The Christmas tree is up. Last year we didn't have one, because Darling Husband was a pre-op shoulder replacement patient and wrestling with trees was not on his to-do list.
I do love my once-a-year visit with ornaments accumulated over a lifetime. There's the little choir of lacy-winged angels that cluster near the top. I remember when I was small and they were magically new and sparkling on our family's tree. We're all a bit worn and faded with years now but I still love them.
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We always have a minor Christmas stocking problem. There are two of us and we have at least six stockings, all very fancy and Christmasy, but we only have room to hang two. How to choose? Sentimental value is important. But do we have separate favorites? That means unmatched stockings, an obvious decorating no-no. Which ones hold the most stuff? That was always a major consideration when I was a kid. I still think it's a valid criterion.
There was a year, when I was very small, when I actually got lumps of coal in the toe of my stocking instead of an orange. I had been warned that children who didn't obey, who got into mischief, just might get lumps of coal.
It taught me an important lesson about consequences. I wonder if children still get an orange in the toe of their stockings these days. My brother sometimes viewed his orange-in-the-toe Christmas stocking as an effective potential weapon. He had a brotherly way with threats.
There were always colorfully wrapped hard candies with gooey centers too. I didn't really like them very much. I felt the same way about candy-coated almonds. But both were viewed as essential seasonal treats.
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Remember that Christmas song, All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth? This year I'm singing the same song only my wish is for two back teeth, preferably a matching top-and-bottom set. I suspect they're not going to grow in all by themselves. However, I'd happily accept a dental gift certificate for the purpose, Santa. (Hint, hint.)
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After my mother died 10 years ago, I inherited, among other things, Rudolph. He's a small log on sticks with stick antlers, little eyes and a red nose. He doesn't light up. Rudolph is whimsical and, to me, expresses exactly the right spirit. He's humble, unpretentious and I think he's festive standing by our front door.
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Darling Husband loves seasonal stuff — especially if it's edible. Immediately after Thanksgiving, eggnog and cranberry jelly appeared in our shopping cart. He even loves fruitcake.
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I try not to think about terrible things that have happened during the holidays over the years. No point in inviting the sort of holiday blues we all hear about.
It's much better to remember the Christmas that my children finally got a dog. For several years my younger daughter's letter to Santa always had DOG at the top. When we lived in apartments in the city or suburbs, a dog was not something we could handle. When we moved to the country, the pleas for a dog became more insistent.
Friends found a stray at Thanksgiving and called me. I checked out the dog, which looked beagle-ish but was a mutt, through and through. I took her to the vet, got her shots and had her bathed, spayed and boarded there until Christmas.
I bought her a flea collar, picked her up and took her home every day while the kids were in school, teaching her to behave like a civilized family member; she had to be housebroken and was moderately obedient. She was pleased to do as I asked. Apparently she knew that regular meals, no fleas and a safe, warm place to sleep every night depended on it. I wanted to be sure she would work out well before the kids met her.
Clementine was a total, wonderful surprise to the kids and a splendid family dog for many years. (I do wish she hadn't chewed up the arm of the couch on that first New Year's Eve.)
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The magic of the season, the spirit of giving, of peace and love never fails to rekindle hope in my heart. I think every faith, at its core, teaches love, tolerance and peace, regardless of the efforts of many to use religion to divide people from one another.
I wish you all peace, a cup of kindness, teeth if you need them and if you're very good, a dog like Clementine. Ho, ho, ho!
Write to Sheila Stoll in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.