Check me out at the Kendallville Mall:

http://www.4countymall.com/mark-hunter---slightly-off-the-mark/im-dreaming-of-an-evergreen-christmas-slightly-off-the-mark

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

When we put up the Christmas tree last year, our dog became very puzzled.

“Dude, there are all kinds of trees surrounding this house already. Seriously, just come outside with me next time. Mind the yellow snow.”

Amazingly, he said all that with a glance.

If you take an objective, dog-like look at America’s Christmas traditions, you quickly realize we’re a little crazy. We bring a tree inside; we haul electric lights outside. People who refuse to listen to music that’s not still in the top 40 happily sing carols that were written by people who thought the Earth was flat.

(It’s a sphere; just thought I’d throw that in.)

And we celebrate Christmas on December 25th, even though most experts agree Jesus was actually born in the spring. Why? Because it’s close to the shortest day of the year. What else are you going to do in late December? Go to the beach? Get that garden in? Take a road trip to Buffalo, New York?

I doubt very much if Jesus would care when we celebrate His birthday, especially since the truly important Christmas holiday is Easter. By then the days are much longer, so we don’t need the pick-me-up.

The Christmas tree is one of the most interesting and puzzling aspects of Christmas decorating. It’s also big business: Trees in all fifty states are grown for the express purpose of being chopped down in a celebration of life. I used to drive through an area of Michigan that had more trees than Indiana has deer on the roads.

The origins of that tradition make sense, though: In ancient times, anything that stayed green all through winter held special significance. Without evergreens, people in past winters would sometimes completely forget what color was. It was like being stuck in a 50’s TV show, without the laugh track.

Evergreen boughs, hung over doors and windows, were reminders that spring would return. They also helped keep away witches and evil spirits, and as a bonus could be garnished with garlic to fight off vampires. So far as I know, they did nothing against banshees or marauding politicians.

But it was the Germans who, with ruthless efficiency, decided to just bring the whole darned tree inside. Martin Luther added lighted candles to the tree, bringing us the Christmas tradition of homes burning down.

Christmas trees didn’t come to America until the 1830’s, when German settlers arrived with the tradition. Naturally, the neighbors were curious:

“So Hans, why did your house burn down?”

“Oh, I brought a tree inside and hung candles on it.”

“No, seriously.”

A lot of Americans were against anything like carols and trees anyway. People in New England got fined for hanging decorations, although it was legal to hang witches, as long as you didn’t decorate them.

Then, in 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (of “in the can” fame) were seen standing around a Christmas tree. Suddenly it was all in fashion, even though hanging witches didn’t catch on at all. They were often decorated with popcorn, berries, and nuts, a great idea to guard against food shortages. (The trees, not the witches.) Rodents were a problem. (With the trees. Well, maybe both.)

Then, in 1850, Christmas trees went up for sale commercially in the United States. Next thing you know the early version of Wal-Mart, then known as “Mart”, got ahold of it, and the rest is history. They went up in Rockefeller Center, at the White House, and in Woodinville, Washington, where a 122 foot tall, 91 year old Douglas fir does not get cut down every year.

I like that idea, of leaving the Christmas trees alive. I don’t like the idea of going outside in December to look at them, so never mind. Besides, since 77 million Christmas trees are planted each year in an industry that employs a hundred thousand people, closing the business down would result in an unhappy holiday for many.

I used to love having a live tree. The wonderful scent, the look of it. Then I grew up, and after that I loved it for three days: From after it was up until it started dropping needles.

There’s a reason they’re called needles.

Now I have an artificial tree. I love my artificial tree. It looks exactly like a real tree if you squint a little, and I’ve never had to tweeze a single needle out of my foot. The dog, while still puzzled, doesn’t harass it. It has never burst into flames, not even for me, and I can break anything.

It doesn’t dry out, or spoil, and I don’t have to dispose of it every season. It’s durable and doesn’t wear out for years.

It’s a lot like fruitcake.

Ah, but that’s another puzzling tradition.

My wife and I sometimes confuse Christmas with Valentine's Day, but a tree's a tree.

