As my wife has noted, I have an affinity for life’s rituals, to the extent that I’ve been known to create them around even routine events. For instance, the way I celebrate completion of my column each week.
It might not surprise you to learn that it involves an ounce or two of the distiller’s art.
Christmas is far and away the season that offers the most ritualistic opportunities. Or at least it does for those of us who observe it, and I’ve observed quite a few, starting back when Ike was the White House resident.
And in this country, even those who don’t observe Christmas can scarcely avoid its impact, starting with the exhortations to spend money on gifts.
Those seem to come earlier and earlier as the years pass; I think 2022’s Black Friday enticements began to arrive shortly after Labor Day. I can envision future come-ons landing on the Fifth of July.
We resist such holiday creep in the Rogers household, resolutely adhering to the guidance of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Just as pilgrims and cornucopias are not to be invoked until after Halloween, Christmas trappings should not appear until turkey has been consumed.
Unlike many of our neighbors, we are minimalists when it comes to outside decoration. A simple wreath on the front door – accentuated, only slightly, by tiny lights – is our sole exterior nod.
Inside is different. We are tree traditionalists, which is to say that not only do we put up a tree, but a live one, purchased from whatever purveyor is located nearest-by. I don’t know what the inflation rate is for such greenery, but this year’s tree cost more than the monthly rent on my first apartment.
And it wasn’t the top model on offer.
We generally wait until two weeks before Christmas to get the tree, lest it dehydrate completely before the big day and start shedding needles the way our cats shed fur. Certain ornaments – mementos of travels, my hometown, notable Christmases past – are musts.
Others are optional, depending on the size of the tree and whether we can find them. We decorate fueled by spiked eggnog and homemade Chex mix, heavy on the Worcestershire, accompanied by the inaugural playing of Christmas music.
The music selection ranges from Bing and Brenda Lee to Madonna and Run DMC, but must at the least include Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” and John Lennon’s “Happy XMas (War Is Over).” Of late, Robert Earl Keen’s quirky “Merry Christmas From the Family” has joined the lineup, with its sweet and messy kinships and never-ending trips to the store.
Christmas-themed TV offerings abound, but the only one we watch without fail every year is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” original cartoon version, which never fails to delight. (I have never watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” in its entirety. Sue me.)
Along Grinch lines, Christmas dinner, inspired by the Whos’ repast, is roast beast. We are flexible as to when that dinner is served, depending on other demands on our time. This year, for example, it will come on Christmas Eve.
Of course we send out cards, though the recipients have dwindled over the years as we lose touch with some people and others lose their status among the living. Cats are the preferred theme, though in a pinch the Grinch will do. This year there was a pinch.
Stockings are hung, as is a streamer proclaiming Mele Kalikimaka – Merry Christmas in Hawaiian – a souvenir of Kayne’s yearlong sojourn there some time ago. A Santa face with gaping, mirror-backed mouth goes on a mantel, I’m not sure why. Bells on doorknobs lend jingles.
We generally open presents on Christmas Day, with perhaps one token exception on Christmas Eve. We tried separate gifts for each of the 12 Days of Christmas a time or two, but it proved too taxing on our gift-idea capabilities. Besides, there’s already another gift occasion that falls within that period: Kayne’s birthday. Which is by no means, I learned early in our relationship, to be incorporated into Christmas givings.
Post-Christmas the rituals tail off. We’re not into Boxing Day, for instance, and New Year’s Eve has lost its ability to inspire revelry. New Year’s Day will include black-eyed peas, the recipe provided by “Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook.”
A lengthy gap follows, unless you count Spring Training baseball as a ritual. (Many ounces of the brewer’s art are involved in that.)
For some reason, I’ve never been particularly big on Valentine’s Day customs. My wife has noted that, too.
Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.