New Year’s Day 2022

    It was 21 degrees when I got up this morning – barely considered “cold” in many locales, I know, but unusual for northwest Oregon. Some winters, we barely get below the 30s, and the “teens” only occur every five or ten years. It’s calm, so no wind chill to add to the temperature, but still plenty chilly for a Native Californian (even if I have lived half my life in Oregon).

   Both hummingbird feeders were frozen solid, so I replaced one with a more liquid diet for our resident Anna’s hummingbirds. (They appreciated it.) I also scattered a little seed for the waiting juncos, siskins, and purple finches before I retreated indoors.

   Normally, this would be the day that I take down and put away the Christmas lights, and put the Christmas tree out on the deck for the birds to use as shelter for another month or so. But guess what? For the first time in 60 years of married life – and maybe in my entire 81 years! – there was no tree to take down. I wanted one – I’ve tried hard to keep a few traditions alive – but I just couldn’t seem to get to it. The combination of advancing age and two years of living with the covid confusions seems to have made it difficult for me to accomplish more than one big project per day. Getting a tree seemed to qualify as a “big project” this year.


   As I was growing up, my family had a few Christmas traditions. We weren’t church goers, and although we sang carols and told nativity stories, we were more of a Santa family than a Jesus one. We always had a tree, decorated with lights, ornaments, tinsel, and miscellaneous additives. We had a few other indoor seasonal decorations, but didn’t adorn the outside of the house or yard.  I can’t remember if we went with our parents to select a tree, or if it just appeared at the house for us to ennoble. (I don’t remember a lot about the decorating process. The one vivid memory I have dates from after Sally and I were married, and we were visiting with the family. My Little Brother Dale (four years younger than me) was putting tinsel on the tree, seemingly in slow motion. He sang his explanation: “I used to be a globber, but now I’m a single-strand man.”)

   One tradition we kids (and our mother) didn’t especially look forward to was spending Christmas Eve with my Dad’s sister and family. They were nice, and we saw a lot of them through the year, but this time was always a little awkward. They always opened all their presents on Christmas Eve; we saved ours until Christmas morning (after Santa had finished all his deliveries). Each of us opened a token package with them, but then just  sat around and watched them open all their gifts. Not too exciting, but it was one of the few things in our family life that Dad ever insisted on. We survived.

   Christmas morning early, we were allowed to see what was in our stockings, but we waited until after breakfast to really get down to present opening. Dad made a great breakfast, but it was big and took a long time to make and eat and, boy, were we impatient. He was also the package dealer, so we had to wait for everything to get cleaned up in the kitchen before he arrived to take up that task. We got our presents one at a time and had time to open one before the next one came. We didn’t have tons of presents, but we always had five or six things to open [including books, toys, clothes]. The morning was for our family, but we usually had a big Christmas dinner at home, with various relatives.


   After marriage, with our own family, we kept some of my growing-up traditions, and added a few new ones. We bought our tree about two weeks before Christmas, and kept it up until New Year’s. Miscellaneous other decorations inside were standard, but no outside displays. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were usually for just us. Presents were opened after breakfast on Christmas morn, although contents of stockings were fair game at any time the kids woke up. We had ham for Christmas dinner. (I didn’t remember this, but daughter Sara says it was traditional: turkey for Thanksgiving and New Year’s, ham for Christmas.) Sometimes, friends would come over Christmas night for coffee and homemade pies.

   After the kids left home, our activities became simpler, but we still maintained the general theme. Following Sally’s stroke, all the tree getting, tree and house decorating, and food preparation became my sole responsibilities. Some years, the frills were pretty limited, but we always had our tree. Until 2021.


   A tree, a wreath, and a string of Christmas lights don’t seem to be a lot to obsess about, I know. But by the time you reach your 80s, you’ve lost a lot: physical strength; various aspects of your health; the sharpness of your vision or your hearing; parts of your memory recall; family and friends who have died; most of the contacts on your long-term correspondence list; those from your profession who (even long after your retirement) still contacted you for advice and counsel – in short, you might wonder about your relevancy. What still ties you to this life? Any little thing that connects your past to your present may serve as in important anchor.

   If I’m still around next Christmas, I hope I’m sharing my living room with a Christmas tree.




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