Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Stuff old people like for Christmas season

I have been visiting several small towns in New York State recently to publicize my book After the Falls. I was even in Lewiston for two days - the town I grew up in and wrote my first book about. I notice that Christmas is bigger in small towns than it is in cities. In Toronto, where I live now, there are whole suburbs where people don't observe Christmas at all.

Women of a certain age in small towns own a Christmas sweater. It is always red or green and usually has a picture of a Christmas tree on it or sometimes it has Santa's reindeer or his sled. If you are really bold you have a picture of Santa, himself, with his beard made of curly yarn. If you are not really that old but as they say, on the cusp of old , you may have a reindeer that lights up with a little flat battery in Rudolph's nose on your sweater. The Christmas sweater comes out of mothballs on December 1st and stays out until the epiphany on January 6th. (a Christian holiday celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus.) The Sweater is often accompanied by Christmas tree earrings a Christmas pin on their winter coat lapel.

Christmas socks are also de rigour. I have several pairs of these. Since my husband is Jewish and I am sort of Catholic, I have one pair of socks with a menorah (Jewish seven-branched candelabrum for Hanukkah) and a Christmas pair with Angels.If I close my legs at my ankles in a certain way I can trip the battery and the glittering angels start to sing Silent Night. It is always a hit.

Another feature of Christmas in small towns is the Christmas tree decorating store. It is open all year--languishing while the aging proprietor gets even older. Then in December it springs to life with whirling ornaments and is packed with people eating tiny free candy canes.

I prided myself on my tree ornaments. They had been in my family for four generations. Some were given to my Grandmother's father who was an Indian agent on the Salamanca Reservation in the 1800's. One was an Indian mother in a white leather fringed dress carrying a tiny papoose on her back.

You will, no doubt, have noticed that I used the phrase had been above. Well I stored them at our farm in the basement last year. I didn't know at the time that the old basement with its rubble walls and earthen floor was not impervious to chipmunks. Unbeknownst to me the crafty critters scampered in after mating season looking for material for nest building. They ripped off (literally) most of the ornaments and the paper they were wrapped in. All the feathers on the decorative bird ornaments were gone.I found them denuded and forlorn in their boxes.

The farmer who cuts the hay on our farm and visits the barn frequently (More frequently than my husband who has never been in it) told me he found several chipmunk nests. When he brought a few into the house I was amazed by how much they glittered and looked like pieces of primitive Christmas art. They were large, the size of a large cooking pot and they had ornaments all woven through stalks of hay and Kleenex, wood chips and milkweed pods. The nests were festooned with red cardinal feathers, Santa's beards and fake cranberry chains. One nest actually had wound hay around a bulb bought at the Saint Louis World's Fair in 1904. An ornament of a Victorian woman had been stripped of her maroon velvet gown. She was shamefully abandoned in the basement, face down wearing only her bustle and pantaloons. Her dress had been shredded in a nest.

I was sad about all of this loss, especially since it was all I had left of my family Christmases. My parents are dead and I am an only child. However, I decided that what was once so precious to me has now been spread around the universe and has even been shared with other species-- I am giving my gift of the magi to the chipmunks. What an epiphany!


  1. "Face down wearing only her bustle and pantaloons" reminds me of my youth.

  2. Great post! The gift of the magi comment and the pantaloon one (noted above) are pure Gildiner.

  3. Nancy Sieper Berggren from my high school send me an ugly Christmas sweater contest from the Washington Post. see