The Beauty of Alabama
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The Ways Things Are Done

"After growing up in Wisconsin, even after living here a dozen years, I can't get used to seeing people putting up Christmas decorations on a day like this!"

That's me, up on my deck, shouting down to my next door neighbor Fred, who is putting a Christmas tree up on his dock.  It's the day after Thanksgiving, the sky is a brilliant blue, and it is just shy of 75 degrees.

Fred grins up at me.  "Yeah," he says.  "I hope we get some winter this year."

But regardless of the weather, this is Christmas decorating weekend in this part of the country.  I took Josie out for a wagon ride, and as I was coming back, the neighbors were out on the street, either starting to put their lights up or talking about getting it going.  Some (like us) will dawdle a bit, but by tomorrow night when dusk falls, almost the entire street will be outlined in little white lights, which is the fashion here.  It's quite pretty.  I shrug, and just go with it.

When I was a little kid growing up in Wisconsin we wouldn't start decorating until about two weeks out.  First, the outside lights would go up.  In those days, the fashion was big colored bulbs outlining the porch.  Maybe a plastic santa, maybe someone would have a manger in the front yard.  The first year that somebody put up little flashing lights chasing each other along the roofline, they were the talk of the town. 

My Dad would buy a tree from a local lot, bring it home, and toss it into the snow bank next to the house.  The tree would've been cut down in northern Wisconsin a couple of weeks earlier and was well frozen by the time we got it. In the week before Christmas, we'd start decorating the house, but the tree wouldn't go in the stand until the 22nd.  Dad would set it up after work that day and for the next 24 hours it would slowly thaw, filling the house with pine scent.  On the 23rd, we'd have our family tree trimming party.  That's the way it was done.

How different it is here!   Thanksgiving weekend is when the decorations go up, and then everything comes down the weekend after New Year's (if not on New Year's day itself).  Lynn and I generally manage to get the outside lights up by early December, and down by the 2nd weekend of January, so we're not too far behind the accepted schedule.  Inside is a different story.  I will put the tree up tomorrow, but it won't get fully trimmed for a couple of weeks (we'll do it bit by bit as we find time), and Lynn won't finish her house decorating until Christmas Eve.  Having taken such a long time to get everything the way that she wants it, we're in no hurry to take it all down.  Marian is scandalized when she comes over in early February and we're still decorated for Christmas.  We'll try to get everything packed away in time for Josie's birthday.

Despite my shoutout to Fred (I was just trying to be conversational), I've never been very locked into a particular tradition.  I've probably been through more "Christmas traditions" in my half century than I could properly count.  I weary somewhat at the relentless commercialization, but that's not peculiar to holidays.  Traditions change and evolve, and in this country, so huge with so many different histories and cultures mixed in, what counts as tradition shifts every couple of hundred miles.

I feel no nostalgia for the Christmases of my youth.  They were wonderful, and the memories are rich, but I have no need to recapture or recreate them.  They were right for their time, and I was a very happy young boy.  But that was a long time ago.  Now I'm a happy middle-aged man, looking forward to sipping a glass of champagne with Lynn & Marian while we watch Josephine take in the wonder of it all.  Each year, as we all grow older, our own tradition evolves.  It's those changes that I love, how we accommodate and adjust to the shifts in relationships and to the demands of time.


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