Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Is a Time of the Year

Larry Britner contributed this scenario of Christmas in St. Petersburg, as he remembers it. Perhaps you'll recall some of the same details--remember Christmas Tree Lane, on the approach to the Pier--where various merchants adopted an Australian pine tree on the side of the street and decorated it with lights?

With a certain clatter of pan against pan, the cookie sheets came out from the bottom of things with the daily and smaller stacked upon the seasonal and larger; cookie sheets always on the bottom. The tree had already been up for a week or better. Bowls of fruits sat on the table along with nuts of every kind, and dishes of hard candies, red, white, and green. Two days, three days with Christmas yet to come, it was time for the oven to be put on pre-heat for the baking of things; cookies cut to stars and trees and reindeer too, divinity candy nothing so sweet, peanut brittle, and other home made candies too.

Christmas wasn't a day, but a time of a year. The trees were green, carefully selected, "Is this too tall?" Mom at 4' 11", everything was too tall, and the cabinets too high; always a large kitchen with a foot stool at hand. The trees were not sold at stores leaned against an outside wall, but in open fields of any size, and arranged as to be an art accommodating selection. Pathways wandered among the sweet smell of the arrival of the time of the year, and selection of "just right" amid a "Hello, how are you today?" a friend to see, wandering among the clusters of trees; it was not a time of hurry.

Selected, the tree was tied down to the roof of the car, or left sticking feet out of the trunk. Thirty, thirty-five miles per hour, the tree laden car came down 5th Avenue, 16th Street, or from wherever it came. No seventy-five mile per hour run down the interstate, and corners taken with care that the tree not shift to suddenly be obstructing vision besides damage to the carefully selected tree. From off the car and into the house, and a nip of a limb here and another there, the small but sturdy red stand of four green legs, and spike in the pan was pulled from a closet or taken from the attic. The bolts screwed in tight, "Is that straight?", and Dad's job was over. Time for a chair, time for a cup of coffee for him while the decorating began.

Poor little Jerry, seven kids in all, and all he could do was the bottom. "Wait a minute, there are too many reds all in one place." Was Mom really in charge of decorating the tree? or was she just the corrector of things among seven kids that each knew how to do it just right? Well, maybe not, but wherever one's hands could reach that the other six pairs of hands were not. "Don't forget the back of the tree." There was a certain ritual of how it would be done, and a certain ritual in what would be said. "Too many in one place", "Don't forget the back of the tree", and "Let Jerry do some." Strands of tinsel tossed on, star at the top, and then was the moment, "Turn the lights on".

With wide sidewalks, and store fronts from little to large running from corner to corner Christmas was not a rush. It was a time of sweet odor, Christmas song, and greeting, "Merry Christmas". It was a time of nightly drives down Christmas Tree Lane; parking and doing certain on foot. The nativity scene, always new and always the same ... live animals and figurines depicting nearly two thousand years earlier. And a ride through neighborhoods to see the private lights.

Santa with a bell on every corner, music in the air, and a toyland filling the basement of Kress's. Civitan, Key, and Rotary Clubs with booths set up; one in a block here and another there in quiet reminders that Christmas was for everyone. PTA's in school as well, and every class keeping a basket to be filled.

Christmas was not a day, but a time of the year.

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