I don’t suppose I am alone in this, but I must have spent countless hours listening to the advice my Mama offered me—things like wearing clean, non-raggedy underclothes, just in case I was ever in an accident or eating my vegetables so I wouldn’t get rickets or scurvy. But the one piece of advice that seemed the most important to my Mama was that one should never ever begin celebrating Christmas until after the Thanksgiving dishes were washed and put back into the cupboards.
Because of the way she always said this last maxim, I was certain we needed to comply, or the earth might stop spinning if we didn’t. Just imagine, then, how she reacted when the Jacksonville city fathers had the Christmas holiday decorations put up on the lampposts during the August heat of 1959.
It was August 11, 1959, to be exact, when a Florida Times-Union article stirred up a heated conversation at our breakfast table. Leo Jansen, a chairman of the Jacksonville Downtown Council, had arranged for several decorations manufacturers to display their products on Hogan Street. A photograph showed a workman on a large ladder putting some gaudy tinsel circles with star centers on a street light. He was in shirt sleeves, and palm trees swayed in the hot summer sultriness behind him.
“I cannot believe it!” Mama cried as she put her coffee cup down with a loud clink. “What are these men thinking?”
“Now, Honey,” my father said as he hardly looked up from the Sports page, “they are just checking them out before they purchase anything.”
“Well, for $17,500, these things better be made out of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Can you believe it? This is preposterous!”
As she rumbled on about greed and sacrilege, she inadvertently sent me into a reverie of Christmastime and all the delights that season entailed. Despite the fact that it was already 85 degrees out at seven in the morning, Kuhn’s Flowers Christmas window displays filled my visions with elves and reindeer. I could just see the artificial snow covered with red poinsettias, huge evergreen Christmas trees, and I could almost see the sparkling lights that mesmerized children into open-mouthed silence.
This memory sent me into remembering the taste of the almond cookies Mama always baked at Christmas. This led to the smells of the season—of turkeys and pies and pine trees in the Christmas tree lots where we always got our tree for the holidays. And soon I found my thoughts Downtown with its promised tinseled streetlights, and its department store windows with their promises of Christmas treasure—Ivey’s, Furchgott’s and Cohen’s—each did its part to make the time festive and lucrative. They filled their windows with snowflakes and colorful shiny ornaments along with so much merchandise our little brains nearly exploded at all the possibilities. Cohen’s went so far as to decorate one window showing every desirable toy any child could want—planes, trains, dolls, dollhouses, and bikes. We all pressed our little faces to the glass and dreamed our dreams of finding these things under our Christmas tree.
These thoughts led me to recall my family riding around in the old Ford one holiday night and looking at the yard decorations of everyone else. We oohed and aahed over the glory of the lights and splendor of the colors. Even once we sang as many Christmas carols as we could recall. And we sang them loudly, laughing all the way. It was a special memory for me.
“Why’s it so bad to be Christmas-y in August?” I broke into the middle of my mother’s ranting.
“Because, it turns a religious time into a circus, that’s why!”
I realized for the first time that Mama was unusually hot about this issue, so I backed down and was satisfied with her incomprehensible answer.
“But, what if seeing the decorations made people get happy and made them have a Christmas-spirit?” my much younger little sister, Katie asked.
There was a short, pensive moment, and I began to fear the worst.
“Oh, Baby, it just isn’t done, that’s all. Besides, if we celebrate Christmas all the time, then it would stop being so special. It would seem like any other day.”
I’m not sure why, but peace suddenly descended upon our breakfast table. The oscillating fan in the background purred us cool, and Mama resigned herself to politics and the inevitable steamroller of commercialism through her special Christmastimes. I was just thankful that there was no mention in the article of when they were to take the decorations down. It had better be before New Years or we would all be doomed.