Full Circle: The Twelfth Month

Published 1:28 pm Saturday, December 9, 2017

December.  The tingling time.  It happens every year right on schedule, never failing, never getting old.  As the calendar page flips, a special kind of warmth begins to churn within us, glowing our insides.  An expectation stirs.  We expand.  Some complain the season begins too soon, and yet when they are startled by the first glimpse of a bedecked Christmas tree, their hearts skip a beat as if they had unexpectedly seen an old lost love.

This is the month of doing. Lots of doing. Lights to sort and hang—a labor requiring the concentrated unraveling of pointy, twisty, tiny bulbs, catching on each other like glass thistles.  When they are, however, at last in place on the rafters and trees and the switch turns on, the sudden aura in the darkness brings on a deep satisfaction.  This is your holiday gift to the neighbors and passersby.  We wish you … you … and YOU! … a Merry Christmas!

Then there’s the indoors to dress, transforming its ordinary, everyday look to something from a page straight out of Better Homes and Gardens.  The happy, colorful decorations, as always, do their job, creating a special magic in the commonplace rooms. “Wow! Is this really our house?”

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Christmas decorations are old cherished friends.  Unwinding them from their wrappings is a kind of sacred annual reunion with precious memories embedded in each one.  And, yes, there’s that lumpy red ball rolled in silver sprinkles that Susie made fifty years ago.  It’s a bit naked, but all the whispers from Christmases gone by remain.  It reeks of love.  And, look!  Here’s Bobby’s tin soldier.  It’s been through forty-seven seasons, never giving up its watch over us.

If decorations don’t fill us with a particularly intimate emotion, it’s a good chance they’ll end up in next summer’s garage sale.  Let’s face it.  We cling to only the most meaningful of our Christmas treasures even if they’re worn with age … like us.

How well I remember Main Street in the 50s.  There were no empty buildings. Shoppers bustled in and out of Fantle’s, Marvin’s, Wallace’s, Nate’s Surplus, Kresge’s, Smith’s Shoes, Elam’s Jewelry,  Axe Johnson Hardware, and Mary Ann’s Gift and Yarn Shop in the basement of the Fox Hotel.  The shop was classy beyond imagination; the first place I ever smelled incense.  And when we folks became exhausted from all our holiday buying, we dropped into Brigham’s for ice cream—yes, even in December—or gobbled down a gingerbread man from Federal Bakery.

But to me the best store of all was my father’s grocery “The Square Deal,”  (currently “Twice As Nice.”)  Every December it was remolded into a wondrous gastronomical paradise; a place where moms reigned. The experience began outside the store where the fresh cut Christmas trees leaned in layers of furry green against the large glass show windows.  Daddy would put on his warm jacket, fur hat and mittens, shake the snow off each tree and patiently wait out in the frigid temps while the customers selected their favorites, particular folks taking longer.

In the snow between the two front doors sat barrels of lutefisk. It was a perfect place to display them, their “certain aroma” being captured in the icy particles and never entering the store. The Catholics appreciated this as they wrinkled their noses in disdain, while the Lutherans dived right in, then headed to the overstocked butter department.

There was no guessing what time of year it was as the store abounded in special holiday treats. Nothing was more deliciously tantalizing, however, than the candy section at the back of the store.  Open boxes of sugary treats were stacked on the floor inviting customers to taste before they selected. How else could they know what they liked best? The most captivating of all was the ribbon candy where wavy rows undulated across their boxes in long, unbroken, striped strips.  You broke off how much you wanted.

The unwrapped candy canes looked like little soldiers standing at attention; red and white fence post sentries.  No child ever went without one.  Sitting on the floor next to the candy were burlap bags of nuts.  As they were sold, the emptying bags were rolled down at the top.  Every home had a nut cracker and on the floors were fragments of shells that had escaped the vacuum cleaners.

Holiday dishes were always freshly made before those days of frozen foods. And every family had its own special recipe for turkey stuffing handed down through the generations, each one believing theirs was the best. They all were!

There was no discussion of what religion was being celebrated.  We knew of only one kind of Christmas … the Austin kind. Mary, Joseph and the Babe were displayed on the courthouse lawn and sacred carols were performed in the schools and on street corners where singer’s melodious frozen breath proclaimed what the season was all about.  Radios rang with beautiful syrupy songs sung so that you understood every word and the background didn’t drown out the singers. These songs remain today as evocative as ever though the singers have long been dead.  And in secret, their velvety tones still, all these years later, bring tears to even the most cantankerous of eyes.

Yes, Christmas changes us alright.  Our bones get wiggly, we smile and hug more, and our hearts melt and expand.  We become different people: nicer, more generous, jolly and with bigger appetites.  It’s December, after all.  The tingling time.