"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Three Christmas Traditions Your Holidays Probably Don’t Include

1.  The Stocking Tree
I grew up in a house without a fireplace.  It wasn’t a problem—we just left the back door unlocked for Santa.  But, without a chimney by which to hang our stockings with care, we had to improvise.  Since we didn’t have a mantle, we had a stocking tree.

It’s just a fence post, painted green, on a platform of wood, with a dozen bent nails sticking out of it, but it has been in my family longer than I have, and I love it.  Seeing the stocking tree always make me feel like Christmas is really here.

2.  Catching the Mistletoe

Mistletoe, that naughty little holiday plant, grows in the trees in my parents’ front yard.  Much like the existence of the stocking tree, this was something I took for granted when I was a kid.  Some years it grows in abundance, and some years it’s more scarce, but never a Christmas goes by that we don’t have at least a little mistletoe to cut down and hang over doorways in the house. * 

Mistletoe itself may not be an unusual holiday tradition, but the way we collect it is.  My dad stands in the front yard and cuts the bunch of mistletoe down with his saw-on-a-long-pole-tool (I am thirty-seven years old and I still don’t know what that thing is called) while I stand beneath the cluster of leaves and berries and “catch it” as it falls. 


I don’t know why this job has always been mine.  I don’t remember there being a tryout or an apprenticeship of any sort.  I just know that, for as far back as I can remember, I’ve been expected to catch the mistletoe.  The position can’t be based on talent either because, sadly, I’m not very good at it.  I tend to close my eyes just before the moment of impact and then hear the poor plant hit the ground or else feel a shower of poisonous berries bounce off my head.  No matter.  There’s always enough to salvage.  A little mistletoe goes a long way and the kisses are just as sweet even when the mistletoe is a little squished.

* Mistletoe is actually quite poisonous to dogs.  We never worried too much about it, since we hang it well out of reach of the pets, but after my puppy ended up at the ER two Christmas Eves ago presenting symptoms similar to those of mistletoe poisoning, we no longer bring it in the house.  Better safe than sorry where the furry loved ones are concerned.

3.  The Christmas Poem

In 1997, finding myself without stocking stuffers to give my family, I wrote my own version of Clement C. Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” (originally titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas”).  
The poem was set in our own home and full of familial silliness and inside jokes.  I printed ten copies, rolled them up, tied them with ribbon, and stuffed them in the stockings.  When we opened gifts that year, everyone got a kick out of my poem and asked me to read it aloud.  And right there, another tradition was born. 
The following year, my brother wrote one.  Then Cousin Kelley.  Then my mom.  Then my sister-in-law.  In the sixteen years that have passed since that first spontaneous verse, almost every member of the family has contributed a poem or a story.  Some years we have quite a few to share.

My brother and his son (bottom right corner) making the
exact same pensive expression as I read my 2007 poem.

The majority of the poems still follow the original idea—personalized parodies of “The Night Before Christmas”.   But sometimes we venture out into other forms.  They almost always rhyme and they almost always contain one particularly bad rhyme or pun that makes the whole family groan.  (In the years when my brother writes them, there is significantly more groaning.)  And, though these poems wouldn’t win any prizes for literary merit, we all smile and laugh and sometimes even shed a tear or two as we huddle in the living room together listening to the latest one.  All gifts remain unopened until the Christmas poem has been read.

Most of the poems wouldn’t make any sense to non-Kinder-related types, but since I’ve just described tradition #2, here’s the poem I wrote in 2007, titled “Mistletoe”.  Please forgive all the liberties I took with the word “’Twas”. 


‘Twas eight days till Christmas
2009 -- It was seventy degrees.
The hat and gloves are just for show.
And, of course, ‘twas no snow—
The air was quite warmish,
The sun all aglow.

Dad said, “Wanna get some mistletoe?”
I said, “Not right now, no.”

‘Twas six days till Christmas
And no clouds did show—
The sky was pure blue;
Birds soared in a row.

Dad said, “ How ‘bout the mistletoe?”
I said, “Nah, later on though.”

‘Twas four days till Christmas
And still ‘twas no snow,
Yet the sky darkened eerily,
And the wind began to blow.

Dad said, “Let’s get some mistletoe.”
2007 -- That is a BIG bunch of
mistletoe about to fall on me.
I said, “Maybe after I watch this show.”

‘Twas two days till Christmas
And the temp dropped so low
That the wind chill felt
Like nineteen below.

Dad said, “It’s time to get the mistletoe.”
I said, “It’s thirty-one degrees, you know.” *
“Well, we should have done this a week ago.”
I glanced out the window and said, “Uh oh.”

Covered in mittens and scarves and a hat,
I shifted my shivering feet to and fro.
Even through two sweaters, it was obvious that
The wind, to my skin, was able to blow.

Dad, with his pole with a saw on the end,
Scanned the hackberry tree for good mistletoe.
If ever I had thought to call it my friend,
1997 -- Dad lets me try using the
saw-on-a-pole.  It didn't go well.
This white-berried plant was now surely my foe.

Dad touched the tool to several large clumps,
Asking, “This one? Or that?” in a manner so slow
While I, in a frigid numb popsicle grump,
Stood in a silent, stiff, opinionless woe.

When finally the ”perfect” cluster was chosen
And Mom was summoned, camera in tow,
Dad ignored the state of my hands (they were frozen)
And issued the warning, “Look out below!”

The saw blade high in the treetop went snick
I dutifully stuck out my arms, and then… D’oh!
Just as Mom’s camera flashed and went click
I felt the cold bundle bounce off my toe.

Nothing was ruined, no harm had been done;
The plant was salvaged and tied with a bow.
I posed with my prize as if I had won
1989  :)
While another picture was taken for show.

So lovers who savor a kiss to bestow
‘Neath this romantic shrub, I want you to know
That more toil and sweat that you’d imagine can go
Into obtaining a bough of mistletoe.

* Remember, this is Texas.  Thirty-one degrees is COLD here.

Happy Holidays, everyone.  Remember to enjoy the little things.


  1. Aww, this makes me miss you. I love your traditions!! How unique and special for your family.

    -Jessica G. (b/c I can never properly log in through Google)

  2. We used to go up to Michigan for our Christmas tradition but even that has gone to the wayside. No traditions for the Chorns. In case you wanted to know, it's called a polesaw.