It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
Yesterday we had a dusting of snow; this morning the temperature in Denton, Texas, plunged to a bitter 15 degrees. I pulled out my heavy-duty, hooded coat just to walk to the mailbox.
I may have mentioned this before: I don’t particularly enjoy cold weather. It hurts.
But I’ve always welcomed a spate of cold around Christmas. It just seems appropriate. Even though I grew up in the South, I still remember Christmas as a time of cold. I don’t remember a white Christmas; our rare snowfalls seemed more likely to come in January or February —sometimes even in March.
Frost was frequent, though, and I remember ice crystals pushing through the red clay Upstate South Carolina soil, crunching underfoot as we trudged across the fields, following our beagles in search of cottontail rabbits.
It seems I spent a lot more time outdoors back then. Perhaps my young blood and joints were less sensitive to freezing temperatures. I remember staying out for hours, hunting rabbits or quail, or looking for the perfectly-shaped Christmas tree, usually a red cedar from the patch of woods behind our house.
I remember standing at the base of a large oak tree and taking aim with a single-shot .22 rifle at the biggest stem of mistletoe I could see. Shooting mistletoe with a shotgun was not sporting and tended to ruin the berries. Sadly, I don’t recall having much luck with the mistletoe after collecting it.
At our church, we used to pack paper bags with fruit in the afternoon before Christmas Eve services. The church was always cold while we were doing this — no use wasting fuel oil on a handful of boys and a couple of men who were only going to be there for an hour or two. It didn’t seem like much of a hardship at the time.
Chopping wood was a bit more grueling, but after a few swings with a dull axe I didn’t feel the cold much. By the time I had chopped and split enough wood to keep a fire going in the fireplace until bedtime, I was shedding heavy coats and flannel shirts. As the old saw goes: A log will warm you twice — once when you cut it, and again when you burn it.
I always enjoyed a fire, though I was rarely ever warm on both sides at the same time. I was usually too hot on the back and too cold on the front, or the other way around.
A blazing fire in the fireplace still brings back memories of Christmas in the country — even the fire we now get with gas logs. It doesn’t offer the same aroma, but the visual effect is still soothing, and it reminds me that life in the country wasn’t always easy back in the 1950s, in an economy dependent on cotton mills. Sometimes things were tough, and then they often got worse.
But, I do remember always feeling safe and warm — at least on one side — and loved by a large family.
And by the time we got back to church on Christmas Eve, someone had fired up the furnace, the place was toasty, and we all felt a sense of peace and warmth and joy for what Christmas meant to us.
That’s what I wish for you and your families this Christmas — peace, joy and the wonder that is the essence of the Christmas season.
And stay warm.