I love Christmas! As long as I can remember, and that is well over fifty years, Christmas has been my favorite holiday. Hailing from the Northeast, my version of a perfect Christmas is having a tree full of decorations and lights, gaily wrapped presents, and our special Christmas Eve dinner. Later the family would go to Midnight Mass. Christmas hymns would swell through the air and Christmas carols would follow us as well. The perfect topping to this delightful scenario would be the first flakes of a new snowfall as we left church in the dark hours after midnight. This perfect Christmas Eve was mine until we moved to the Florida Panhandle about ten years ago.
Let me begin by saying that I like where I now live. I enjoy spending my winters without the ice and snow that lead to treacherous driving up North at this time of year. But I was amazed how seriously the folks here in the panhandle of Florida take their Christmas. When it comes to preparing for Christmas, amateurs need not apply. Where there is normally the distinction of class (mini mansion versus double wide – sometimes on the same street), that line of distinction is blurred as the Christmas holiday approaches. Over the past ten years I have witnessed Christmas light displays from the mundane (just lights around the door) to the extravagant (lights on every inch of the house, shrubs, trees) to the ridiculous (lights on the house plus groupings of those large inflatables that look like dried balloons during the day when they clutter up the lawn). And Thanksgiving is merely the day when folks put up their decorations and lights – if they haven’t done so the week before.
We even have one radio station that plays nothing but Christmas music! This musical marvel starts at noon on the day before Thanksgiving and goes non-stop for the next thirty or so days. After about three weeks of listening to this during my commute to work I reach the saturation point. My car has somehow turned into a sleigh that is drawn by invisible reindeer down good old U.S. Route 98. My bells have all been jingled, I’m wishing Frosty The Snowman would melt already, I’m sure Rudolph’s nose must need a new battery, and I’ll be crushed if Santa Baby doesn’t leave me some wonderful gifts (jewels, a new car, money, a winning lottery ticket)! My one gripe about all of this music is that I keep hearing some of my favorite songs sung by new artists.
In my humble opinion, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer should only be sung by Gene Autry; Jingle Bell Rock should only be sung by Bobby Helms; White Christmas should only be sung by Bing Crosby; No Place Like Home For The Holidays should only be sung by Perry Como, and All I Want For Christmas Is You should only be sung by Mariah Carey. Yes, I know I’m picky when it comes to Christmas music. But hey, if I’m gonna listen to it for a month it needs to be done by the original artist.
The other peculiar thing about Christmas music down here in the Florida panhandle is that at midnight December 25 all Christmas music stops. Completely. It’s almost like someone flipped a big cosmic switch and the music goes back to the Top 100.
We still manage to have our special Christmas Eve dinner; we still attend Midnight Mass; and we still raise our faces towards heaven as we leave church, half expecting to see a snow flake yet knowing that won’t happen when the temperatures are still in the 40s. The drive home gives us a final glimpse of the Christmas light displays (don’t forget – 24 hours later they’ll probably be turned off). And when we return home in the wee hours of the morning, we still turn to each other and say “Merry Christmas”.