At this this time of year, I miss Christmas’s past, those of years ago when I was a kid–and continued to miss those throughout most of my life. The excitement was greater by far then, the anticipation grew more intense by the day as Christmas drew near.
There were parties to attend, presents to look forward to, and holiday spirit filled the air. Christmas carols were heard and sung everywhere I went. I even sang a few myself. The songs, and the music that went with them, seemed to cheer everyone up, seemed to trigger the transition into the holiday season beginning the day after Thanksgiving.
I especially miss the old days of Christmas in a rural area–days of my youth. Christmas meant Christmas trees each year. In the country, one does not go to a tree lot to buy a dried-out and sometimes-scraggly, exorbitantly priced Christmas tree. Instead, in rural areas one packs their recently sharpened ax, heads to the nearest wooded area, scouts out the best fir tree there, and harvests it. Tree-cutting day is an exciting time for kids. I remember vividly, with sentimental pining, my brother Fred’s and my adventures into the woods to find the perfect tree to take home. Most times we had scouted that tree for a year or two prior to actually cutting it for Christmas–found and located it precisely during the warm summer months on the farm in Belfast, Maine.
During our summertime tree-scouting explorations we unfailingly, on our way, stopped by a bubbling, crystal-clear artesian spring–known only to us hidden in a clearing close to the edge of the woods–for a cold drink on a hot summer afternoon. Refreshed, we continued on to our future Christmas tree, or perhaps several trees of differing heights, where we cleaned anything growing nearby so it would have some sunlight and not be crowded out by the underbrush. We monitored its growth until it had reached just the right height for our living room–slightly over six feet tall. A few weeks before Christmas, and once we deemed it the best we could find, we journeyed from our warm farmhouse, usually on a cold Sunday afternoon, across the ordinarily snowy fields (there always seemed to be snow at that time of year) to the distant woods where we axed it down, tied it to our Flexible Flyer sled, and slid it all the way home to the back porch. There we trimmed it as needed, and ceremoniously moved it to our living room. We had already stationed the Christmas decorations retrieved from the upstairs bedroom closet–placed there with sadness the prior January when we grudgingly took down our previous year’s tree, most often on New Year’s Day.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon decorating our prize tree-looping our bright blue, green, and red lighting, wrapping sequences of garland around it, and hanging fragile glass ornaments of all colors and shapes–sometimes popping and stringing popcorn for an additional homey effect. The tree, only hours before growing in thick woods, gradually morphed from its wild, natural form to a very Christmassy and fragrant addition to our cozy living room. The final touch–the pièce de résistance–was a diminutive, white-clothed angel, wings of silk with silver glitter, which we placed on the very top spur of the tree. Our mother had died when I was four-years-old, and I always envisioned that angel as her coming to spend Christmas with her boys, perched atop the tree, smiling down, with her focused eyes keeping watch over us. I sustained that visualization from the age of about five until my last Christmas in Maine–1962, when I was seventeen. Her presence atop our tree every Christmas never failed to give me a boundless feeling of comfort, sentience, and wellbeing. I always glanced upward on Christmas morning before opening any presents–and there she was, always, smiling down at me and assuring me I was not alone in life after all. Christmas was so much more heartening seeing that angel above my head, knowing with confidence she would be with me and guide me at all times.