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  • Thursday, December 8, 2011

During my lifetime (which admittedly goes way back) it used to be the tradition to put up the Christmas tree on December 24. This way we were poised to celebrate December 25th’s Blessed Event for the next 12 days, ending January 6. On that day we observed the coming of The Magi, The Epiphany. This span is known as Christmastide or The Twelve Days of Christmas. It seems Latin American countries traditionally extend the celebration for 40 days until Candlemas on February 2. My mother didn’t possess a drop of Latin blood but one year she actually kept our family’s live Christmas tree up – well watered and lit – until Valentine’s Day, making us the talk of the neighborhood. She flat loved Christmas and wanted to celebrate as long as possible.
When I was growing up our tradition was to put up the tree a whole week ahead of time on December 18th, my dad’s birthday. His celebration often got slighted in his family of eight siblings because it was close to Christmas. Mother initiated this tradition so his birthday would be something really special every year. But even this was considered shocking by some extended family members. Given my mom’s influence, we often still had the tree up long after the Three Kings made their appearance. And by the way, they never arrived at our crčche scene until January 6, nor did Baby Jesus come there until Christmas morning.
Now we are surrounded by Christmas in July sales. By the time Halloween is upon us, ghosts and goblins are in one shopping aisle and Santas and elves in another. It’s hard to ignore – or resist – the early holiday push. But I think our homes never look better than they do at Christmas, with candles and lights and decorations reminding us of so many family members and past celebrations. We Hills have moved with the times enough to begin decorating the day after Thanksgiving with the first holiday hint in our house being the appearance of the Christmas china we bought in England in 1972. With 54 years of married Christmases behind us we have loads of decorations and traditions and Jim keeps saying we are going to downsize. When we redid our kitchen four years ago we lost two walls and that perfect spot for our huge tree, so I downsized to four smaller trees to not only spread the joy but to use up all the ornaments which make a tree so personal and special. (How do you decide to toss a cookie dough angel from 1962 or Summerville High band ornaments from our kids’ marching stint in the 1980s?) We don’t end Christmas the day afterwards either. Because of tradition – to say nothing of creaky bones – we keep our decorations up until at least The Epiphany. That’s our own personal custom.
 It really doesn’t matter whether “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” in July and that for some people it’s over and done with on December 26th. It’s not what’s on the calendar that counts as much as what’s in the heart. The best way to get and keep the Christmas Spirit – no matter what the span of time – is to remember what it is we’re celebrating.

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