And now for something totally different to help get you into that Christmassy spirit! Enjoy! Oh, by the way, that’s my mom, circa Christmas 1981. Sorry, Mom, I couldn’t resist . . . .
IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR
David C. Hughes
Okay, I cheated. But, hey, like the good husband I am, I admitted it to Mary later that evening: “Hannah and I listened to Christmas music in the car today,” I confessed. Mary put her hands on her hips and just stared at me with those wonderfully blue, soul-piercing eyes. As the silence grew palpable, I responded to the uncomfortable urge to fill in the conversational dead space: “I know how you feel about listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving,” I stammered, “but 98.7 FM is playing it already.”
“Hmm,” she finally said, shaking her head. “Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?” It’s her lament every year, her own personal hell. But you married me, I have to remind her. You signed up for this!
Yes, I’m weak. And it’s bad enough I snuck a toke off the pre-Thanksgiving Christmas music pipe, but I should’ve known better than to have demonstrated such irresponsibility in front of my six-year-old daughter. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I admit I felt a bit of a thrill dragging Hannah down the road of Christmas music perdition with me. But seriously, what’s next? Setting up the Christmas tree the day after Halloween? Hanging my stocking above the fireplace on Labor Day? Inviting Santa to deliver our Elf on the Shelf on July 4th?
Retailers don’t help, either, with their Christmas tree displays in full bloom planted in the middle of the store in October. They have to realize that playing Christmas music in their establishments the day after Halloween is like setting a bottle of Crown Royal on the welcome table at an AA convention–even if I don’t partake, the thought has been planted and must, eventually, be satisfied. And once “Here Comes Santa Claus” or “The Little Drummer Boy” gets into my head, well . . . . there’s only one thing that can drive out those demons in the chord of C7: the clandestine fix.
A few weeks after Halloween this year, as I drove Hannah home from gymnastics, I quietly searched Sirius XM to see if they’d pre-empted Channel 4 and Channel 17 with “Holiday Traditions” and “Holly” yet. “What wrong with the radio, Daddy?” Hannah’s sweet, innocent voice trilled in my ears.
“Uh, well, uh . . .” It was no use; I could no more lie to my daughter than I could to my wife. “I’m seeing if I can get Christmas music on the radio,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t say anything to Mary about catching me red-fingered. It’s hard to be discreet, though, when the “Absolutely Mindy Show” on Kids Place Live is suddenly interrupted with the beeps, grunts, and gurgles of digital station tuning. Striking out with the radio, I ended up getting my pre-Thanksgiving Christmas fix from another source: Charles M. Schulz.
“Let’s watch ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ tonight,” I suggested to Hannah as I finished cooking dinner later that evening. Of course she agreed, so I set up the card table in front of the couch, dished out the plates heaping with food, and dropped the DVD into the player. We ate and watched, then after I cleaned off the table and brought Hannah her bowl of ice cream, I fingered the remote. “How about watching ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’” I said.
“Sure, why not.” I jumped up, swapped DVDs, and the 1965 classic popped onto the 46” flat screen in full living color. I was in heaven . . . . until the next morning.
“Mom, we watched Charlie Brown Christmas last night,” Hannah said while eating her breakfast. Like Adam standing under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, I just smiled sheepishly and pointed the finger of blame at Hannah.
“Uh huh,” Mary grunted, looking straight at me. “Somehow I don’t believe you.” I shrugged and found interest in the swirls of oatmeal and almond milk in my bowl.
Since Christmas music before Turkey Day is verboten in the Hughes household, I usually sate my incipient Christmas-season anticipation by dragging the boxes of Christmas lights out of the attic a week or two before Thanksgiving. I used to hang them after Thanksgiving, but I got tired of freezing my butt off perched 20 feet above the rose bushes on an aluminum extension ladder with 25 mile-an-hour winds whipping out of the north, trying to coax my purple fingers to snap another bulb clip under a rock-hard shingle.
