I know you just saw that title and said, most likely out loud, "Not that. Not yet. Please. Not yet." and normally I don't jump on the Day After Thanksgiving=Christmas bandwagon but it's been quite a year (and by quite I mean full to bursting and not all good) and I need Christmas.
This has been a must in my family for many years. The holidays can not begin without it. The tree cannot go up, no ornaments can be hung and not one fairy light or bit of tinsel can twinkle until we hear the sound of cold wind blowing and that famous first line:
"Marley was dead: to begin with."
Now. Now we can have Christmas. I was raised with a glorious wonder of a Christmas tree. It takes my mother days to get it right. Gold, silver, green, white- but never any blue, ornaments, soft hand-crocheted garland and lights so numerous it could probably be seen from space. It leaned slightly to one side with the unbalanced weight of all its finery and there was many a year when we just knew that this would be the one that it finally caught on fire. And in the background of all this fuss was Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise telling us the story of ol' Ebenezer Scrooge.
"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas."
It made the room cold. It makes me crave hot chocolate and sweaters when I hear this story- quite a feat in south Mississippi where you could still technically wear shorts at Christmas (but you don't, you bundle up and pretend it's winter). When the tree first goes up, it's dark and ominous, a daunting task, a tangle of unlit bulbs and last year's ornament hooks. It might not happen. We might have to wait until *gasp* tomorrow to brave the Christmas section at Walmart and settle on new lights that will never be quite as good as the ones that we had last year. This is the worst part.
"Man of the worldly mind! Do you believe in me or not?"
"I do." said Scrooge. "I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?"
"It is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
"You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why?"
"I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you? Or would you know, the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!"
And the dark, cold nature of this part of the story made the tree, when the lights were finally up and lit, feel that much warmer. I swear there is nothing so wonderful as the glow of a Christmas tree. Until the day after Christmas it was always our primary light source in the living room. A Christmas lamp if you will- and not the tacky giant leg kind.
Now for the ornaments. There were about 20 bulging Rubbermaid containers, there contents held in by the shear strength of the duct tape holding tight the lids. I told you, this is south Mississippi. We duct tape our ornament boxes with pride. We never sat down and counted them, it would have been pointless. Each new year brought the retirement of old, chipped ornaments and the introduction of glossy new ones in a never ending ornament exchange that left it impossible to remember what we actually owned. The placement had to be just so. A red couldn't be next to another red and so forth, small ornaments at the top, medium in the middle and the big bulbs filling in the thick bottom section of the tree.
"It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see: who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
"Come in!" exclaimed the Ghost. "Come in. and know me better, man!"
It took hours. Sometimes it took days. Sometimes we had to listen to A Christmas Carol over and over again because we forgot to listen to it when dealing with particularly difficult sections of the tree. Sometimes we had to pause mid story and call it a night because it was just too late, and just too frustrating to keep going. Sometimes it was up weeks before Christmas, sometimes days, but it was always up. Though the tree, the lights, the ornaments may have differed from year to year, it was always a glorious tree and I couldn't wait for it to be up.
"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.
"To-day?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!"
As I am now an elderly lady of thirty-two years, I have my own tree, in my own house. Granted, it's not quite the same. For one thing, I put it up on my own and I rather missed fighting with my mother over ornament placement. It's a much smaller, sparser tree and unfortunately, hidden away in the spare bedroom to protect it from Threesie who broke a record twenty-two ornaments last year. And it's tailored to my own tastes- aqua and silver and glass and perhaps, looking at it now, a bit too contemporary- but it's still warm, and inviting, with soft lights that set the perfect scene for listening to A Christmas Carol over and over again.
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
You're welcome Mississippi Power. God bless us. Every one.