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December 15, 2010

Christmas Lite

Christmas Lite

by Nancy Martin  DSC01051

When I was a girl, my parents endlessly discussed ways to supplement my father’s income. (Back in those early days, he was a small town lawyer which meant mostly deeds and estates, although there was one murder case when he was the acting public defender—exciting, but not lucrative.)  One year, they decided to start a Christmas tree farm.

We lived in a rural part of Pennsylvania, far from the lush farms settled by German and Amish immigrants, but rather in the northern tier of the state that’s mostly hemlocks forests, hills and limestone rocks—not exactly fertile ground, but just fine for pine and fir trees.

On a windy October afternoon, I remember toddling the acres of scrubby farm land my parents had acquired, and I dimly recall the planting of seedling in the spring.  For the next couple of years, not much happened that sticks in my memory except the trees needed to be trimmed now and then, but we had to wait until the weather was cold enough to send the rattlesnakes underground.

But finally--there were hillsides of Christmas trees!  They were cut by a crew of rough men my father dealt with while we waited in the car, and then big trucks came to haul that sweet-smelling cargo off to a distant city. What was left behind? Farmland studded with a thousand stumps that needed to be forcibly wrenched out of the ground to make way for another crop that took six years to grow.

Hm.  My parents decided to go into the cattle business after that, joining forces with a group of friends who dubbed themselves The Lost Shirt Cattle Company.  ‘Nuff said.

My husband’s family also went into Christmas trees, although with even less satisfactory results.  They leased a field from a neighboring farmer, planted the seedlings and waited.  The following spring, though, the kindly farmer thought he’d do them a favor.  He mowed the field without realizing the seedlings were under the tall grass.  Out of business.

Anyway, for me the whole concept of Christmas trees—although delightfully fulsome with memories of hiking out into the woods, cutting the tree, dragging it home, decorating with ornaments both inherited and collected over the years with my children--is laced with the dim recollection of my early childhood and those acres of trees that concealed rattlesnakes.

This year, my family is caught up in the preparations for my younger daughter’s wedding, which will take place on New Year’s Day.  (My father’s birthday, so it’s a way of remembering him.) Yes, maybe we’re nuts to throw weddings during the holidays. (We did it four years ago for our older daughter, Cassie, who sometimes comments here, and I bet she reminds me it was five years ago, but I’m in denial.)  But for a writer, it’s kinda nice to have one hullabaloo during the year, not two, so it’s working out fine.

Except we’re doing Christmas Lite this year.   DSC01053  I was determined to only put out a few holiday decorations and to bake a minimal number of cookies.  Hey, I only have so much time, and this week we’re dealing with the hotel on menu, room reservations (the NHL decided to hold their Winter Classic on my daughter’s wedding day! Hotel Room  Scrum!) and the florist, not to mention the nice seamstress who’s altering my dress (I’m not stupid.  I’m recycling the dress I wore for Cassie’s wedding.  Just a few nips and tucks to make it look slightly different.)  I’m busy. Really busy.

So I figured this was the year we could do without a tree. Have you ever done that? Skipped one of the big traditions of a holiday? DSC01055

My husband would never notice, I thought.  He’s busy with end-of-the-year banking stuff (trust me, it’s Deadline Madness only with bigger dollar signs) and he’s not very observant about the household anyway.  I figured if I didn’t bring up the idea of acquiring a tree, he’d wake up Christmas morning and be surprised. But also maybe relieved.

My daughters, though, objected.  Really objected. Even though they no longer live in this house.

Sarah and her fiancé telephoned last Saturday.  Sarah’s voice was bubbly. “We’re at the Christmas tree farm!  We’re cutting our tree!  We’re getting one for you, too!”

I groaned.  I really hoped to avoid the whole tree thing this year. My husband said, “Great!”

I said, “Make it a small one, please!”

She brought us a tree.  DSC01049 It’s lovely.  Small enough to fit in front of the fireplace.  We dragged out all the boxes of ornaments in time for my grandson’s visit.  We had a lovely decorating party—complete with cookies and a nice dinner afterward. 

My grandson is two.  He loves animals. So we mostly used the animal ornaments, with the soft ones down low on the branches so he could pull them off and play with them. He especially loves elephants and lions and polar bears, but the sparkly reindeer (see top photo) became a favorite of his, and the little mouse in the walnut shell intrigued him.

