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Scenes from Early December



            Just like for most North Americans, early December is a busy time of year in our household. I think most people wait until after December 1st to initiate Christmas. We tend to start a little early. It’s only slight decorations, small touches, but it is routine for us to do so. Every year we repeat, the same set up, the same objects of our affection, all laid out (thanks to Facebook) for the entire world to see if they so choose. Only a few days before December, there is a prelude, a simple way of beginning all over again. We celebrate, we imitate American Thanksgiving but these days it is only for the food. It’s not that we don’t appreciate their festivities, it’s their current boss we have a problem with. It’s hard not to be turned off by this country when almost half of the Amercian public still supports a faux President and his pseudo ‘advisers’. Trump, simply by existing, has tainted any yuletide jubilation that might have come from traditions like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center. It is all just distraction now. Some traditions begin slightly ahead of the December date. We have a Santa Claus that counts down the days until Christmas morning. He is set out on September 17th and we then move backwards from 100. Each day finds one less day, one more day closer to the big event. He is a constant right up until we put him away after the New Year. We go through Halloween and the two Thanksgivings (American and Canadian) then settle down our brains for a “long winter’s nap.” Autumn brings a clean slate, a new ending that harkens upon an old friend and the new beginning that comes with it. On December 1st, all bets are off. The leaves are gone and frost has made a few appearances. This year we have had snow and cold temperatures since early November. It is all a harbinger of that which is to come. Sometimes, you wake up and are bewildered by a foot or two of snow. In Canada, it is not unheard of to have ice storms and raging blizzards even before the winter solstice. Early December folds into late December as Christmas accumulates throughout the month. It hits the crescendo on Christmas Eve. It can seem to be over before it begins. The actual day itself is somewhat anticlimactic, in a sense, since it all started in early December.

“Cold, my breathing like a fog
Summer’s over
No more birds to sing their song
Steps, my dirty tracks left in the snow
Bruised and battered
I’ve gone as far as I can go
I can see you and your candle
A light beyond the trees
Hear a voice from in the distance
Calling out to me”

            On Wednesday, December 6th, 1972, the grass was still green and not even a few flakes of snow had fallen in the Greater Toronto area. I ran home from school wishing I had taken a heavier jacket. A storm was brewing somewhere off in the distance and the cold front moved in rather quickly. I got home, said something trivial about the weather and headed right upstairs to do my homework. Throughout dinner, I intentionally behaved myself. Come evening and Rudolph would make a visit. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first debuted on Sunday, December 6th, 1964, just a few months before I was born. It originally aired on NBC but the rights were bought by CBS in 1972. This early December night would be the first time that Rudolph aired on CBS and on a Wednesday, which it still does to this day. The Rankin/Bass production was the first of many stop motion animation programs that involved the Christmas season. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the Little Drummer Boy and several others had become staples in my childhood Christmas glee. With no streaming, or video, years before VHS, all kids had was the TV Guide and the annual event. Before YouTube, one was forced to hold a standard tape recorder up to the television speaker, hoping to catch the tunes. With one hand you held it and with the other you pressed that large red Record button and Play at the same time. My arm would get tired but I trudged on. Each song was captured, to be played over and over again. I can still sing every word of every song from every one of those Christmas specials. Yes, you only got the one view, one time, once a year, but the music would easily last until the next December. There was no way I would have even considered missing it. Come early December, Rudolph started it all and a smorgasbord of Christmas programming immediately followed. I went to bed holding my cassette. The moon was still shining through heavy but quickly moving cloud. The winds seemed to have died down. My Mom, however, had to close our window because the temperature had dropped to freezing. From what I can recall, my Dad woke me and my siblings around 3 AM EST. We moved about like drunk penguins. My parents shuffled us all to the window and the new fallen snow, as 2 feet of the stuff twinkled below. Everything was covered in a dense but beautiful blanket of white. I stood there, captivated by the sight and the sheer enormity of the snowstorm. When I hearken back on this time of my life, I remember two things. I remember just how significant the effect television had on me then and how some simple snow carved a deep groove into my memory. It’s odd sometimes what you remember clearly. Every year, it is early December that accelerates my Christmas cheer and leads me into yuletide splendour. Recently, while researching this blog, I discovered the most interesting thing. I had no idea that all the sound recordings, for all those shows, were done in Toronto, Canada. I was rather inspired by the idea. I had no idea that Rudolph actually lived down the street.

