When my family returned home from our day in the country on Thanksgiving, the afternoon was nearly spent, with long shadows inching up the lawn as the sun slowly slipped toward the horizon. By the time I leashed our terrier for his evening walk, the neighborhood was mostly quiet and dark, except for a constellation of lights in a yard down the block. It seemed as if the Milky Way had dropped from the night sky and draped itself across doorposts and shrubbery, with hundreds of twinkles decorating the landscape. The shiny display came from a neighbor who had already trimmed his place for Christmas. Long strands of bulbs hung from hedges and gutters, a festival of brilliance that announced a page had turned from Thanksgiving to yuletide.
While my dog sniffed the sidewalk, lifted his leg and anointed the curb, I surveyed a set of electric candy canes, one bearing the message, “Let it snow.”
As a lifelong child of the South, I’ve long since given up on dreaming of a white Christmas. Holidays become more pleasant, I’ve found, when one is able to manage expectations. I won’t expect snow this year, although I’ll feel relieved if the weather is cold enough to frost my breath as I hang a wreath on my front door. Even that small wish might prove too ambitious. My memories include several muggy Decembers in south Louisiana when hunting for the perfect Christmas tree also required us to swat away mosquitoes.
I wasn’t quite ready to let go of Thanksgiving as my dog and I stood in front of those holiday lights and considered our prospects for snow. But I knew that in several stores around town, Christmas sales had already started as merchants and shoppers got a jump on Black Friday.
Like most men, I’m allergic to shopping, a condition best managed over the years by two simple rules for the holidays. I don’t participate in Black Friday, and I don’t shop on Christmas Eve — two days on the calendar best left for diehard customers.
As a newspaperman, I depend on the advertising sustained by a healthy retail economy to pay my salary. When the streets clog with commerce each December, I know that the traffic I see is the lifeblood of my bottom line.
But in coming days, as intersections clot with cars and the boulevard near the shopping mall grinds to a crawl, I’ll be thinking of the milder drive our family took on Thanksgiving when we headed to Bunkie to visit the in-laws of my in-laws.
The trip took us across rural roads that we rarely shared with anyone else. Long ribbons of asphalt, occasionally occupied by a passing pick-up, stretched for miles between fields used at various times for sugar cane and soybeans.
The uneventful drive struck a keynote for an equally quiet holiday weekend. It was the kind of respite that the holidays promise but rarely deliver, as we board the rollicking roller coaster that takes us to the end of another year.