Christmas Lite?  Not remotely.

(The watercolor over the mantel is a painting of a farm near The Lost Shirt Cattle Company.  I love it.)

Since Kathy gave us a music video yesterday (which I very much enjoyed) I'm doing the same--just to give you a little Christmas cheer:



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Being holiday neutral, my wife and I have never had an Xmas tree. I think the last time I lived in a house that had one was 1994.

We don't put up lights or any of that stuff, but I do broach the subject of making styrafoam Snow Goons (see Calvin & Hobbes for more info), which my wife always shoots that one down. The same goes for huge foam tentacles that look like Cthulhu is rising from our yard.

Holiday neutral - I like that term!

I take out a few ornaments and hang them here and there and call it Christmas. I may have had a Christmas tree 28 years ago when I was married but I don't think I have had one since.

I knew a family years ago that had a Christmas tree farm. They had various fields at various years of growth and did a good business on it.

Last year it was my turn to have Christmas Eve. My house is very small and the basement is unusable for anything other that sewer backup. So instead of putting up a 6ft tree, I put up a 3ft one on a table. I really needed the chair. My daughter, who couldn't even come home, complained. I told her if she didn't like it, she could come home & put up the big one. She had just started a new job & couldn't get the time off to fly in from Eugene, Or. I told her that if she were standing in front of me, she could tell me what to do, lol.

This year she is coming home (I will be standing in the airport waiting...) so I have to put up the big tree...damn.

I floated the tabletop tree idea, Pam. I think it's a great solution! But no go. Not this year.

Gaylin, hanging a few ornaments here and here is definitely my style. See my Scrooge? My Ovef-Yet Santa? That's the kind of decorating I like this year!

Anybody could have guessed Doc would enjoy Snow Goons. (If you break down and do them, Doc, we need pix!)

This will be an odd one for us. This will be the first year since the Nixon administration without opening a single box from the back closet marked “Xmas”. One daughter is staying in Jackson Hole with her new husband with hopes of propagating the species. The other is taking her brood to Asia for 3 weeks for the holidays. Imagine traveling like that with an 8, 6, 5, & 2 year old. Yikes!

We’re doing a pre-departure brunch with the grandkids this coming Sunday but didn’t have the heart to spend 10 hours putting up and taking down the decorations for a two hour lunch. The kids don’t care. It is all about Transformers and new games for the “Move” PS3.

With no one in town, my much better half has volunteered to work both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so some of her staff could spend time with their family. To me that is the real spirit of Xmas and not a dead tree and bunch of multi-colored blinking lights. It is easy to see why I love her; why she still puts up with my moody nonsense after all these years is the mystery of the ages.

Rod, what a great way to spend the holidays! Your wife is indeed one to love.

Sorry, guys, but I'm unabashedly pro the whole schmeer: decorations, fresh greenery, candles, bells, carols, shopping in crowds-- you name it, I want to do it. And as long as we can totter out to cut down a couple of baby pines, we'll drag out the box of ornaments, trim a tree, send out homemade cards, bake a Yule log, and, come New Year's, light the bonfire that grows all year down in the field. Marshmallows, anybody?

Oh, I do love a Yule log. The baked kind, but also the kind made of a real log, decorated with ribbon, pine cones and various leavings from the woods, given to friends at the holidays to be burned in their fireplaces. When we lived in the woods, we made a bunch every year and delivered to friends and neighbors. Nice tradition. Impossible to pull off in the city, I guess, but fun.

Going to look for a Yule log recipe in my Grange cookbook now . . . .

I do like to decorate for Christmas but back and neck problems have made it more and more difficult for me to do this by myself. Like Gaylin, I will often decorate with Christmas ornaments instead of the tree. In years when I'm able to put up the tree (artificial, just the right size for a small home) I put as many of my ornaments on it as possible. I also have a collection of Nativity sets from different cultures and I definitely do put those up every year.

Whether or not I put up all of my Christmas decorations, I keep everything up through the entire winter - here in CT our winters are way too gray for me, and I need the extra color!

Nancy, I remember Christmas with a little one. Your tree is just the right kind for Bobby right now, with soft ornaments that won't hurt him if he gets charmed and intrigued by them.

