Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas in the Country

Many years ago on a snowy day on the Canadian prairie, I was watching fat, fluffy snowflakes fall from the sky with my kids.  The Christmas tree was lit up and the house was festive and cozy with all the holiday trimmings while the outside world was a swirl of white.  The kids were excited...the anticipation of Christmas was hanging heavy in the air and the snow seemed to seal the deal.  Suddenly one of them asked me, "Mommy, did it feel like Christmas when you lived in Oregon and didn't have snow?"

"Of course," I replied right away, because I remembered it always feeling like Christmas to me when I was young.

They couldn't imagine how it that could be true.  "How?  How did it feel like Christmas if there wasn't any snow?"

"Well," I began, "we didn't have snow, but we had lots of greenery, like the kinds they sing about in Christmas carols...holly, ivy, mistletoe and evergreens.  And everyone has a real Christmas tree that they cut down fresh.  Everything smells delicious...all pine-y and sweet, with spicy woodsmoke mingling in the air because lots of people have woodstoves.  And then there is the's all silvery and soft, and it hangs on the trees and clings to the mountains and makes dark days turn dreamy."

I don't know if they were even listening anymore, but I was visiting with The Ghost of Christmas Past the holidays of my youth.  We went caroling in the country. Somehow it worked there.  We had tried it in Canada, but it was too cold.  Our jaws were so frozen we could barely form the words, and people didn't want to open their doors to a group of bundled up strangers on their front porch.  But in the Oregon countryside, the weather was a little wet but not very cold.  People were actually excited to see a group of teens outside their door, and they would listen to us sing and then give us Christmas cookies before we left. 

The boys shot mistletoe out of the trees with guns, and one of my greatest longings was to be kissed under the mistletoe (which, to date, has never happened!).

We collected holly heavy with red berries and all the greens we could carry...for free!  And trees were cheap and perfect and real.

One Christmas I read the book, "Christy," and forever and ever, I picture Christmas high in the mountains where trees grow thick, creeks run deep, and cabins are built against the shelter of rocky ledges.  Where I lived on the mountain, it wasn't quite so wild, but from my bedroom window on a clear day I could see the snow-capped peaks of the five tallest mountains in the Cascade range, and on a rainy day my home would be shrouded with a misty fog that obscured even the fruit trees in front of our house.

During my 20 years in Canada, I got used to a white Christmas as well as "Christmastime in the city."  The peachy glow of street lamps reflecting off snowflakes on a snowy night was actually bright enough to wake me, giving me the coziest feeling as I would lie under the warmth of my comforter and watch through the window the falling flakes.  There is nothing like skating outdoors on a frozen lake, the perimeter strung with lights and tinny Christmas music playing over the loudspeakers.  Street hockey and sledding are sooo much fun...even as adults (and good exercise too!).  Then there were the parties...In the city, everyone dresses to the nines.  The venue, whether a home, a hotel banquet room or a golf and country club, would always be stylishly decorated, and the food was divine.  I bought all of us new Christmas outfits every year for the Christmas Banquet, and we always dressed up on Christmas Eve too.  Christmases were elegant and beautiful.

When I first moved back to Oregon it wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be to go back to my childhood holidays of greenery and simple things.  I was okay without the snow, but I really missed the parties.  Country parties are "come as you are," in blue jeans and Christmas sweaters.  No more elegant dinners, just potluck-style appetizers and fingerfoods.  No more dressing up on Christmas Eve for the girls.  No more street hockey for the boys.

But slowly, the Christmasy feeling has returned.  I love tromping through the forest to collect holly and fir boughs.  I've instituted a ladies Christmas event where we all dress up and year by year has become a more beautiful event.  And it all but takes my breath away when I behold the beauty of the mountain mist clinging to the trees and hiding the hilltops.

Whether I'm in the city or the country, the sights, sounds and scents of the holiday fill my senses.  It doesn't matter where I am...

It is Christmas.

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