have been a pre-50’s thing, because everyone used old ornaments for those outside trees, but they were really neat. Haven’t seen one in decades.

  3. It was a great treat to *feast* wasn’t it – when usually you never were allowed to eat until you were full, nor to eat as much sweet stuff as you wanted.

    But, having similar aged kids as you – boy 7 and girl 4 – it is clear that the Christmas ‘magic’ for them (and therefore for me too) is undiminished.

    Indeed, it could hardly be stronger – they find this time of year almost unbearably exciting!

    Merry Christmas!

  4. I think the Scandinavian immigrants were the original Martha Stewarts.

    I’m half Scandinavian. Christmas was wonderful but subdued and tasteful. The best of the Scandinavian traditions were followed. (And I mean best, that side of the family was horrified by lutefisk. It was never served.)

    The other half of my family has been in America so long that any ethnic traditions were long forgotten.

    Gold spray painted wreaths made from discarded computer punch cards and gold spray painted Christmas trees made from old Readers Digests-those are some of my warm Christmas memories with them.

    The grown-ups drinking their after dinner bottles of Blatz on the brown mohair couch with silver threads before moving to the basement for Euchre.

    Ronin-Did you grow up in the south? I can’t imagine leaving wrapped presents outside in December in Wisconsin much less card board Santas!

    -Deb in Madison

  5. Deb in Madison:
    Gold spray painted wreaths made from discarded computer punch cards and gold spray painted Christmas trees made from old Readers Digests-those are some of my warm Christmas memories with them.

    Oh my Goodness! Were you in my same Girl Scout troop? I hadn’t thought of that “project” for 20 years. What about the Nyquil cup star? You had to save about a hundred of those little medicine cups, rim them in glitter like a margarita for a mouse, then push-pin them into the ubiquitous styrofoam balls.

    Styrofoam balls! Or the styrofoam cone that was bedecked in starlight mints [or butterscotch candies, you pick]? They were Depression era packrats who were co-opted into the Ecology movement. Kitsch meets trash.

    What will our kids recall from this timewarp?

  6. Ruth Ann,
    No, I’m sad to say that the Nyquil cups as decoration craze didn’t make it to our family. But if we had known, I’m sure my mother and her sisters would have collected Nyquil cups as assiduously as computer punch cards, Readers Digests, pine cones, and egg cartons.

    Their parents lived through the Depression and that experience echoes through out my family, though it’s getting fainter each year.

    My oldest uncle recalled suppers of onion sandwiches during the time his mother (my grandmother) was a young widow in the 1930s.

    We are truly blessed today.

    -Deb in Madison

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