A Moveable Christmas

And then there was the Christmas tree. We have not had a Christmas tree for 7 or 8 years because we fled the country every year at the holidays mostly to escape the crazy aunt who was always there for Christmas dinner then for the opening of presents and she could be counted upon to make someone cry at dinner. A chair would be pushed back from the table scraping loudly against the wood floor and the person who was red faced, angry, hurt with tears streaming down flushed cheeks would run away to another room and slam the door.

So to escape the inevitable drama we spent many Christmases away, usually in Argentina where it was summertime. Not in Buenos Aires though where Christmas is hot, sultry and crowded. Where Christmas Eve is like New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas combined with Fourth of July in D.C. with party noise and fireworks until 3:00 am. Instead we flew to the far south in the region of Mt. Fitzroy and the big ice fields, the Viedma and Moreno Glaciers, Los Glaciares National Park. We stayed at working sheep ranches or a wooded Patagonia lodge called Helsingfors from which we could walk up into the hills and mountains beyond.

William and Andrea Halligan on the road with Mt. Fitzroy in the background.
William and Andrea Halligan on the road with Mt. Fitzroy in the background.
Patagonia 2012-2013.
Patagonia.
Christmas buffet in Patagonia.
Christmas buffet in Patagonia.

The barman at Helsingfors made wonderful pisco sours that were served in front of the big fireplace at a table with crackers and fine cheeses and bowls of nuts. They were served by his pretty assistant and in the background I could hear him attempting to teach her the art of the pisco sour, a smooth delight after miles of walking the high trails thousands of miles from the holiday malls and crowds.

Friends and acquaintances congratulated us on the wisdom of escaping Christmas. A brilliant move, they said.

But this year, Andrea’s father is hosting Christmas Eve at his house in Los Angeles with nearly a dozen relatives. At age 97 he says he is not purchasing or setting up a Christmas tree. We are also invited to a family gathering in Bakersfield, and with the good and bad of Bakersfield, the sadness and bitterness of decades pervading some of the very walls of houses, but where we are going it will be a Norman Rockwell perfect dinner with brothers who are prosperous and who have pretty wives and beautiful and wonderfully behaved children.

And after Christmas, my wife and I want to secret away to a hidden mountain cabin in an undisclosed location.

Christmas tree? We won’t even be home for Christmas. And father-in-law in L.A. would like a tree for his gathering, but is not about to purchase one. Of course our mountain cabin would look festive with a tree. And so the solution: at the local nursery we purchased a live tree in a pot. The tree is small, only about four feet tall.

It is decorated and lighted now and its lights show nicely through our front windows for any neighbors who may walk past our San Diego home. And it will travel with us, ornaments and lights and all to the three locations to the north. I will simply lift it out of the Subaru and carry it fully decorated into each house and plug it in.

So it will be a moveable Christmas, and our first holiday with relatives in nearly a decade.

Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast said that if one were lucky enough to be a young man in Paris in the 1920s, then Paris could stay with one through life wherever he might travel—Paris for him was a moveable feast.

I have never been to Paris. If I travel to France at all, my preference is Chamonix or Argentiere, or the slopes of Mt. Blanc.

But if one is fortunate enough to grow up on a cozy family farm in northern Wisconsin with snow and family traditions that extend back to a Norway of the early 20th century—Grandmother moved from Norway to snowy Wisconsin in 1912 and the country must have seemed much like home to her with fellow Scandinavians populating many neighboring farms–then Christmases on the farm, with venison and cranberries and lefsa that took Grandmother two full days to make, formed part of my Christmas memory and is a moveable feast for me.

Not quite Paris, but it will do.

And so the tree is up with two weeks to go. We turn out the house lights, turn on the Christmas tree lights and listen to Christmas carols on Pandora.

In a short time, Andrea will prepare Christmas dinner here and pack it up along with the tree and any small presents we plan to give away. And the tree will come along for the holiday travels to the north.

A moveable Christmas for us this year and to you a Merry Christmas wherever the holidays find you.

 

A 1950s Christmas

merry-christmas-580

We lived in those days in a modest farmhouse at the end of a gravel country road a quarter mile off the two lane county highway. There was a barn and in the winter our cows did not venture outside (of course there’s a story about the cow manure and how we spread it over snowy fields in winter, but perhaps that’s for another time); there was a chicken coop, a machine shed and a garage with room for our one car—a 1951 Chevy Bel Air.

A few days before Christmas Grandpa drove us on snowy roads into town. You entered town from the west and you couldn’t see the main street or its stores and offices until you cleared a little crest of a hill and then the town of Black River Falls came into view below you, all snow at the sides of Main Street and the river at the far end of town frozen over and guys ice fishing and the Highway 12 bridge arching over. Now the town was dressed up for Christmas. There was a manger scene in front of St. Joseph’s Parish, the Catholic Church that stood at the top of the hill overlooking main street. Green garland stretched across Main Street from the county hospital on the north side of the street to the library on the south. Another ran from Pough’s Hardware to the City Café and one more from Gamble’s Department Store to the Shell gas station. And from each garland a big silver bell was suspended over the street. I was certain that Bing Crosby—whom I called Big Crosby then, after all what kind of name was Bing?—had driven through our town and our garland and 3 foot high bells must have been on his mind when he sang “Silver Bells”, on the radio.

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