Christmas Preparations

What preparations for Christmas go on in your house? Secret lists, whispered conversations, perusing catalogs and sale flyers, or joyous carols sung maybe slightly off key by happy children? Perhaps getting out decorations from their summer storage is the beginning.

Christmas seals on the calendar cover each passing day. The fireplace, if you are lucky enough to have one, bursts forth in pine boughs, red velvet bows, graceful candles, and gay stockings hanging hopefully against Santa's coming. A fat balsam wreath decked with shiny ornaments and bright red ribbons appears on the door.

It is time to consider Christmas baking plans. Fruitcakes were made after Thanksgiving and have been mellowing under brandy dampened cheesecloth in the cool cellar. Now we must decide how many dozen of what kinds of cookies we will need. How many boxes and platefulls we want to give as gifts or take to a party at church, school, or with friends.

There are thin, crisp sugar cookies cut in Christmas shapes to be frosted and decorated with colored sugar; gingerbread boys with fat raisin buttons, red candy eyes, and red ribbon neckties so they may be hung on the tree; brownies, crunchy with walnuts; date-nut bars; and, of course, everyones favorite chocolate chip cookies.

No matter how many are baked, cookies never last long enough. We indulge in Santas and trees at breakfast, stars and brownies with our cocoa at bedtime, and pack an extra box to give the blonde pigtailed pixie with her questions and comments from the wisdom of her four long years.

There is candy to be made, too. The huge batch of luscious fudge is made with three kinds of chocolate, marshmallow, and two kinds of nuts. Clear brown sugar candy is poured over black walnut meats and is delicious to eat but poses a stick-to-your-teeth problem. Divinity with nuts and red and green cherrys folded in, rice krispie squares, and popcorn balls complete the list. What would Christmas be without popcorn balls?

One year Ma and I made popcorn balls for the Sunday School Christmas party. We made popcorn balls until we were fairly sick from the smell of boiling syrup and popping corn. We had a huge clothes basket full of the wrapped sticky confections to carry to the church that frosty night. That year each child went home with a popcorn ball, a small box of candy and an orange. Such riches!

Two people from my childhood who really prepared for Christmas were Uncle Charlie and Aunt Betsey. They had no children of their own but borrowed nieces, nephews, and neighbor children to share in their lives. As the Christmas season drew near, their preparations were secretly carried out.

In a small village years ago everyone knew who was needy tho their pride was always respected. Uncle Charlie did his research carefully and his shopping even more discretely. Aunt Betsey collected cans and jars from her laiden shelves and baked pies, and cookies to add to the food baskets that were destined for each family. Uncle Charlie would kill chickens. maybe pick out a slab of bacon or a chain of sausages. Food was important but so were warm mittens, caps. and scarves, to say nothing of toys and books for the children.

On Christmas Eve, Uncle Charlie looking much like Santa Claus with his white hair and beard, twinkling eyes, and smoking pipe gripped between his teeth, loaded his red sleigh and set his team of grey horses clip clipping into the village. No bells rang on harness or sleigh but a set lay at his feet under the buffalo robe that kept his feet warm. His heart was always warm and never more so than on this holy night.

The sleigh stopped at each family's home and while Uncle Charlie unloaded the designated bundles, the horses stood quietly as if they understood the need for secrecy. Back in the sleigh, Uncle Charlie pulled out his bells, rang them loudly and called out "Merry Christmas" as he drove rapidly away.

When the sleigh was empty, Uncle Charlie drove home, sleigh bells ringing merrily, to Aunt Betsey who had been waiting for him in the lamp lit kitchen. Both of them were satisfied with their Christmas traditions no matter how much preparation they took.

Heaps of Christmas cards spill over the desk. The spare room closet is locked. Bits of gay paper and ribbon, grains of glitter and barbed holly leaves appear as if by magic under the dining room table. Mother sews late into the night. Father smuggles odd shaped bundles into the hall closet which is also locked.

Brother washes behind his ears.

Sister does the dishes unasked.

Christmas is coming.