My mother is absolutely crazy when it comes to decorating for the holidays, and it wouldn't matter if not a single soul set foot in her home this time of year, she would still clean the joint to its last gasp, and haul decorations out from her enormous basement. (She bought the place new five years ago, and proceeded to have endless shelves and closets built to house her tons of holiday stuff.) She starts getting antsy between Halloween and Thanksgiving, anxious to get started on decking the halls. Then after the first of the year she reverses the whole process. Where an 80-year old woman gets that kind of energy is beyond me. Seriously, science should study her and bottle whatever it is.

In protest, and in contrast, I'm a relative Scrooge, especially this year. The girls have come home on Thanksgiving only for the last four or five years, so I rarely bother to do more than buy a fresh wreath and a poinsettia or two. We also have two small fake trees (and a big, honkin' fake tree), one already decorated, that I might bring up and set out, but that's it.

Christmas is not about presents, cards, or fancy decorations, to me. It's about a baby born more than 2,000 years ago. All that other stuff makes us forget that, don't you think?

I love decorating for Christmas . . . almost as much as I love how the house looks all clean and tidy in January when I pack all the decorations away. This will be an odd Xmas for me this year--the first one in 25 years when my sons won't be here for at least part of it. For a nanosecond I considered scaling back our decorating, but I realized I needed to more than ever this year. I also baked up a storm on Monday . . . and sent it all off to my sons. Maybe I will make it through the holidays without gaining a few pounds.

So, there's that upsdie.

I wish I knew how to do Christmas Lite, but I don't. Oh, wait -- I'm not making those damn gingerbread houses this year, not unless Michele Martinez materializes on my doorstep from 3000 miles away, with all the ingredients in her suitcase. So that's my idea of Christmas Lite -- no gingerbread houses!

Nancy, I see nothing wrong with a January 1 wedding. I had one 22 years ago (almost). Be the first to tell your new son-in-law, "You chose January 1 so you wouldn't forget your anniversary."

We pick peaches and apples (next year strawberries, maybe) at Eckerts across the river in Illinois. They have pick your own Christmas tress as well. You ride past them heading to the fruit trees. Amazing, riding with someone and they see row after row of pine trees and they ask, "What are those?" "Duh, baby Christmas trees, come back in December."

I did learn not that long ago that my Great grandfather had a Christmas tree every year. He ran the store in town. On December 24 after close he would bring home some of the unsold ornaments, buy a tree and decorate it. The whole thing left the house on the 26th.

When Israel withdrew from Gaza a few years ago, the Israeli farms packed up and moved out with everything else. One of the stories was that there was a Christmas tree farm that was being plowed in. Apparently for several years, orthodox Jews grew Christmas trees in Gaza for export to Europe.

I'm descended from a line of women who like to do Christmas to the excess. They've always believed in changing out every knickknack in the house to a special Christmas one. The problem with that is: Where do you keep all those decorations during the remaining months of the year?

I have limited storage space so my solution has always been to buy knickknacks that can be decorated to the season. But even at that Christmas decorations still take up half my available storage, even after making my daughter move her prodigious collection of decorations to her storage unit.

But, and this is a big but, the past few years (since the change) have found me less and less inclined to decorate at all. If not for my daughter pushing and doing most of the heavy work, my house would not be decorated at all. She decorated my mother's house and tree, the church's sanctuary tree, and our tree and house.

Speaking of trees, we always had a live tree until 5 years ago. We had to go artificial due to the allergens brought in with the spruce. We would spend most the holidays suffering as we gradually became more ill. It was ironic as my Father's Christmas Tree plot was planted in my yard, from which we've sold trees off and on for the past 22 years.

Thank goodness we're winding that down. He hasn't planted new trees in six years and has sold what is left at $10 a tree for the past 3 years. We didn't even put out the sign this year and still people have come to buy trees.

I think I'm getting more and more like my Father and Scrooge, "Christmas, Bah, Humbug!"

So, Alan, we could have gotten a bargain on Christmas trees in Gaza? Hmm...

Harley, Michele really set the bar way too high on those gingerbread houses. If you're really pressed for time, there's a way to make them out of graham crackers (paste them on a shoe box) that gets right to the fun part of decorating with the candy. Just saying.

Judy, one of the things about decorating for the holidays is the nice, fresh, cleanliness of the house in January! Maybe it's an illusion, but I like it.

