In The Parade - My Holidays Used to Start With a Bang

The other day I was thinking about family holiday traditions.

In my family, these began right after the Thanksgiving meal with a trip to the mountain range behind our small town. With shotgun in hand, we would find the world’s finest Christmas tree specimen. One of us would lower the 12-gauge, pull the trigger and blow the tree right off its stump. Dragging it down the hill to the truck did some minor damage, but nothing that could not be forced in the corner once the tree was in the stand, giving the tree the fabled symmetrical look that we know and love.

Another of my fondest memories from childhood regarding Christmas (not counting getting a Ken doll one Christmas and the GI Joe action figure the next Christmas) has always been Christmas Eve and the singing of carols. I grew up in a relatively small agricultural town in Western Colorado, where I had a lot of extended family members — grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

In many ways, Christmas Eve was like a progressive dinner. One family would start at a great aunt or uncle’s house. They would sing, drink hot cocoa and eat cookies, then off they would go to sing at another house, each performance followed by more hot cocoa and more cookies.

By the time midnight had arrived, the children were hyped up on sugar and the parents were exhausted and yelling at the children to stand still. Yet the throng of carolers, tired, cold, wet and, quite frankly, ready for bed, did their duty, to the chagrin of the very last house. To this day, hot cocoa reminds me of the smell of snow and wet jeans.

Of course, many families had their own traditions that I am not privy to, but I’m sure some of them included Midnight Mass, children hyped up on sugar, and yelling parents begging their children to sit still amid the smell of burning incense wafting through the church.

I was reminded of the old and, many agree, pre-Christian tradition of gift-giving during the Yule season now known as “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” My family members are Christmas-Evers, meaning we opened gifts on Christmas Eve upon returning home from a night singing ourselves hoarse, too tired and cold to care and just ready to get the damn thing over with. Many other families are Christmas-Dayers, which means they stumble to the tree, bed head, bad breath and all, and gleefully open the gifts that jolly old Saint Nick left while they slept.

Now for those who would like to give gifts according to the well-known song, I’m going to add up what your true love will have to send: 12 partridges, each with a pear tree; 22 turtle doves; 30 French hens; 36 calling birds (whatever they are); 40 golden rings; 42 geese (with eggs since they are “a-laying”); 42 swans (and the kiddie pool so they can a-swim); 40 maids (and 40 heifers so they can “a-milk”); 36 dancing ladies (who knew); 30 lords who leap; 22 pipers piping; and finally 12 drummers. Cost for gifts per the carol (including day rental of the leaping ladies, milking maids, pipers, drummers and lords): $5,070.33. Cost for rental dumpster to clean up the poo: $499.50. Watching your neighbor chase the leaping lords in his underwear: priceless.

All in all, this translates to 364 gifts, some of which are gifts that keep on giving. For some, it’s a barnyard fantasy, and for others, it’s simply called last Saturday night’s party.

Whatever definition you choose for the holiday season, from my pen to your ears, I wish you all a very merry time and “to all a good night.”

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