I've always loved Christmas trees and was thrilled to live somewhere that I could easily get and use beautiful, thick, sweet-smelling cedars. My first one in the A-frame was a kind of funny-looking affair: about two feet tall with my grandmother's large, old-fashioned multi-colored lights, heavy wires sticking out everywhere, and a few incongruously big ornaments. But I was just happy and satisfied to be there and didn't really care. Over the years, the size of the cut trees grew until the tops reached over the railing of the loft and had to be affixed to it to keep them from toppling over. My holiday ornaments and decorations had been gathered and saved over an adult lifetime, including in some cases that of family members, and were quite numerous. Quite a few I made myself over the years: embellishing tree globes shinily and crocheting snowflakes and angels and stars. Others were garnered from after-Christmas sales and some were collected gifts from friends and relatives. Still others were boutique specials: straw angels and farm women, a country-attired cloth drummer boy, children on brightly-painted wood swings, glittering tin balls, and Santa Clauses of wood and silk. Pris sent precious and unique signs and metal constructions and once a large basket made of candycanes which, sadly, shattered in the mail and arrived eatable only. Although I had a few large light sets from childhood, my favorites were runners, two white and two red, of poinsettia flowers with little blinking bulbs in each center. The treetop star was multi-pointed with small white lights flashing and there were garlands of many glittering colors from gold to silver to red-and-green.
The tree always sat in a five gallon bucket held fast in place with heavy rocks and hidden with a festive skirt around which, as the day approached, wrapped presents piled to give and to open to the sounds of old 33 rpm's and tapes accumulated of religious and secular, classic and popular seasonal tunes by a variety of artists worldwide. With a little luck there was snow somewhere around the propitious date to at least get a heritage glimpse of this nation's holiday vision and history. Even then, I avoided shopping around that time except once or twice perhaps, having picked up and saved during the past year as they appeared in passing bargains and treasures for the occasion of giving. A few weeks after that, the tree came down and all its festivities put back up in boxes and plastic bags for saving in a second-story storage area during the other seasons.
I baked cookies, gave some away, shared the rest with whomever happened by, and bought inexpensive gifts for my eight oldest and closest widely-scattered neighbors to put, along with Christmas cards, in their mailboxes annually. And, of course, I sent cards -- from the handicapped Veterans association, to which I sent a donation -- to friends and family through the post office, along with wrapped and boxed gifts where appropriate. Each year I knit a colorful afghan for a different woman in-law, which they came to look forward to receiving. I wanted to put a large white-lighted cross where the tall panes met their wooden frame on the river side of the house, but never got around to having it built.
For a few years, in addition to the usual local and national monetary donations, I "rang the bell" as a volunteer for the Salvation Army, my favorite charitable organization for many, many years. Standing outside in winter cold and wind, bundled up against it with boots, hat, scarf, heavy coat and wool mittens, I said "Merry Christmas" in front of Jamesway and Food Lion on appointed days to generally welcoming shoppers who dropped spare change into the red "kettle" swinging on its tripod. One year as an expression of gratitude, the Salvation Army treated us to a lovely luncheon at the elegant old Mimslyn Inn when the fund-raising drive was over. A long, white linen-covered table had been decorated with seasonal floral displays and candles. At each place setting a small white china swan filled with little candies sat enlivened by a thin, red bow tied around its neck. That became the origin of my swan collection as it developed over following years.
Christmas Eves, I stayed awake by myself until after midnight watching services broadcast from the Vatican and other famous cathedrals and churches worldwide, enjoying the peace, quiet and beauty of the twinkling tree and stars outside, surrounded by piles of gayly-wrapped gifts to open and deliver, bright garlands strung on the stair railing and from the living room chandelier and table decorations everywhere, and drinking wine in a long-stemmed glass by a flaming fire in the glass-fronted woodstove. Some years it even snowed and long, twirling icicles dripped and gleamed from the eaves. What could be more glorious than holidays country-style?