My family had a Christmas Tree farm - my Dad and Pupup worked the farm after their regular work days. I remember going a couple of times, then asking my parents or grandparents about new words I learned from the rest of the farm crew. After that, we didn't spend much time there.

The other thing I learned there was that you can put all kinds of other beverages in a thermos marked coffee- oh, there was coffee, but there were other embellishments. This upset my Pupup, who was a coffee purist, and could not fathom why everyone didn't just carry around a pint of vodka as a chaser.

The irony is that everyone in my family growing up had allergies, so we had an artificial tree.

I get out fewer decorations every year, but the real tree is non-negotiable in our house. I couldn't even get any support to go to a pre-lit artificial tree this year.

Has anyone else become obsessed with making those Geo mesh wreaths this year? We made a bunch for the wedding. So cool! (And cheap! Under $8!) We found the directions on YouTube.

Peach, my hubby lovingly (I hope) calls me Scrooge because of my lack of love for nightly Christmas movies. How many versions of A Christmas Carol are there anyway? And when I set the limit on one Christmas tree per room he pouted. Really. If it were just me, I would just put up a few ornaments too. What a wonderful idea!
But a wedding at the holidays sounds wonderful. Stressful. But wonderful.

Nancy, those wreaths are gorgeous. The things we learn at TLC!

I was just thinking about Michele yesterday, and wondering if she would write more books. Let her know she's missed, okay?

My husband and I have thought about having a Christmas tree farm, ever since we visited one together 20 years ago for a birdwatching symposium. That's my kind of farming. Plant stuff, then sit on the porch. :-)

We're doing a "Christmas Lite" this year, thanks to the newest addition, Emma. Part poodle, part papillion, ALL puppy. Spending most of my day trying to prevent destruction and mayhem. Poor Boo looks at me as if to say, "I was GOOD. WHY did you do this to me?"

As a result of her invasion, all decorations are on bookcases, mantels, etc. Nothing ground level....

I enjoy decorating for Christmas. I've mentioned in previous blogs that I collect ornaments and trimming the tree always brings up special memories.

When I was a child my Dad or Grandfather would sometimes supplement the tree with additional branches if it wasn't full enough to suit them (drilled holes and inserted branches). When we moved to the country my Dad planted a small tree farm but mainly for his own enjoyment. If anything he probably gave them away. Later my mom and I would joke about the "Charlie Brown" trees he picked for us instead of the full ones he had grown.

I used to always get sick over Christmas vacation and finally discovered it was the tree and greenery that caused it so I now have an artificial tree. This year I've decided to put another small tree in my renovated basement area even though I'll probably be the only person who sees it. I certainly have enough ornaments.

I get tired of all the commercial components of the holiday but I love putting up a tree and cherishing memories of Christmas past with family and friends.

A friend and I were having wine with her husband yesterday evening, and he asked us why women "do" Christmas, when it often makes them so resentful, unhappy, and exhausted. We couldn't argue with that, even though there are definitely women--like some here--who don't experience Christmas like that at all, apparently. We decided, my friend and I, that for us it had almost everything to do with wanting to give our kid(s) happy, heartwarming holidays and memories--even if it killed us.

When I "did" Christmas, I had a love/hate relationship with it. I LOVED the Christmas tree and would go in and sit with it every night before bed, just loving it. I loved my son's excitement and loved it when the gifts satisfied him. I loved lights on houses and snow on the ground. My resentment came from what Other People didn't do to help, for which I was no doubt partly to blame. But it's not much fun to get "help" from people who give it grudgingly.

Now? I think it finally wore me out. BUT, if you were here you might notice the lights I've strung in our fig tree indoors, and the lights over the mantel. You'd smile to notice that the "no gifts" agreement with my cousin has turned into a book from me and a gift certificate from my mom. And I love that our neighbors decorate the hell out of our three condos all in a row.

Christmas! Can live without it, apparently don't really want to!

Gingerbread house for us - NO.

But, YES to Graham Cracker houses. But, no shoebox. I just use my hot glue gun and glue the graham crackers to each other until they are roughly the shape we want. Then, we frost with canned icing and candies.

Last year we added Rice Krispie/Marshmellow Trees and decorated those. (We used small cake pans shaped like Christmas trees to shape the krispies.) I think they were a hit, because those were actually eaten and they've been requested for this year!