“Come on in from the cold
Come on in from the outside”

            My father grew up in the town of Wingham, Ontario. My parents met there in the late 1950s and his family remains throughout the area. I spent a lot of time there in my youth. It’s been awhile since I ventured to the place but I used to take any chance I could find to visit my cousin and her entourage. Wingham is located 130 kilometres north of Paris, Ontario. With a population of less than 3000, it pretty much stands the same as it did when I was going up there throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It is small town Ontario, without a doubt. A few miles outside of Wingham rests my paternal grandparents’ farm. Now owned by one my Dad’s younger brothers, it too looks pretty much the same as it did when we used to play there. When my grandfather died in the mid-1980s, another son used his land inheritance to build a home on the lot and then put in a trout pond. It lies at the foot of a steep hill that leads up to the main house. The pond is a good size and has a small creek joining it to the WinghamRiver. You can literally fish there. On December 7th, 1997, I tagged along with my Dad and a few others to fish in that pond. It was supposed to be like ice fishing but without all of the work. The pond was iced over but I assure you it was not safe to tread upon. Some ice was smashed through and then we all cast into it. The edge was rough and fell directly into the water. You really needed to watch your step. When my brother-in-law cast over my line, I cut in front of him trying to avoid a tangled mess. I dropped like a bag of potatoes would. I went right in, feet first, jacket, boots and all. I instantly started kicking as the cold set in. It was fucking freezing. My Dad and his brothers all reached for me. They pulled me out with ease, it seemed. Still, it was fucking cold. All I remember after that is grabbing myself in an attempt to avoid, literally, blue balls. I cried out in horror, “My dick is frozen!” When I was a boy, visiting Wingham meant a lot to me. My primary reason for such favour was the ingrained memory of early December when I was a kid. Every year, my Dad and us kids would journey from Torontoto Wingham in search of the perfect Christmas tree. A live tree is still alive until you kill it and we were out for tree blood. The hills around the small town are referred to as “The Alps,” with good reason. We would all trudge into the wilderness, pick the very best, then drag it all the way back to Toronto. There was always a charm to this family tradition. For the longest time, I associated these memories whenever Wingham and Christmas were mentioned in the same sentence. I cherished that retention and I still do. At times, even my memories are as frozen as my penis was. I fall in all over again. My association since the trout pond incident rests more with the ice cube in my eardrum and icicles in my pubic hair. All these years later and my nipples are still hard. I am chilled. It’s not necessarily a pleasant memory but I often find it rather amusing. You have to laugh at yourself or everyone else will.

“Wind, don’t see her but she’s there
Dead leaves are moving
Her calling cards across the air
I can see you in the window
A shadow through the trees
Hear your voice now from a distance
Calling out to me”

            Cutting down a tree for Christmas has followed me from my youth and into my living room. We had to stop getting a real Christmas Tree (fire hazard) when we lived in an apartment, from 2009 to 2015. The moment we moved into our current home, we resumed this much cherished activity. From the start, Ben and I always procured a live spruce or balsam fir. The first year (1999) we did so was also the first Christmas that we spent living together. My family came to visit just before the holiday and my Mom made several remarks that I have never forgotten. She did not wish to leave once she got to our place. She felt comfort, and joy, and just wanted to curl up and bask in what she called a “lovely sight.” Several of those first years, we spent early December harvesting our tree with my family. Located just outside of Strathroy, Ontario, Poplar Hill is even more small town than Wingham. The tree farm was a crowded house. On one occasion, thanks to congestion, my older brother Alan accidentally dumped my nephew Matthew off a small bridge and into the cold creek below. It wasn’t funny at the time but it most certainly is today. In 2001, we went another way and purchased a pair of balsam fir from White Rose, a franchised garden centre that later went out of business. I was not surprised when I heard the news. Having paid $75 for our tree, and the same for Ben’s parents’ tree, one would have imagined that those trees should last for more than one night. Come the morning and both had dropped every one of their needles. It was not a slow death. For a few years, we drove the 10 kilometres from Brantfordto Mount Pleasanthunting for an elusive tree. This tree farm was just okay, very average. In early December of 2003, on the last visit we made there, we chose an 8-footer and carried it to our vehicle. We had borrowed a pickup truck from Ben’s father and loaded the fresh cut spruce into the back of it. Like an idiot, I tied down the tree with the top of the thing facing the truck’s cab. The wind picked up that sucker and dumped it right out onto a county road. We scrambled to get it back on before someone ran over it. We went to a few more tree farms until in 2006, using an internet search, we discovered the farm that we still visit, usually after American Thanksgiving. We came across the Merry Farms Christmas tree vendor in Lynden, Ontario almost by accident. We did not know it was there. We drove by it many times over the years and had no idea. We finally took notice.



Approximately 20 kilometres from where we now live in Paris, Ontario, the 176-acre venue allows one to cut your own or one can purchase pre-cut trees. It is rich with all types of spruce and balsam fir, spread out over 3 kilometres of rolling hills and trees for as far as the eye can see. We are loyal, not that any other tree farm we have been to can match the enormity and selection found at Merry Farms. The tradition has become my tradition, our tradition. I’m not sure of even one other member of my family that continues to do so. My Dad has a fake tree. My sister, my brothers, not one of them heads out to the country to cut down their own Christmas Tree. Like them, we still have the artificial tree that we used for 6 years when we lived on the 16th floor in downtown Kitchener. I decorate it every year but it belongs where all fake trees belong, in the basement. Come to think of it, as a child, even my parents had this ugly silver concoction which eventually wound up sitting in their cellar.

