It’s probably not surprising that I am looking toward Christmas Past rather than Christmas Present, which is basically a non-event, though there are a few presents under my tree.

When I was a girl, our tree was always a real one, since we had our own grove of pine trees on our five acres of land. On the first Saturday in December, we would put on our snowsuits and troop with Dad through the snow to choose just the right tree. There was always a certain amount of discussion and debate before the winning tree was selected.

We stood back while Dad chopped the tree down, the clear note of the axe ringing out in the cold, clean winter air, soon joined by the sharp smell of pine sap. We dragged the tree home triumphantly across the snow to show Mom our trophy. And then there was the excitement of putting it up and decorating it.

In my memories, we went to my mother’s parents’ house for the great day itself. My grandparents lived in a small town not far from Rochester, New York, about an hour and a half’s drive from our house, though it seemed much longer. I am a bit shocked when I think that my mother used to smoke in the car, and of course the car windows were closed against the cold winter air, so we must have smelled horrible by the time we got to Nana and Hoho’s house:

My grandparents lived in a rather grand Victorian house. It was a wedding gift from the town sheriff to his daughter. My grandparents lived on the ground floor, and two maiden ladies, Frieda and Maretta, lived in apartments on the second floor. The third floor attic was full of marvels, like souvenirs from Nana’s brother’s grand tour of Europe, ballgowns, and my great-grandfather’s Civil War sword and sleigh bells.

From the rarely-used front door of their house (seen above; we used the back door into the kitchen), you could see all the way to the town square, where the town tree was decorated and lit up. This was a particularly magical sight at night. Nana and Hoho always had an artificial tree, which seemed very glamorous to me. It was in the seldom-used front parlor, and on Christmas morning, we would have a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs, home-made cinnamon rolls baked into the shape of a stylized Christmas tree, and juice. I’m sorry to say that we rather rushed through these delights in order to get to the present-opening part of the proceedings.

When that great moment came, my grandmother would dramatically open the pocket doors that separated the two parlors, revealing the grand Christmas tree in all its sparkling glory, with the presents beneath. It was a magical moment, and time stood still as I took in all the ornaments and lights as well as the gifts heaped below. Even as a child, I loved the sparkly. I still do.

And while things might not be merry and bright right now, they will be again. Thank you for coming along with me on this journey. I wish you and yours all the best this holiday season and in the new year.

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