This time of year, there is a flood of Christmas advice coming at us. Ways to celebrate. Ideas for honoring the season. Suggestions on the best foods for the holidays. Magazine articles on how to survive the shopping madness. Guidelines for what to do and what not to do in order to make sure you have the best Christmas possible.
I thought I should chime in. Nothing fancy, mind you. I have no credentials for giving this kind of advice. A monkey has more decorating sense than I have. I know next to nothing about making magic in the kitchen unless you consider loading the dishwasher to be a holiday skill.
Still, I’m willing to take a shot at it. I have experience to draw upon. I have hair the color of Santa’s. I’ve lived through more than a few decades of Christmas. So, why not?
Let’s get started:
The Christmas tree should never be put up before Thanksgiving. I’m a little late offering this piece of advice for some of you, but you are absolutely forgiven if you got sucked in by the ridiculous retail push to start Christmas in October.
The first acceptable date for bringing in the tree is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Honestly, it’s better to wait until the first Saturday in December. In the old days some trees were not decorated until Christmas Eve, though, in my opinion, only a Scrooge would wait that long.
Also, one tree is sufficient. Maybe one in the living room and one in the front yard. But no one actually lives in the Hallmark town of Maple Valley Cedar Falls Evergreen where every tree within a 10-mile radius is perfectly decorated.
Selecting the perfect tree requires no skill. All 300 trees on the lot look exactly alike. Height is the only thing that matters. If you have to cut the top out in order to get the angel where she belongs, you are spatially challenged and have no idea how tall your ceiling is.
Tinsel is still a valid Christmas tree ornament. Drape over the branches in small clumps or, if you’re OCD, drape each tinsel strand piece by piece. If you start now, you should be done by Christmas eve.
I prefer the stand-back-and-toss method myself. Straighten, tweak, pick up and toss again as necessary until done.
Above all, once Christmas is over, do not attempt to save and store the tinsel for next year. This is a disposable product.
On to the kitchen:
Fruitcake is the official cake of the holidays. The fruit that makes the best fruitcake is whiskey. Not too much, though. Delete the whiskey if taking your fruitcake to the church Christmas party. If you cannot make one, buy a Claxton’s Fruitcake. Add your own brew as needed and let set for two days.
The Christmas big meal almost always looks exactly like the Thanksgiving meal. We are still eating turkey sandwiches, so please cook something different. Shrimp and grits comes to mind.
Cookie baking should begin early. It is perfectly acceptable to start making cookies in September and simply continue straight through the holidays. Memorial Day is a good holiday to use as a cut-off point.
Always make more batter than needed so that beaters can be licked, and bowls can be scrapped with a spoon. All cookies are good with an ample dusting of powdered sugar.
To store your cookies, use all 47 cookie tins that you own, most of which you inherited from your mother and grandmother. Do not label the tins. Hunting the right cookie you want is a holiday game enjoyed by thousands.
Anything made with Eagle Brand Condensed Milk is heaven. Use it liberally.
Advice to kids:
Kitchen utensils are a tried-and-true idea for little boys that want to give something nice to mama. She may already have an electric can opener, but because you are her sweet little man, she will love yours better than the one your dad gave her last year.
Grandmothers love socks and underwear that your mom will buy for you to give to her. Grandfathers love Old Spice. All Grandpas should feel the freshness of the open sea and smell like they just whistled their way home from a long voyage.
Dads can always use a new set of screwdrivers. His have been used as punches and chisels and pry bars. Half of the ones he does own are lost under the seat of his truck or hiding in the kitchen junk drawer.
Siblings. Always buy your brother or sister something you like. That way, if they don’t like it, at least you’ll have something you can play with.
Do not give up on the joy of gift wrapping. Paper, ribbon and bows are the stuff of the true Christmas spirit. The flimsy dollar store gift bags are for lazy people who have sold their soul to last minute desperation.
Neatly folded ends and edges are not necessary. Nobody inspects the alignment of your folds before ripping the paper apart.
Use only minimal Scotch Tape. We are not preparing presents to withstand gale force winds.
The tape rule does not apply to brothers who are wrapping gifts for their siblings. Use the entire role of tape if necessary to prevent easy access.
Keep a pocketknife handy in case the exception to the tape rule is invoked.
Presents given between family members should be opened on Christmas Eve as soon after supper as possible. Do not wait for the kitchen to be cleaned up. The dishes can wait.
Christmas morning is reserved for presents from Santa which do not need to be wrapped. These presents magically appear during the night after all children have gone to bed. Some assembly at 2am may be required, but only by qualified Elves.
Be aware that some presents purchased by eager shoppers in August may or may not make it to the Christmas frenzy. It is not unusual for some presents to show up while spring cleaning in the back closet. Save these for next year.
Keeping the decorations up until the New Year is totally acceptable. Keeping the decorations up until February or March or June is not.
Strings of Christmas lights are meant to be balled up and dropped in a box. Do not attempt to put lights back into the original packing. Save all lights for the next 30 years whether they work or not.
Used Christmas trees make good fish cover when tied to a cinder block and dropped in the fishpond. They also make for a great outdoor bonfire for about 30 seconds.
Keep all bags of Christmas paper and boxes for at least two weeks before disposal. You may need to dig through them for those instructions you swore you would not need.
And finally, eat the last of the fruitcake before it ferments.
There you have it. Rules to live by over the Christmas holidays.
The primary rule, however, is to enjoy every single moment.
The years go by way too fast.