Snow started to fall while I was reading the latest comic book Daddy had bought for me while in town to have our oats ground into cow feed. Some latent instinct in my ten-year-old mind must have helped me feel the change in the barometer or the rise in humidity. Putting the Donald Duck comic down, I went to the window. Seeing a white curtain of ice crystals between the house and the barn made me gleefully shout, “Yee-hoo!”
A happy, content feeling enveloped me as I began to think about going out to play in the snow and about all things Christmas; gifts, cookies, candy, the tree, midnight Mass, singing carols, the crèche and vacation from school. Soon restlessness filled my mind. No longer interested in the comic book, I decided to check out the spot where Mom stored the extra Christmas candy every year. Finding it empty just made me feel more excited, knowing that the box of malted milk balls, chocolate covered nuts, caramels and at least ten other goodies along with plain nuts would magically appear there on Christmas Eve.
The next several weeks would be spent avidly following a progression of delightful time-markers: the first snow of the season, Thanksgiving, Saint Nicholas’ visit, frosting Mom’s Christmas cookies, listening to letters to Santa and Christmas music on the radio, getting our balsam tree and putting it up on Christmas Eve.
Delightful surprises seemed to continually pop up unexpectedly at this time of the year. One day during geography class, Sister Wilhelmina announced, “We’re going to cut short studying about Australia today. I want us to have a longer than usual music lesson. We need to practice songs for the Christmas concert.”
Feeling like I’d been handed a much desired present, I immediately tossed the geography book in my desk and slammed the lid shut. My heart was already singing. Moments later, we gathered around our classmate, Sally, who played the piano. With voices as untamed as wild stallions, we raced through ‘Jingle Bells’. Sister harrumphed and said, “Sing that again, only together and in tune.”
One Saturday morning Mom said to me, “We’re going shopping in Marshfield with Katie.” I was excited because I didn’t get to the big city very often. Mom’s best friend, Katie had a German accent, talked loud and often said outlandish things, but best of all, she liked to buy candy.
Each day I enjoyed racing to the mail box to collect the Christmas cards from family and friends, but was mostly on watch for the arrival of a large brown box from Aunt Tressie. Mom’s sister lived far away so we saw her only twice a year. Aunt Tressie didn’t have children, so she always sent us gifts wrapped in excitement and happy anticipation.
Singing Christmas carols continues to delight me, but I’ve heard other adults complain that they hate the songs. When I married and had children, my daughters, Niki and Tammie loved to sing with me-so much that I worried they’d want to sing them all year long. To prevent them from getting tired of Christmas songs, I made a rule. I told them, “No one is allowed to sing these songs before Thanksgiving, unless it snowed that day. We will stop singing these songs by the end of January.”
During my children’s grade school years, whenever we drove somewhere and saw snow flurries before Thanksgiving, one would announce, “It’s official, we can sing a Christmas song today.” We would then sing songs like, We Three Kings, What Child Is This and Angels We Have Heard on High a cappella. If we weren’t together when it snowed, we’d sing a song together later that evening.
One night in mid-November, while driving into Marshfield, I saw the city lights from a distance, reminding me of Bethlehem. When Mary and Joseph approached that city, would they have seen twinkling lantern lights as the citizens went about finishing up business for the day?
I softly began to sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Tammie reproached me, saying, “It didn’t snow today.”
“I know,” I said quietly. “I was just thinking about Mary and Joseph and the comfort and hopes a person has when entering a city after the sun sets.”
Niki and Tammie never broke the rule. They didn’t want to sing the Christmas songs outside of what I had deemed the ‘proper’ time of the year. It turns out that the rule was more for myself than for them.