Christmas trees are available now at lots and stores. When you shop for just the right tree for your home, take the kids along so they can receive a “learning experience” in selecting the ideal choice. Follow these hints:
● The tree should be cone-shaped with no bare spots, bright green in color.
● Bounce the tree against the ground and if needles fall off, don’t buy it.
● Bend a few branches down to see if they spring back.
● Make sure the tree has a fresh aroma, because this is what a live tree is all about.
● Check the cut end of the tree, which will tell you about how long it’s been since the tree was cut.
● Ask the folks at the tree lot to cut several inches from the bottom.
● When you get the tree home, soak it in a tub of water for 24 hours before anchoring it in its stand.
● Use a stand that will allow water to be added around the base of the tree.
● Never leave the tree lit when you are away from home.
● Be careful not to put presents too close to the tree (or on the branches).
The ugliest Christmas tree: Most people believe the Christmas tree decorated by the Peanuts gang on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was the ugliest of all. But the ugliest I ever saw was at a service station on Roanoke Avenue in the eastern North Carolina town of Roanoke Rapids in the 1950s. It was in a lot set up by local peddler Jesse Allen, who sold a little of everything including the kitchen sink. His Christmas sideline was selling red-heart cedars that he had harvested along the Roanoke River. (The tree of choice in eastern North Carolina at the time was cedar; mama said only rich people could afford fir and spuce.) One tree caught my eye: the one he had sprayed with pink paint. We kept watch every day after school to see if he had sold that pink tree, but on Christmas Eve I saw Jesse loading that tree on the back of his truck. It should have made its way to the Ugly Christmas Tree Hall of Fame!
Holiday flavors of ice cream: At this time of year Turkey Hill always features several fun flavors of their ice cream, such as Egg Nog, Pumpkin Pie, Peppermint Stick or Red Velvet Cake. I’ve always wondered why Turkey Hill has not produced a peanut brittle flavor in its array of Christmas specialties (Maybe this year!). I remember peanut brittle being very sticky. In our Christmas goodie bags, the peanut brittle was always stuck to the oranges and apples. Today’s peanut brittle is more refined, with a fine dusting of flour that keeps it from being so sticky. Some of America’s best is made by Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia, which is near the Peanut Capital of Suffolk, Virginia. Find it at Ingle’s, Food Lion, Dollar General and other markets. But be careful, as it’s very addictive!
Christmas candies from yesteryear: Some of the candies I grew up with have survived into the Christmases of today: chocolate cream drops, peanut brittle, orange slices, coconut macaroons, rainbow ribbons, peppermint sticks and gum drops. Many are only around at Christmas time. Chocolate Creme Drops can be found at this time of year in a variety of stores, including Dollar General. It has always been a Christmas tradition to have some of these cone-shaped dark chocolate drops around, especially knowing it’s available for only a limited time.
A stick of winter green, an orange, and a blanket on the front porch — what a wonderful way to celebrate the beginning of the season of Advent. The air on the front porch has a certain nip to it, but the sky is Carolina blue. A blanket helps warm us up as we enjoy a foretaste of Christmas with a stick of wintergreen stuck into an orange with a cup of coffee. The wintergreen has a special Christmas taste that reminds us of our grandma, who received oranges and stick of candy in the early 1900s in the backwoods of Northampton County. The simple things of life are important, especially as Christmas approaches and many folks complicate simplicity.
Smells from Grandma’s kitchen: Grandma’s kitchen was always warm – summer or winter – because of her large wood-burning range. She never “warmed up” food, as she always kept something in the large warmer built into the top. Coffee was always available, and biscuits or cornbread, too. At Christmas time, the mixture of aromas like hens roasting, collards, bread, cakes and pies not only filled the kitchen but the whole house. One scene of Christmas was the fresh smell of Florida tangerines, which were the main item in each goodie bag and also the treat bags given out at our church on the Sunday night before Christmas.
Buying a Christmas cactus: Christmas cactus are now plentiful in garden sections. December is the best time to purchase one because at this time of the year they should be in full bloom and you can choose the color you want. Plan on re-potting as soon as you get your cactus home, as it’s most likely already starting to get rootbound. Buy a larger container and a bag of cactus potting soil. Keep your cactus in a semi-sunny location, and lightly water every 7-10 days. Fertilize with Miracle-Gro cactus food every 15 days. Then in late April you can move your cactus outside to a porch or deck.
Remembering Pearl Harbor: Monday, Dec. 7, is the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Not only should we always remember the lives lost and families who suffered on that fateful “Day of Infamy,” we should resolve as a nation that we will never let our guard down or become complacent or apathetic. As I thought about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous speech to Congress, I was reminded that he urged Americans to celebrate Christmas even in that very difficult time. The president had the White House decorated as usual to set the example. (Someone once said that “a leader must not only be tactful but truthful,” and that was President Roosevelt.)
December Almanac: Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown. There will be a new moon on Monday, with the full moon late in the month, on Dec. 29, called the “Full Cold Moon.” Winter officially begins Dec. 21, and Christmas Day is on a Friday this year.