‘Tis the Season
Long before Instagram and Pinterest there was Sunset Magazine. If you lived on the West Coast in the 1960’s and ‘70’s Sunset was your Bible for all things home, garden and kitchen. At our house, my father looked forward to the monthly delivery like a kid looks forward to Christmas.
You see, my father loved to build and cook. And Sunset was his muse. The magazine once published an authentic, historical recipe for bird’s nest soup for a Chinese New Year menu and Dad drove all the way from Sacramento to Chinatown in San Francisco to purchase a real, edible bird’s nest.
You see, more than anything, my father loved to celebrate a holiday. Be it Easter, Fourth of July or that Chinese New Year, Dad was all over it. When the Granddaddy of holidays rolled around, he could barely contain his excitement.
Our family was the first to arrive at the Christmas tree farm on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The poor tree farmer barely had his cash box out before Dad chopped down the biggest tree he could find and dragged it up to the counter. We hauled the tree home, chopped off about three feet from the bottom (Dad always overestimated how high our ceilings were) and set it up. Then we decorated it, unpacked the Nativity scene and we were ready for Santa.
My mother spent the next five weeks or so monitoring the hydration of the poor tree. She kept the windows open in the family room to keep it cool. She watered it twice daily. For some reason, she gave it an aspirin. Try as she might, come Christmas Day the tree was always one shorted bulb away from going up in flames. She hauled it to the curb herself every December 26.
Initially our Christmas décor was simple.
Then Sunset sang the praises of the artificial Christmas trees and our simple décor was over. Dad realized that he could put up an artificial tree before Thanksgiving and leave it up until the Wise Men finally showed up- sometime around the Super Bowl. Sunset didn’t help matters when they praised the many colors available for the fancy fake trees. Dad was particularly taken with the photo of the pink tree decked out with lime green ornaments.
I wasn’t privy to the discussions between my parents regarding a fake tree. Suffice it to say, when the fancy new tree was finally purchased, it was as close to a natural green color as possible. Still, Dad was thrilled and he spent hours hand-tying tiny white lights to the branches because Sunset had declared the traditional multi-color bulbs to be obsolete.
Once we had the modern new tree, Sunset upped the ante on other Christmas décor. Dad took the bait and before we knew it, our sweet little Nativity scene was demoted. Dad went to work painting a mural on plywood that depicted downtown Bethlehem from back in the day. There was a decidedly Middle Eastern theme with rounded mosque roofs, a stable and a slightly alarmed looking baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Dad painted the sky navy blue and then drilled holes to insert those little white lights because they looked like stars. He installed the mural on the mantle above the fireplace. Then following Sunset’s instructions, he constructed three Wise Men out of papier-mâché and made robes for them out of felt.
The whole effect was pretty impressive. Unfortunately it was top heavy and regularly fell to the floor scaring the daylights out of the dogs.
Dad would have loved the Christmas décor that is available today. I suspect he would have embraced Pinterest and had a following on Instagram. His enthusiasm for whimsy was unsurpassed. In my dad’s opinion, Disneyland didn’t decorate nearly enough.
My father passed away in 1986 and not a Christmas has gone by that I don’t remember his holiday spirit. In his honor this year, I will put up six trees and two Nativity scenes.
The photo above is of Dad and me on my very first Christmas ever…along with one of the dogs. From my home to yours…I wish you the happiest and brightest Christmas ever!
M.A. Simonetti is the author of the Malibu Mystery Series which features Alana Fox who is no Spring Chicken. You can purchase the books here.