I'm not sure I can even think of Christmas Lite. I love looking at my ornaments and other knicknacks.

My one concession to the "Lite" idea was to arrange stuff so that the Christmas items only slightly displace everyday stuff and I don't have to Undo everyday to decorate for the holiday.

I love the idea of soft ornaments down low for the toddler! I am with Gaylin on ornaments but no tree. A couple of my larger houseplants hold ornaments, and I have some lights in the window . . . I stopped when I thought I had "enough" and will start with a different box next year to give the left out ones their chance.

If I make a gingerbread house with nieces and nephews, I want them to be able to eat it, so no hot glue. I want them to have fun, so no set decorating plan, very free-form. One year the icing wouldn't hold it up and we had limited time, so we declared it tornado season, decorated the wreckage, and they ate it up happily. My brother did show me a neat trick, using canned food to hold things in place until the icing set. I'm going to miss his practical advice . . .

However you decorate it, have a very Merry Christmas!!! and all other holidays as well!! (someone wrote the other day about celebrating Chrismakkah -- I like it!)

Mary, I love the tornado season houses! Brilliant! And I'm so on your side about letting the kids have fun, make a mess. Our trees weren't much to look at when they were little, but we loved them.

One way we made Christmas much "liter" was deciding not to give loads of presents. We give one book each. That's it. It's personal, and everybody loves books. Throughout the year, if we see something we'd like to give each other, we do it. But at Christmas, everybody looks forward to their book---and no other shopping. It makes the whole family a lot less cranky. And more willing to participate in the other stuff around the holidays--decorating, cookie eating and concert-going, etc.

One trick from my late MIL is to put some of the everyday decor in the Christmas decoration boxes. . . makes it easy to find them to put back.
I go with leaving them up until at least January 6.

Mary, I also love the tornado-struck gingerbread house! That's making lemonade out of lemons, for sure!

20 years ago, my sister-in-law started sending people gift cards, but for gifts given in the names of the recipients. She gave goats one year, and has done a bunch of other creative gifting. Here's one I like this year:


Happy Chriskahhzaa, everyone!

We do Christmas Lite because we usually spend Christmas with our daughters at their home.
A small, twinkling tree and pretty lights on the mantel usually glow and give holiday spirit.
The little three year old girl next door is coercing my husband into putting up lights on our outdoor tree.
She adores him and he just might give in because after all, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas even if it is Southern California.

Marie, I bet he gives in. Adorable!

I confess to watching Christmas movie marathons this year. Julie Andrews is charming in the "Eloise" Christmas offering.
I have watched snowed in couples, orphans, well meaning uncles, ladies in distress when the cute guys show up. Santa Claus posing as the real Santa Clause. People falling off the roof only to be comforted by their future loves.
Yes, I love them all. And I never miss the
Bing Crosby Classics or the musical specials. It is a magical season.

I don't seem able to do Christmas entirely lite . . . much as I hate the taking of tree lives to decorate my home, I find the cost of live trees beyond reach for now.
I've been doing a lot of 'clearing out' this year, and my incentive to finish up the small stuff, sparkle up the living room, get the box of books to donate and videos to recycle, out to their destinations, etc., is Christmas.
One evening soon will be devoted to 'Love, Actually', at the very least, although I haven't yet quite gotten to the point of bringing out holiday music. Too much, too soon, diminishes the sparkle for me.

In a shopping mall my DH opened up his wallet and always generous spirit towards the homeless and gave lady with an old blanket and shopping cart some money.
She smiled at him, albeit a smile that was wary and tender. My heart melted and I feel that this was a gift to me as well as the homeless lady. Oh, that we could do more. Godspeed.

Marie, you are so right.

Oh... lite... yes... everything lite. If someone can get the decorations out of the garage for me, I might find a few places for them. Or maybe just the painted wooden wreath. Or maybe just a bow for Kendall. Christmas is slow this year. Well, the TV part is going strong.

My great-nieces and -nephews get a kick out of the dollar bill "bookmarks" I put in their Christmas books, usually on the page for their age if I remember.
I've added Christmas music to the Aqua-aerobics CD (teaching every day this week and MWF through the next two weeks). I listened to many hours of music to choose an hour's worth, and re-did it once . . . It's pretty good now. Now I just need new batteries for the CD player at the Y.

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