 

 

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

 

            This time of year, as leaves turn to glorious multicolor, steamy hot days of summer vanish, and autumn decorations go up, I can often be found … crying.

 

            But it seems everyone else can be found at harvest festivals.

 

            Harvest fests, as you might imagine, are annual celebrations that take place around the time of the harvest. Makes sense. This would be the harvest of food crops, you understand, not the biannual politician harvest that’s often rotten, anyway.

 

            Ancient people celebrated the harvest every year because they didn’t like starvation. That was pretty much it. Why else celebrate fall? Did the hunter/gatherers look at each other and say, “Oh, look! The sun is disappearing—we might freeze to death again this year. Let’s party!”

 

            They did not.

 

            But possibly the only thing worse than freezing to death is freezing to death while hungry. They were happy to wrest a few grains away from the bugs and birds, so they could fill the storehouses with boxes of Pre-Ricestoric Crispies and Frosted By Next Month Flakes.

 

            “Good news, honey—we won’t have to eat the kids this year.”

 

            “Oh, good. Now, about that vacation trip across the land bridge …”

 

           

My home town has a harvest fest in mid-September, and at first glance that doesn’t seem to make sense. Remember, Thanksgiving was originally about being thankful for the harvest, and that’s in November. Unless you’re in Canada, in which case it’s earlier and more polite. (“Do you mind terribly if we take your land and give you smallpox? Thank you so much.”) )

 

            At second glance, harvest festivals in Europe often took place near the Harvest Moon, which is indeed near the autumn equinox, which this year is September 22nd. I know, because for me it’s a day of mourning. It marks that time of year when we get those aforementioned beautiful colors, apple cider, hay rides, cursing over faulty thirty year old home heating systems, covering your entire home with plastic, sobbing into your heating bills …

 

            Where was I?

 

            So, it’s not unusual at all for harvest fests to come at the same time as Albion’s, which this year is September 20th and 21st.  I’m okay with that, because there’s at least a chance that the weather will still be warm enough to actually want to go outside to a harvest fest. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you know you’re going to be having your holiday indoors, and that you should have your snow boots ready, just in case.

 

            You know what’s a crazy holiday? Halloween.

 

            “Hey, there’s frost on the pumpkin—literally! Let’s dress up in costumes that we’ll have to hide under winter coats, then go running around the neighborhood until we’re so cold we have to pour the hot chocolate over our hands so we can thaw them enough to open the candy!”

 

            Talk about a transition period. I still don’t understand why these controversial sexy adult Halloween costumes ever got popular outside of southern California. “Ooh, your pasty-white skin and uncontrollable shivering are so hot! I mean, not literally hot …”

 

            The local harvest fests generally come before that, but after the August days when you can’t walk in the streets because your shoes melt. They also give us a chance to spend a weekend ignoring that storm of hot wind-blown bull scat, otherwise known as election season. But there’s one problem I always had with September harvests fests:

 

            Did anyone ask the harvesters?

 

            Places like England, where harvest festivals date back to pagan times, have shorter growing seasons, so maybe the harvest was over by then. But here in Indiana, there are still a lot of crops in the field at that point. I mean, Albion’s Harvest Fest has a corn maze. This requires corn.

 

            Corn crops have to stay up for some time, to provide cover for deer as they lie in wait to jump out in front of innocent cars. Now, I’ve never been a farmer,  because I don’t like to work hard. And I’ll grant you, there’s no time of the year when there’s no work for farmers to do. But if we’re going to celebrate a harvest, shouldn’t there be a harvest, first?

 

            Maybe this is a break time, giving them a chance to celebrate what they already picked, and rest up for the harvesting to come. Maybe the corn isn’t ready, and they’ve already finished picking from the apple, cake, and lunchbox trees.

 

            What? I told you I’m not a farmer. Maybe the lunchboxes grow underground.

 

A wagon ride tour of Albion at the harvest fest in, yes, Albion.

 

My daughter, son-in-law, and grand-twins a few years ago at the Albion Harvest Fest ... the kids are about twice this age, now.

 

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