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The 12 Days till Christmas

 On the twelfth day till Christmas, my true love said to me: “When are we doing the tree?”

     We finally got the tree up last night. Gave up our usual 10 foot Nordman Pine and bought a 9 foot Balsam Hill “authentic looking” artificial one. It was time. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve had a harder and harder time lifting a real tree; got our last one stuck in the patio door and had to get a neighbor to come help us get it dislodged. That wasn’t our first clue that it was time, but it was our last. (Note to those who are considering the purchase of an “authentic” artificial tree: the Balsam Hill spring-up tree in three sections isn’t exactly a one-person job either, unless you choose a  tabletop model.)

     On the eleventh day till Christmas, my true love said to me: “We have to get the outside wreath up. What’s the weather supposed to be?”

     We have a huge, lighted 6 foot wreath that we put up under the gable over the garage. This, too, is a two-person job, considering that you have to have a very long extension ladder to get up high to hang the wreath, and that you need a pulley of sorts to hoist it up. Our son has helped us do this for years, but it never fails: no matter how warm and sunny the weather has been for days, invariably, on the weekend we decide to get the big wreath up, temperatures drop, the wind picks up, and rain and/or sleet appear. It has become a standing holiday joke. This year, we were  going to get the wreath up a couple weeks ago, but our son said, “Oh no, it’s way too nice out. We have to wait till the rain and winds come.” Sure enough, we waited another week, the wind picked up and it started to rain just as he was climbing the ladder.  

     On the tenth day till Christmas, my true love said to me: “When are we making Christmas cookies? They would be good with tea.”

     Over the years, we have had a fixed set of “traditional” Christmas dishes during the holidays: chocolate fudge, apple cake, cherry trifle, Texas Trash (also known as Chex mix, but with a spicy twist), tamales (homemade), and of course, about six dozen cut-out and decorated sugar cookies. My Mother used to be the the chief chef for all these delectables, since she loved sweets and loved to bake. She also loved hosting a “tamalada” during the holidays with her friends in Victoria to make those delicious tamales required on Christmas Eve. For years, she cooked and baked and then hauled all this up on the plane to our house in Connecticut (and made everyone on board hungry with the odors). But, as she got older, she couldn’t do all this anymore, and so I took over most of the recipes —except for making tamales. Hey! I live in San Antonio, Texas. I don’t need to make my own tamales!    

     On the ninth day till Christmas, my true love said to me: “Please, we have to get the cards out, especially those overseas.”

     Yes, folks, we still send out snail-mail holiday cars, about 110 of them, all hand-written, many with lengthy messages. At this point, none are “business” cards; almost all recipients are people who have been friends of ours for 50 years or more, and writing each card conjures happy memories of our shared pasts. Hearing back from them, even if only once a year, is an eagerly anticipated delight. But at the rate of addressing 10-15 cards a day, getting them written takes a good week to ten days while allowing time for them to arrive before Christmas/Hanukkah.

     On the eighth day till Christmas, my true love said to me: “I just did all the outside lights. Go out front and see.”

     Sorry, but no cheesy blow-ups from Walmart in our front yard, or anything else “cutsie.” Everything is done with double strings of tiny white lights, all along the fences on either side of the house, threaded through a garland all around the front door frame, and strung on small artificial trees on either side of the front walk. We don’t wrap our tree trunks in lights, by the way (which always seems to me to indicate the height of the residents); if lights can’t go all the way up and thread through all the branches like those on the trees at the Tavern on the Green in New York City, then I don’t want them. 

     On the seventh day till Christmas, my true love said to me: “Why are we still doing all this,  just for us three?”

     It’s a valid question, I suppose, but traditions die hard. And without them —without the tree, the cookies, the wreaths, the lights, the carols and all those other little symbols that represent what Christmas really means, then December 25 becomes just another day. “An occasion is only special if you make it so,” my Mother used to say. 

     The bigger question to me is how did we do all this, and even more, years ago when we were both working full-time, when our son was young, when we were active in church, school, and community, and when we all had very busy social lives with numerous family and friends living nearby and visiting from afar? Maybe everyone asks themselves that as they get older and have to adjust their standards and activities to match their limitations, but I still find the gap between the length of my to-do list and the amount of time it takes to do it to be extremely frustrating. After all, I’m a retired person (at least sort of). I shouldn’t be late for Christmas!!!

     Forget this riff on The 12 Days of Christmas. You get the point, and I don’t have the time to continue anyway. I’ve got to get back on schedule with this holiday, lest my true love find this ruffle-feathered partridge in a heap in that pear tree. 

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