This column was originally published in 2009:
This will be my first year ever without a Christmas tree. I am finishing a Troutdale history book, which is like giving birth to an elephant. In the late stages of gestation, putting up and taking down a tree seemed like one less thing to have to do.
I'm not happy about it, even though a tree seemed an inefficient use of time. I told my neighbor, Sam, the other day about our treeless state, and she said she isn't doing much decorating either.
We sympathized and then she said, "I miss my stuff."
I know what she means. The old trappings of Christmas, the ornaments, the bubble lights, the garlands you forgot you bought. You pull them from the box and they come attached with strings of memories. I miss that part, even if I won't miss putting the stuff away and horsing the boxes back into the Christmas closet.
Tradition dies hard.
Both sets of my grandparents came from Nebraska, good sturdy meat-and-potatoes types who cooked vegetables to a mush. Gravy was the only sauce they knew. But on Christmas Eve these stolid Midwesterners insisted on oyster stew.
Can there be anything more out of place than an oyster in Nebraska? These were people who wouldn't have approached a clam or a crab without a stick, and eyed shrimp with suspicion. How in the world could they have acquired a taste for oysters in the middle of the plains?
They were not alone. The old newspapers advertised oysters as one of the delicacies of the season and apparently many people in the Midwest had the craving even though the only tide they experienced was Yuletide. Like the orange in the toe of your sock, an oyster was high living.
Though my grandmother didn't live any closer to Bethlehem than she did to the native habitat of the oyster, I always think of her when I hear "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem." She had this old upright piano — No. 1 Kid has it now — that her father bought for her when she was a little girl. It was a big deal, buying a kid a piano in those days, and the justification for such a lavish gift was that my grandmother could play for church. Which she did. With gusto and determination.
Grandma didn't mess around with slow, boring hymns. She knew one beat — the pounding parade rhythm of "Onward Christian Soldiers," which she applied to almost every tune. The notes might be different and the words weren't the same, but you picked up the pace and trotted right along when she went to her Bethlehem.
I hear the carol on the radio these days and catch myself saying, "Nice, but it drags a little."
She also had a nifty date cake with a butter sauce that still tastes like Christmas to me. Dates were from palm trees, another exotic treat in flatland. My other grandmother of English extraction made a steamed pudding that started with lard and went downhill from there. But both were tradition.
Once the family landed on this coast and oysters were no longer exotic, my mother and stepfather made steak pie for Christmas Eve dinner. It is a meal described by our family as "larruping" and has an extremely high gravy quotient.
Hubs and I brought Roast Beast to the Christmas table, or if you insist, prime rib. He likes to brag that sometimes we have to take out a loan to buy one.
The Christmas literature of my childhood was "The Night Before Christmas," which I memorized in the third grade. For our children, it was "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." For Scooter, 12, the biggest hoot of his holiday last year was David Sedaris' "Santaland Diaries."
Even when we don't bother to get out the boxes and unpack our ring-tinglers, the stuff of Christmas, like the tinsel that sticks to your pants, stays with us.
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