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Decking the halls with boughs of holy

Jeffrey Bergeron

When my mother would pack the Christmas decorations after the holidays, they would rest in an old cardboard box in our attic. Before she sealed up that box she would include a note to my father that was not to be opened until the trimming of the tree the following year. She did this for the 50 years that they were married. The subject of these letters was a much-speculated topic for my siblings and me. My sisters assumed steamy love notes; my brothers hoped they were a written reminder of potential presents that might be included under next year’s tree. Come to find out, they were neither. Many years later, I found one, torn and faded and written on stationary that had a log cabin in the woods with smoke coming out of the chimney printed on it. The dispatch I saw was little more than a recap of the holidays and a year-in-review. My uncle’s death and sister’s first date were treated with an equal importance. She declared her delight of finally having a car of her own so she now didn’t have to borrow my Dad’s vehicle or take the bus to go shopping. A mention was made of the start of my formal education – kindergarten. But rather than comment on my God given gift with a crayon, my mum simply said it was nice to have the last of her six kids out of the house. The letter filled most of one page with mundane reflections, though at the very end, there was a veiled reference to romance. My mother wrote that though my father was out late playing poker, she was going to wait up for him with a cold beer and a hot hug. I would give anything to have the entire collection of my mum’s missives, but that one note is all that remains. No matter, I think it was a wonderful tradition, and I’ve kept that yearly practice in my own home. Well, actually since we don’t have a box of decorations, I put the note to my mate under our vacuum cleaner which she visits about once a year. My nephew just e-mailed me his Christmas list, it was two, double-spaced pages with the least expensive item coming in at 50 dollars. He specified “no books please,” and cc everyone in the family, encouraging us to communicate so as not to have any redundant bequests; how thoughtful. The cynic in me can’t help but compare the simple observations of my mother’s letter compared to my nephew’s want-list.Certainly, American parents today have a harder time imparting a healthy holiday message than during my childhood, when television had only three channels. The Messiah and “Peace on earth and good will to men” can pale in the eyes of a 10-year-old compared to Play Station and I-Pods. Moreover, Santa’s vengeance of coal in the stockings of bad boys and girls could be met by a law suit.But if the holiday origins have gotten slightly diluted, the traditions, many of a secular nature, can still reflect the best of the spiritual principles: peace, hope and charity. A dead tree, covered with electric lights and flammable ornaments, is a fire hazard. Does it make sense to bring those accelerants into your home, surround it with combustible wrapped packages? Maybe not, but even the most modest Christmas tree makes for better watching than television, and for me is a catalyst for reflection.Gifts are the best and worst aspects of the holidays. Yes, we often obsess, over indulge and anguish over what and who to give, but if done as a simple gesture of love and friendship, it can be beautiful; especially if the gifts you receive are more expensive than the gifts you give.Yes the holidays can be the lemon juice in the cut of an already busy time of year. But if taken in the context of its intention and origins, both Christian and Jew, it’s healthy reminder of positive priorities: Like my mother’s letter suggested it is often the simple things that have the most meaning.As for my nephew, I hope he likes “On the road” by Jack Kerouac. That book changed my life, perhaps it will change his.Jeffrey Bergeron under the alias of Biff America can be seen on RSN TV, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at biffbreck@yahoo.comBiff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


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