I took a stroll between the Christmas trees outside at the Capitol Market the day after Thanksgiving and felt a sense of dread.
There didn’t seem to be much of a selection. There was too much open space.
Usually, when I go shopping for Christmas trees, I want to feel like I’m lost in a magical winter forest. When needed, helpful elves in heavy metal T-shirts will appear out of nowhere and offer to strap the freshly cut tree of my choice to the top of my car or onto my own bare back, if that’s how I want it.
The cupboard looked a bit bare.
“Maybe I ought to come back later,” I thought, got a coffee and went home.
I wasn’t really tree shopping yet. The decorations were still in the attic, but I knew I wanted a fresh tree this year. In fact, after a couple of years with a plastic tree, I was leaning toward going back to live trees from now on.
Lots of people buy artificial trees because they see them as financially responsible or they like the convenience of just being able to drag the thing out whenever they want.
I like that, too. A few years ago, I decorated a tree in the middle of July because I thought it would cheer me up.
That mostly worked.
But no, I didn’t get my sort-of life-like Frazier because of the convenience or because I wanted to save money. I did it out of spite, after I became the only person in my house who cared about even having a tree.
Naturally, nobody cared, but I went ahead with dutifully decorating and quietly resenting this absurd illusion.
After I put the tree away last year, I thought I might’ve been done with it.
Part of me wanted to just take the ratty-looking box to the curb and let Waste Management haul it off to the landfill, where the Earth would slowly reclaim it in about a thousand years — or when most of us pay off our student loans.
Whichever comes first.
I just didn’t want to see it anymore.
By the end of 2020, I was sick of all things Christmas. The tree had been up for months, assembled and decorated one afternoon early in the year in defiance of growing despair.
The whimsy had worked, but whatever magic had been in its lush, petrochemical-based branches had faded. It hadn’t done much to brighten the season and it had been a cold, grey holiday in Charleston.
Christmas had been almost mournfully quiet — no holiday concerts, very little theater, no winter parades. I hadn’t been able to dance (artistically loiter onstage) with the Charleston Ballet for their “Nutcracker.”
There’d been no holiday symphony show, no Bob Thompson’s “Joy to the World” (For me, at least. They recorded one without an audience) and no singing Christmas carols with friends.
The best I’d managed was to make an ugly Christmas wreath that threatened to fall and brain the dog every time I opened the door too quickly, and several holiday fruit cakes.
The cakes were hit and misses. I made two good ones and one that tasted like a bottle of Jack Daniels stuffed with raisins and walnuts.
Christmas 2020 hadn’t been a season of joy, but with vaccines on the way, it was still a season of hope. Things were probably going to get better and when they did, I figured the next holiday would be bonkers.
Charleston did not let me down.
As the day-to-day concerns about the pandemic have faded from the forefront of everyone’s mind to somewhere in the corner, seasonal events and activities have returned to the scene with a particular holiday zeal.
Things have been coming back — and I thought, ‘What better way to celebrate the season than by really going all in?’
So, for me, it’s to be a month of Christmas. It’s a month of everything Christmas I can get my grubby meat hooks on.
Over the next 30 days, I’ll be watching a month’s worth of Christmas movies and shows (the goal is 30), listening to at least an hour of Christmas music per day, doing a lot of holiday baking and getting out and about to celebrate wherever I can.
Like with 55 in 55, the paper has agreed to let me do daily dispatches of things I’ve seen and done.
But this holiday month began the night before Thanksgiving, where I was busy rage-baking a lasagna and making pumpkin pie filling from a pumpkin I grew in my garden.
As I was cooking, a text came from a reader about that day’s “Bill’s Best” piece.
A reader took issue that I didn’t want to make a turkey.
In a text, he wrote, “Bill, I just got finished reading your article in today’s paper. As much as I always enjoy reading your articles, you are 100% wrong when you said: Roasting a turkey is a hassle and mess.
“Just because you are too lazy to cook, there are millions of people who look forward and love to cook a Thanksgiving turkey for their family and friends. Maybe you weren’t raised the family Thanksgiving way.
“It was the wrong thing to say.”
It was also not what the article was about. Sure, I’d said I wasn’t going to roast a turkey because it was a mess and a hassle and my gathering, this year, was very small.
Instead, I said I was making lasagna. Then I told people to make up interesting stories about their childhood rather than talk politics with the weirder elements of their family.
Nobody who bakes bread or makes a pie crust from scratch likes to be called lazy, so I seethed, but the food got made and whether the reader agreed or not, I don’t regret making the lasagna. It was the best I ever made and perfect after I got home the next day from the Drumstick Dash in Charleston.
The first weekend was a blur of Christmas movies, a walk downtown Charleston to see Christmas trees, my first trip since the start of the pandemic to see live theater with Charleston Youth Arts Company’s production of “Mary” and a return visit to the Clendenin United Methodist Church to see a community performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”
The old church survived the 2016 flood that nearly drowned the entire town and the community sing is a tradition that goes back about 80 years. In 2017, I sang (badly) with them and wanted to see how they were getting along.
Last year, church Christmas music programs were all but wiped out because of safety concerns, lingering restrictions or just clipped time to prepare.
I also met a church cat named Fluffy, who was one of the best church greeters I’ve ever seen.
I wrapped up the first week with a drive out to see the lights at Coonskin Park.
It wasn’t what I’d planned. Originally, I’d meant to go to see a house full of lights in Rand and then get a hot chocolate, but I couldn’t find a local coffee shop with hot chocolate that was open after 6 p.m. and nobody knew where the house in Rand was.
I ended up settling on the lights at Coonskin Park and the number two special from Taco Bell.
Christmas movies watched: “Scrooge,” “The Santa Clause,” “A Christmas Story,” “Home Sweet Home Alone” and “Elf.”
Best Christmas song of the week: “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” Burl Ives.
Best Christmas event: Holly Jolly Brawley on Capitol Street, Charleston.