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Christmas traditions include frivolous and sacred memories

Church was the center of Christmas celebrations
Christmas recalls music, tree hunts and family gatherings--oh, and fruitcake, can't forget the fruitcake.

The official start of the Christmas season—at least for me—doesn’t begin until the days immediately following Thanksgiving. That’s when the traditions kick in.

When I was a child, my mother began collecting the ingredients for the fruitcake—candied fruit, nuts, and whatever else she mixed into the batter—the weekend after Thanksgiving. She usually baked it on Saturday, covered the top with slices of apple, and wrapped it in cheese cloth to keep it moist.

She often sprinkled a little red wine over the cheese cloth every few days, also to keep the cake from drying out. This was a challenge for my mom, a strict Southern Baptist teetotaler who would no more darken the door of a liquor store than she would have entered a sinful honky tonk. She had relatives who had no qualms about buying a bottle of Mogan David for her, however—or hanging out at honky tonks.

The cake was a featured treat at Christmas dinner.

I begin my annual search for a decent fruit cake  right after Thanksgiving, and I have no hesitation about entering a liquor store—or the supermarket now—to purchase a bottle of sweet red to flavor the store-bought cake. I probably should find a recipe and cook my own cake, but it seems like an awful lot of trouble since I am the only one who would eat it.

Selecting a Christmas tree has also been a post-Thanksgiving ritual. Back in the day, we searched the fields for a well-shaped cedar and usually cut it and dragged it home the weekend we got out of school for Christmas holidays. This year, we scoured the aisles of several home stores before we found the perfect one. Next Christmas I’ll just pull it down from the attic.

Music remains one of my favorite Christmas memories and a cherished tradition.

We started to hear and sing Christmas music just after Thanksgiving. The AM radio station we always listened to would begin with the secular favorites—Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, Here Comes Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, etc.—but held off on the scared hymns until two weeks before Christmas. In church—that’s the Southern Baptist one—the choir began practicing for the Christmas music special. In our regular worship services (two on Sunday, one on Wednesday night) we started singing Christmas carols. The congregation was, if not musically accomplished at least enthusiastic; and accompanied on piano or organ by Miss Emma, a truly talented musician, we made a joyful noise.

When my children were little, we began a tradition of playing Christmas music on the car radio—or on the cassette player—as we traveled home from whichever relative we visited for Thanksgiving. We bumped that up a bit this year. One of the satellite radio stations features only Christmas music— beginning in mid-November. A bit early, perhaps.

I have enjoyed the many elementary school, middle school, and high school band Christmas concerts Pat and I have attended through the years. I look forward to my grandson’s upcoming performance in a week or two. And Pat and I had tickets to the Johnson City Symphony’s Christmas concert in early December.

Christmas, more than any other holiday or celebration, stirs memories and venerates traditions—those that are as peculiar as fruit cake, as frivolous as selecting a tree, or as sacred as the music that celebrates what Christmas is about.

We wish you joy in your traditions this Christmas, and that peace and goodwill will be yours. Merry Christmas.


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