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Whittling Away: Traditions


By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

At last, the weather is below freezing and there are snowflakes flittering through the frosty air. Time to do the outdoor decorating for the Christmas season. 

Sure, I could have done it on that day when the thermometer touched 60, probably for the last time until May, but I’m not one to buck long-standing tradition. 

The idea of stringing lights when the temperature is warm enough that the wires are actually flexible is completely foreign to me. Give me the challenge of trying to untangle100 feet of frozen wire before frostbite makes your fingers stop functioning.

Nobody ever said I came from the deep end of the family gene pool.

Christmas traditions are all part of the memories that make the holiday so special. Most families have similar traditions, like there’s the one that involves at least one of the children getting ill on Christmas Eve. It never seems to last long or be too serious, but it usually includes a session of regurgitation. 

Another shared tradition is all parents seem to believe they’ve successfully hidden gifts in places where the children won’t be able to find them. There are no such places. As a former child, there was no place in the house that wasn’t scouted frequently. There’s a lot of beagle in the average small child. 

Another parental fallacy is that the packages will be safe from prying little eyes if they are wrapped before hiding them. The kid may not be able to tie his shoes, but when it comes to packages they have the skills of the best safe cracker. The package could be dusted for fingerprints and no evidence would be found, but your little one most likely had more than a little secret play time with whatever was supposedly securely wrapped.

Did you ever notice that most kids don’t need to be shown how to operate the contents of the present after they open it? How do you think they learned to work it? 

Nuts were another of our traditions. We never saw a nut in our household during the non-holiday portions of the year, other than an occasional bag of peanuts and they were already shelled. Christmas meant the nut bowl appeared from wherever it dwelled during the off-season. With it came its friends, the nut crackers and the nut picks. It was filled with real nuts, not the ready-to-eat kind but the kind still in their wrappers. 

Looking back I can see now that it was a parental ruse to keep us busy and out of their hair for a time. It takes the average 10-year-old about a week to crack and pick the meat out of a Brazil nut. 

When the new year arrived, the nut bowl disappeared until next Christmas, which may partly have been my fault. I discovered that if one inserted a sibling’s nose into a nut cracker and applied pressure, it was possible to get them to do almost anything I wished them to do. This never became one of our Christmas traditions since I could never get one of them to allow me to try it on them a second time. 

One of my favorite Christmas traditions was hanging the tinsel. Mom wouldn’t allow us to throw handfuls of the silver spaghetti onto the tree, it had to be placed one strand at a time so it hung straight like an artificial icicle should. Since I was the only child patient enough to do the job properly, the others went off to play while I spent time hanging tinsel. 

The tinsel wasn’t the foofy plastic stuff we have today; no, this was the genuine article made out of lead. I used to roll it into tight little balls and chuck them at the others or pop them into my mouth and bite on them. Thinking back, chewing lead could explain a lot that has happened to me.

Naw! Lead poisoning is a modern invention. Every toy I ever got for Christmas was covered in lead paint. The box of fishing tackle Santa gave me was full of lead sinkers.  The little kit to make toy soldiers had lead bars to melt down to make the soldiers.

Looks like one of our Christmas traditions involved things containing lead and Santa would never give us presents that wouldn’t be good for us. Would he?

Thought for the week — Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach columnist Dick Brooks at Whittle12124@yahoo.com.

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