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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Year of Wonky Christmas Traditions, part 2

You might want to start by reading the first part of the short story “Year of Wonky Christmas Traditions”. This is the second part. Printable version: www.zidao.com/tradition2.doc

Traditions Found

Lindsay MacGregor suddenly realized that, through the old walls of the museum and its heavy closed doors and tightly shuttered windows, he could hear the bells of Christmas, from one church and then another, and another. A discordant if joyful chiming and ringing it was, that startled him from his glumness.

At this point, we might imagine that an angel visits and poor Lindsay suddenly finds religion. Or he might decide to retire to the Bahamas and leave someone else to deal with the tea heiress’s fortune in cards. Then again, maybe she will show up again and fall madly in love with him and they will open the world’s largest Christmas mall, in newly consumerized Moscow.

Card cataloguer

Life is often mundane, and MacGregor did what most people do when faced with the unexpected, especially their own unexpectedly strong emotions. He retreated into what he knew best, taking comfort from it. He began to catalogue.

Lindsay worked far into the night before he made himself a nice cup of tea. It was an excellent Darjeeling, no milk added, which (he chuckled to himself) would have shocked his mother. His dentist, also a Scot, named Dr. Risk, had once warned him that milk made tea stains linger on teeth. Lindsay was not a proud man but he had always thought his teeth were one of his better features. And he was fond of Dr. Risk, who had counselled strong brandy rather than pharmaceutical painkillers, after pulling two wisdom teeth.

Tea without milk

The break with traditional Scots tea reminded him of what had set off his cataloguing frenzy and he rushed back to the rear storage room. What a sight! There were still cartons and crates of cards that had tipped over and not yet been righted. Small trains of neatly banded and identified sets of cards were lined up, coming out from the walls. It looked, he thought with pleasure, like the giant train stockyards to the west of Lausanne. He had once been surprised to overhear a child say to her mother on the train that the massed trains were scary. He found the orderliness of them quite beautiful.

He took a deep breath and returned to his task. Christmas cards, he had quickly realized once his panic subsided, fell into categories. He had begun with the Christmas tree cards and the Santa Claus cards, but then subsets rapidly appeared: German and Scandinavian Father Christmas cards where the old man often wore green, were lined up before the American Santa cards, where the Coca Cola-inspired fat jolly man wore red. And here there was a subset of Santas on rooftops, Santas on chimneys and Santas with bags of presents.

Christmas cards galore

Then there were the cards with bells, the religious cards with dozens and dozens of subsets, from manger scenes to holy family nativities to the enormous sub-set of angels.

The joke cards and the ones in bad taste took less time because Lindsay was not tempted to pause and look at them, as he did with some. He had particularly liked one group in the African sub-set, with cards painted in colors that seemed strange in mid-winter. The Western cowboy ones were peculiar, but he supposed that on a ranch, people did celebrate Christmas, and they probably wore spurs and tall hats.

Light was seeping through an old window at the back of the house, one that no one had bothered to repair because the museum’s treasures did not deem this level of security necessary. Daylight, he realized, came very late on December 25. It was time to go home.

Ye olde English carole

He looked around in satisfaction and as he did, the words to an old English carol flowed smoothly into his mind. “Luly, lulay, thou little tiny child, by-by Luly lulay.”

He sat down in astonishment. More songs poured into his head, verses and verses that he had not heard or remembered for years. He closed his eyes and the smell of Christmas cake came to him. Around it wove his father’s pipe smoke, Prince Edward tobacco from a tall thin tin box with the lid he loved to pop off and smell when Father dozed. The neighbors came singing on Boxing Day evening. The little table by the door held sweets he had helped his mother make, and he would offer the tray round to the singers.

At some point Lindsay slept, stretched out on the floor with his head resting on a box of patchwork Christmas cards from Tennessee. When he woke up, three things were immediately clear: he would write down every family tradition that he remembered, and there were now many of them. He would write them on the backs of his favourite cards, plucked from the tea heiress’s treasure trove – and he would love the naughtiness of doing something that went against all his training. Then he would mail the cards to his children, telling each that the other had a matching one, and they must get together often, if not every year, and share the cards, and remember the traditions.

Taking the wonky out of Christmas

Lindsay MacGregor was about to send the first Christmas cards of his life, he realized. What a wonderful joke I’m playing on myself, chuckled the man who didn’t love Christmas hoopla.

But a better joke awaited him at the door, as he turned the heavy old key to go home, leaving the museum silent for Christmas morning.

“Bonnes fêtes!” called out the young girl who carried special delivery letters. “I didn’t think I would find anyone here today!”

He studied the envelope for a moment after she was gone, puzzled. It was sent express, special delivery, but it bore a date three weeks earlier, as if the sender has asked in advance for it to be rushed to the museum on Christmas Day.

A perfectly white card

Inside was a plain white card, but as he looked more closely it had an embossed cup of tea next to a present, on a small table with a Christmas tree. “I hope by now you will understand,” said the elegant handwriting with tall letters and many thin loops, on the inside of the card. “People were astonished to learn that I collected Christmas cards when I would say that I had never sent one in all my life. In my family, this would not have been acceptable. Just once, one time only, I wanted to be free to send a card. And one day I realized that while I had never sent one in all my life, I could send one in my death, to the one person who might enjoy it, the curator of my collection!

“And so I have gone to the grave laughing with pleasure. This is the only chance I will have to ask you to pick out a few of your favourites, without worrying that they belong to the collection. You might even want to send some of them. It’s a temptation we should not resist!”

the end


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