Can you believe the holidays are just around the corner? It seems unreal because of the virus – how our everyday living has changed. Even though it’s hard to fathom that the year is coming to a close, my trusty calendar says it is, so I thought it would be a good time to post this Christmas tale from last year.
In excitement we wriggle from head to toe anticipating our daughter and fiancé’s visit from Nashville. The newly-engaged couple flies out early December to beat the holiday airport chaos. Thanksgiving dishes barely sparkle when we push and pull our Noble Fir through the front door. I want the house to be dressed in holiday attire for when they arrive. But the day after Thanksgiving is early to buy a tree, so the pickings are slim and the cost is a heart-stopper. Yet, there in the living room by the window stands the evergreen, reflecting in the paned glass.
My husband takes charge of putting up the outside decorations – hanging the Christmas flag, stringing the lights on the house, and sprinkling big ornaments on our shrubbery. My son and I begin indoor decorating by winding the lights among the branches on the tree. As we hand the wiry bunch to each other, around and around, they blink awake like eyes opening brightly. But then suddenly, they go out like sleepy eyes closing. When we tested them earlier, they lit up just fine, so their slumbering is surely a mystery. Feeling frustrated, we fuss with the tiny bulbs, and eventually, they blink “Merry Christmas” again. (Problem solved or so we think.) Then come the ornaments – many made by our children’s’ little hands: photos of them skirted in gold stars or in the arms of pink angels. The clothespin reindeer look excited to join Santa on Christmas Eve, and the homemade sequin ornaments from my husband’s grandma transports him back to the sixties. His grandma was stern but kindhearted, and when she cooked each Sunday for the following week, there was enough food to feed everyone in the county. Then my fingers feel around in the box for another ornament, latching onto the white puffy heart engraved with Dad’s birth and death date. It’s like hanging memories one by one, triggering teardrops or raising smiles. When the tree stands fully adorned, it truly looks Noble.
Outside for onlookers, the house lights blink a winter white with a splash of red, gold, green, and silver hanging among the greenery, but more Christmas spirit arrives with our Nashville kids. They gave us a beautiful wreath which hangs on the front door and completes the decorating. In the evenings, we gather around the table, catching up on life and sharing delicious food. They share their wedding plans and we hear their excitement to search for a special place to exchange vows. And we bake! Having my daughter home to help mix up some sweetness conjures up delightful baking memories.
I want to freeze time – for it alone is an illusion: drifting by like the slow drip of honey, yet, flying by like a hummingbird seeking nectar. With a blink of an eye, our visit with them has ended and it’s time for goodbye-hugs which are never easy; bittersweet tears fall like liberated water over a broken dam. Too soon my cell phone pings, telling me they’re boarding their plane. Once their feet safely touch Tennessee ground, I push the restart button in my routine. Phone calls, Facetime, and text messages don’t replace their presence but will suffice until their next trip.
Our focus is back to the Noble Fir and we notice it doesn’t appear to be thirsty. This evergreen that cost an arm and a leg is beginning to dry up faster than a drop of water on a sun-kissed sidewalk. Then to our surprise, the bottom lights go out! A couple of days later with one tilt of our heads, we spot the lights on top of the tree are out! Frustration seeps into our veins for a second, then trickles of laughter follow, and because we’re too busy to shop for new lights, our tree remains topless and bottomless where festive colors once shimmered! We join Charlie Brown and call it our Peanut’s tree – a little forlorn to our eyes but beautiful just the same. The angel our daughter made years ago, though only a toilet paper roll with lacey craftsmanship, sits in a place of honor on top of the tree. Replacing this dear angel is out of the question, so we look to her for hope that the tree lasts until the big day!
Moving on from our tree-light calamity, it’s time to bake again. I find my mother-in-law’s gingerbread recipe, preheat the oven, then press the button on my faithful hand mixer. When all ingredients are blended, I dip a spoon into the sweet-spicy batter. I have to make sure it’s fine for others to eat. Of course, I do. I was about to put the pan in the oven, opening the door, when I realize 350-degree heat did not whoosh out at me in the face. I call my husband over and we do some button-pressing, hoping our magic touches will perk up the oven. No luck, but no need to panic fully because the burners work, so not a total loss. The gingerbread stays overnight in the fridge, but I’m unsure as to how refrigeration will affect the batter. I call on a friend for help and use her oven the next day. When the timer beeps, the bread looks done, except for the molten-looking center – mushy, but honestly, gooey and delectable.
Two weeks pass since the oven’s demise, and no repairman is available until December 30th. It sounds like the death of many appliances! At least the oven functioned when my daughter and I needed it to for our upcoming cookie exchange. Four dozen buttercream-frosted sugar cookies were displayed on glass platters: stars, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, and angels all bejeweled in red and green sprinkles. Now, as Christmas draws closer by the minute, I feel off-kilter because I’m unable to bake.
While the oven sits waiting to be repaired, the alternator in one of our cars dies! First the lights, then the oven, now the car! But wait, there’s more…our big TV is next on this chain of events! What a kerfuffle this holiday season has been with things going kaput! I won’t ask, because if I do, we’ll wonder what’s next! I didn’t ask!
Because of the unexpected and unfortunate events, our shopping sprees have barely begun. But we’ll still find merchandise sitting on the shelves, contrary to popular belief that Black Friday is the only day to shop for Christmas. And each time I walk past our unique Christmas tree, I am reminded of the quote, paraphrasing, of course, “It’s not about the beginning or destination; it’s about the journey.” Well, the tree’s middle glows with Christmas enthusiasm and so does our journey through this holiday season in spite of the blips.
These hiccups caused us to pause, but they’re not the end of the world. Baking later could develop into a new tradition. Our tree will remain noble until Christmas Day, or at least we hope it will. Those temperamental lights will be tossed when the tree comes down. The car is on its wheels again. So, regardless of these glitches, the blessings stand tall: precious family time, safe travels for our Nashville kids, and gifts beneath the tree acting as an evergreen anchor. Saving the best for last – our family’s good health. What more can we ask for besides new lights for our tree next year!
I hope this account of my family’s last Christmas brought smiles and maybe even a few giggles. And I have a strong hunch, this holiday season will look a little different. But if good health abounds, that’s what matters most. And Cheers to hoping 2021 is much brighter for all!