Usually the weekend before Thanksgiving in North Texas is warm enough to allow accomplishment of this yearly ritual, with temperatures ranging from the 60’s to the 80’s, hence the reason I get away with starting early; I’m a weenie when it comes to cold weather, and Mary, the Proverbs 31 wife that she is, makes concessions for her high-Q husband. But this year, to my extreme joy, the National Weather Service predicted winter weather the weekend before Thanksgiving. Elated, I made the executive decision to start hanging my Christmas lights two weeks before Thanksgiving! Woo hoo! So with temperatures near 90 degrees, I actually got sunburned scaling my monstrous 32-foot extension ladder with handfuls of C9s and plastic clips. ‘Tis the season to be jolly!
The freezing rain came and went, and I managed to snap the rest of the lights onto the shingles and gutters before the family arrived to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, and for some reason I accidentally left the lights lit up Thanksgiving night. Along with three of the other four houses on our cul de sac. Oops.
As I mentioned, Mary laments the passing of Thanksgiving into the premature hustle and bustle of Christmas; she calls Turkey Day the “Forgotten Holiday.” And it’s so true. Just take one look at our holiday decoration bins and you’ll see exactly what I mean: five orange and black totes are filled to the brim with costumes, wigs, foam tombstones, plastic skeletons, and illuminated skulls; eighteen green and red bins are swollen with Christmas lights, plastic trees, garland, festive tableware, wreaths, ornaments, and the Advent calendar; and a lone orange tote is half-filled with a pumpkin centerpiece, a table runner, a small basket of scarecrows, and the painted pumpkin we hang on the front door that says “Give Thanks.” The rest of the bin is filled with stale air and Mary’s tears.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy Thanksgiving, especially feasting on turkey and homemade sweet potato pie, filling my coffee cup with another round of cab sauv, and watching the Cowboys actually win. But the best thing of all? On Black Friday it’s finally legal for me to tune into the Christmas Station and listen to the Boss belt out his rendition of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” The bells they are a-ringin’, and Clarence Clemons is a-singin’!
So when it comes right down to it, why do I like this time of year so much? It’s the warm memories of Christmases I experienced when I was a child, and having the privilege and the responsibility to pass on the magic–and the meaning–of the season to Hannah. Hearing Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, and Frank Sinatra usher in the season always takes me back to a simpler time with memories straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Memories of our cardboard fireplace with its tin foil flames lit with an orange light bulb, and real Christmas trees harvested from the field behind the house. Memories of Dad waiting until the week before Christmas to set up our tree, and how he would hang the multi-colored strand of lights around the picture window in foot-deep snow and temperatures well below freezing. Memories of my brothers and I laying metal tinsel across the O-gauge railroad tracks to watch the sparks, and memories of waiting for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to arrive on one of the four channels we got on our massive console TV.
It’s the memories of being so excited we couldn’t go to sleep on Christmas Eve, but always managing to do it somehow. And memories of how Dad would make us wait until he rolled out of bed, went to the bathroom, and had his cup of hot tea with milk and sugar before we could even think about opening a present. We sat there like dogs with Milkbones on our noses, drooling, until Dad took his place in the burnt orange arm chair, and Mom distributed presents with one hand and filmed the festivities with her Super 8 camera in the other. Memories of the old Norelco ad where a Claymation Santa rode an electric razor over snow-covered hills, and the endless Ronco commercials blaring at us after we got cable installed and could tune in WPIX Channel 11 from New York City. Memories of white spaghetti, red wine, and board games like Yahtzee and Aggravation on Christmas Eve, and ham and sweet potatoes on Christmas day after mass. And Christmas music playing all day on the tinny white plastic AM radio perched on top of the refrigerator. It’s a scene straight from A Christmas Story, but it was our story too, and I loved every moment of it. Still do.
Yes, I’m weak. Weak for fond Christmas memories, sharing the magic with my wife and daughter, driving around the countryside to look at Christmas lights, and listening to Christmas music on the radio. But can you blame me? After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Copyright © 2013, David C. Hughes