“And so it is Christmas … and what have you done?” — John Lennon
One sure sign of the holiday season is that office workers move into slow motion. We’re seeing lots of sales of magazine subscriptions and stuff from the online store, but behind the scenes it’s almost impossible to get anyone in the office world to move on everything. December is the maÃ±ana season, where all new projects, budgets, and decisions are traditionally put off “until the New Year.” There’s usually no good reason for this, it’s just tradition. Nobody wants to start anything new when there are holiday office parties and secret Santa gifts to occupy one’s attention.
I’d probably be tempted to fall into this mode too, except that it’s still a constant battle to keep up with the legions of falling advertisers. Year end is a particularly crucial time, because sales of RVs and RV accessories are traditionally slow, and there are always those year-end expenses to think about. We lost another advertiser this week, and would have lost two if it weren’t for heroic intervention. I can’t take my eye off the ball for a minute these days.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t enjoying the holiday. Eleanor has bought the first eggnog of the season (actually two, which we taste-tested side-by-side in the kitchen. Verdict: both were lame; we need to keep searching). We had “chocolate fondue night” a week ago when my mother was visiting. We have bought a little evergreen tree to maintain the tradition of pine needles all over the living room, and it has been decorated to nearly an unsafe level, which is also tradition. If Eleanor can put a hook on it, she’ll hang it from the tree. Her little tradition is to decorate the tree while eating chocolate-covered cherries. It’s the only time of year she will eat them. At the end of the process, the chocolates are gone and the tree is groaning under the weight of massive yet cheerful keepsakes.
According to Emma, our tree even included a live partridge at one time. I wasn’t aware of that, but today I noticed a smattering of feathers in the branches. When asked, Emma explained that her stuffed cats ate the bird. The things those stuffed animals do …
One holiday tradition I could do without is the parking-lot demolition derby at every strip mall in town (which basically means all of Tucson). A few weeks ago we were cruising the local supermarket lot looking for a space, when another driver backed out of her parking space and into our car. The damage to our car was limited to a dent of about eight inches in diameter, but the repair was over $900. I got all the insurance information and later discovered something interesting: I could file a claim but the other driver could prevent her insurance from paying out simply by refusing to cooperate with her own insurance company. Despite the fact that she was undeniably at fault, her insurance company could not move forward without a voluntary statement by her.
This stretched the process out for two weeks, during which time both my insurer and hers sent multiple vehement letters, reminding the other driver of her contractual obligation to cooperate with claims investigations. It looked as if I would have to file a claim with my insurance company, pay the deductible, and wait a month or so while lawyers from my insurance company subrogated the claim (in other words, hassled the money out of the other insurance company). Then I’d get my deductible back. Fortunately, the other driver was eventually dynamited out of her recalcitrance and we now have a car with a distinct odor of fresh paint.
This evening Emma got a taste of a holiday tradition too. Eleanor has been shopping for clothes for her, and tonight Emma was allowed to try them on with her eyes closed. Once satisfied that the clothes would fit, Eleanor would whisk them away to go under the tree. For some reason this seems very familiar to me. I can’t point to any particular gift in my past but I’m pretty sure that many times after trying on things as a child, I would hear the fateful words, “Good. That’s going under the tree.”
With my mother, this would reach obsessive levels. In the home stretch toward Christmas virtually any necessary supply would be wrapped for presentation. Toothbrushes, soap, a box of tissues, pens, Scotch tape, you name it, and we found it in our stockings. While it made for lots of presents to unwrap (and still does to this day), it also makes for strange moments on Christmas morning. Many times I would open a little package to find, say, dental floss, and my mother would say, “Oh, is that where that went?” I fear that Eleanor may be headed the same way. I’m pretty sure there’s a package of coffee filters or something like that under our tree.
Having a fire is a big Christmas tradition, as evidenced by many Christmas specials on TV, and songs (“chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” etc.). We are fortunate to have a fireplace that provides a lovely view of flames without the added nuisance of actually heating the house (remember we are in southern Arizona and still getting most days in the 60s). So I decided to go out and buy some cordwood to burn over the next few weeks.
Being in the midst of the Sonoran Desert, we aren’t exactly surrounded by hardwood forests. Most cordwood is imported from up north somewhere, but my neighbor Mike had a line on a local place that sold pecan wood. About 20 miles south of Tucson there are vast pecan groves, and each year the excess pecan branches are cut into firewood lengths and stacked up to dry. On a few weekends in December, you can pick through the pile and take as much as you want for $1.80 per cubic foot. Checks only, no cash, no credit cards.
These special restrictions make it seem like a special deal, although the price came to $230 per cord. And it was pecan wood, something I never saw before. It seemed mysterious and intriguing to someone who has traditionally burned only northern species like oak, ash, maple, cherry, birch, pine, and hemlock. The more we thought about it, the more we had to get some. So Mike and I drove down, climbed the giant pile of pecan and picked a peck (actually about 1/3 of a cord). I can’t speak for all pecan wood, but this stuff is pretty hard, very dry, and burns nice and slow. It may have been worth the effort. Even if it wasn’t, I bet we’ll do it again next year.
I don’t think any of our odd little traditions are going to become fodder for TV Christmas specials, but these are undoubtedly some of the elements that will form our memories of the season. In years past I might have hesitated to admit some of the things we do at holiday time, but I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter what your traditions are, it only matters that you have a few.
So I’ve got my ukulele out again, and I’m practicing Christmas songs that Eleanor can sing with me. (Those of you coming to meet us at Anza-Borrego for New Year’s … get ready for a serenade.) We’ll be transplanting cactus in the front yard next week. It may not make sense but it feels fine. Happy holidays.