“Come on in from the cold
Come on in from the outside
Come on in from the cold
Almost losing the daylight”

            We take some time picking a tree at Merry Farms but we usually go back to the first tree we thought might work. Every year, it is the same thing. We note, “This one is perfect,” then we spend almost an hour looking for anything that might live up to it. We go back to our long-winded choice, then I crawl under it and I saw it down. While Ben takes a few pictures, I kill the poor thing in less than 5 minutes. It’s nice to have photos for the memorial service in early January. We used to have to carry the beast all the way back to the checkout but these days they have handy carts that make the entire experience much more pleasant. They shake and bind the tree and we load it up and we take it home. The tree rests outside, usually for an overnight. Sometimes it drains sap, but this is not the only reason to keep it out of doors, at least for awhile. I imagine all the spiders that might be hiding within. I just assume there are other bugs in there too. The next day and it is ready to go. We set it up in our living room, right near the sliding doors leading to our back deck. At this point, it all relies on me. I start the lights in the afternoon and finish sometime in the evening. We have over 800 white lights that fill the tree from top to bottom. I decorate our fake tree sometime in November. When the real tree gets lit up like a candle, we turn on the outside lights. These also go up in November. We engage them every evening until the New Year. Around early December seems to be when most people turn on their Christmas decorations. We use red icicle lights and hang them across the length of our garage to over top of our front kitchen window. It is simple but elegant, just the way I like it. Paris is lit up like a Christmas tree. In every neighbourhood, from one end of town to the other, house after house has some form of illumination. Sometimes it is just a small tree sitting all alone in a window but that still counts. It is at this time of year that we used to take drives out in the country looking for electric ornamentation. Now that Parisis well illuminated, we simply have to drive around the block to be bewildered. Coming into town, there is a gentleman who starts decorating his front lawn in early August. By the time he switches them on, on December 1st, the entire space is covered with Christmas cheer. The trees, the lawn, the house, it’s a winter wonderland to be sure. It is impressive to say the least and I most certainly do not envy his power bill for the month. This house is not the only spectacle in our area. Apparently, the Christmas spirit is well preserved in our little town. Many homes seem to go overboard on the Christmas stuff. I love it, well most of it. One of the best parts of early December is when all the outdoor lights go on.

“I’ve been lost and I’ve been broken
I’ve been buried in the snow
I hear your voice and I keep walking
Don’t know, why I walk to you
Got nowhere left to go
So come on in from the cold
Come on in from the outside”
(From the Cold, Amy Grant 2017)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e62uVrpqni4

             With well over 500 ornaments for the tree, it takes a day or two to polish it all up and make it pretty. It is not a thankless job and well worth the work, considering the outcome. The tree stays up until the day after New Year’s. Putting it up in early December does not guarantee it won’t last until Christmas but watering it every day seems to work. I find the twinkling lights and familiar decorations rather charming, in the very best sense. We always have a lovely tree. Just like at my home, the world seems to turn on the season at the beginning of the month. Here in Canada, we may not have a New York City Christmas but the annual Santa Claus Parade, at the end of November in Toronto, highlights the Christmas that is to come. From the lights along Yonge Street to the display windows at the Hudson Bay Companyat Queen Street, the city has always come alive around Christmastime. In the early 1970s, my Mom used to hand paint yuletide scenes in those windows, in my mind she still does. We even have a skating rink at City Hall, just like the one at Rockefeller Center. From the St. Lawrence Market to Nathan Phillip’s Square, come December and the city starts looking a lot like Christmas. From Union Station in Torontoto the Paris Train Station down the street, it is so easy to find Christmas along the way. I much prefer to spend Christmas from my own vantage point. I prefer to be home for the holidays. Sure, it’s nice to get out and see the lights. It’s fun to walk through the city and feel the spirit in the air. There is nothing like the feeling I get sitting in front of a fresh cut tree, basking in the smell of it, while watching It’s A Wonderful Life on DVD. A glass of dry red wine and a bucket of Santa Jujubes completes the experience. There is nothing as quaint as the glow of your own treasures. With the world so overflowing with cheer, it is nice to sit by your own tree. I prefer a real tree, but any tree will do. Some are tall, some are small, but they bring festive cheer to one and all. Christmas is a special time of year and it starts in early December.






Photos

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/12/31/thousands-to-ring-in-2017-at-nathan-phillips-square.html

Merry Farms
late November, 2017
Lynden, Ontario, Canada

The Living Room
early December, 2015
Paris, Ontario, Canada





Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolph_the_Red-Nosed_Reindeer#Stop-motion_animation_television_special_(1964)_and_sequels_(1976%E2%80%9379)

https://www.sltrib.com/artsliving/tv/2014/12/02/ever-popular-rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-turns-50/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Visit_from_St._Nicholas
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wingham,_Ontario
http://www.merryfarms.ca/



This post first appeared on Frostbite, please read the originial post: here

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Scenes from Early December

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