In our little country house in the sopping-wet Willamette valley winter, heat radiated from the woodstove as my mother rubbed a cast-iron pan back and forth upon it, one hand holding a lid down tight to make popcorn the old-fashioned way. I’d lay on the floor and play with the cat, listening to my mom’s old vinyl record “A Christmas Carol”, featuring Lionel Barrymore as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Mom would tie little bundles of cinnamon sticks with red and silver ribbon, nestling them among the boughs of the tree. She would press cloves into oranges, covering their entire surface to make pomander balls. I lit candles, and an old kerosene lamp, and mom put up Christmas cards from the thirties and forties all over the house. We always had a real tree trimmed with old-fashioned ornaments, and a wreath upon the door. My mother’s holiday aesthetic was a fusion of country-living, bohemian, and vintage.
We’d always open one present on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we’d go to church, sometimes not. Every year we’d drive around the well-decorated neighborhoods looking at light displays and singing carols together in the car. Then, on Christmas Day, it was off to my great-grandparents old farmhouse, over the hill and through the valley, where I would feast, play, and listen to the way old people talk to each other.