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American Pie: Christmas Among The Palms

...The first Christmas we spent in Florida, we made a decision not to perpetuate the traditions we had held to in the North. Holly and Ivy and Mistletoe, turkey and Christmas pudding just didn’t appeal in a sub-tropical setting. So we settled on something more Middle Eastern – rack of lamb, couscous and rice, with grapes and cheese for dessert...

Temperatures in Florida usually dip into the 70s in Decemmber, says John Merchant - "and we call that chilly''.


The Thanksgiving holiday is now behind us, and Christmas looms just around the corner, approaching more rapidly than we’d prefer, given what we have to accomplish before it arrives. Moving our home from the North East of America to Florida, we were prepared for having to make some adjustments when it came to those two festivals, but one came as a surprise – no seasonal prompts.

In New York State, where we lived until moving here, no matter how the winter subsequently deviated from past norms, the deer hunters could count on some “tracking snow” on Thanksgiving eve, in time for the start of deer season, which commenced the following morning. To be just right, the snow should be no more than an inch deep, so as to show the deer tracks without being deep enough to impede the hunters. and more often than not it was.

Quite often, north of the Mason Dixon line there’d be winter storms that jeopardized Thanksgiving travel, thereby threatening the expectation that families have of being together for that holiday. Unlike Christmas, scattered American families will move mountains to be together for the harvest holiday.

The colder weather and the start of deer season were subliminal reminders of the impending holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving and Christmas, prompting us to think about writing cards and shopping for gifts. In Florida we have no such prompts, unless you count TV commercials, and who is going to get energized by a TV commercial with fake snow, when it’s 80 (26C) degrees outside and the air conditioning still is on every day.

True, the temperatures usually dip into the 70’s during December, and we call that chilly, but it’s not drastic enough to alert us to the fact that there are only X number of shopping days to Christmas. Having lived in northern climes most of my life, it’s become clear to me that somewhere in the back of my head, tactile changes in the environment around me kept me alert to the seasonal tasks that needed to be completed.
Now I find that important dates in the Fall and winter months take me by surprise and leave me unprepared. And it’s not just the Holidays; birthday and anniversaries also are in jeopardy. My sister and two of my daughters have birthdays in October and November, so it’s touch and go if their cards get off in time.

Several cities in Florida are hosts to baseball winter training camps where the big league teams prepare for the next year’s season. Suddenly the newspapers and TV news programs are abloom with reports about the players and the trial games they play. Baseball is very much a summer sport, so it seems surreal to be hearing all this when surely we only just ended the football season, and national weather reports are telling us about blizzard conditions in Pennsylvania, and ice storms in various other northern states.

The first Christmas we spent in Florida, we made a decision not to perpetuate the traditions we had held to in the North. Holly and Ivy and Mistletoe, turkey and Christmas pudding just didn’t appeal in a sub-tropical setting. So we settled on something more Middle Eastern – rack of lamb, couscous and rice, with grapes and cheese for dessert.

We were happy with that at the time, and have pretty much stuck to a menu along the same lines ever since.
I suppose there’s some justification to linking snow and evergreens to Thanksgiving, since it’s origins were in America’s North East, but it seems incongruous to associate them with Christmas, given that the whole idea apparently emanated from the Middle East. I guess it does occasionally snow in Israel and Palestine, and not to stretch the analogy too far, one could say the cedar trees there look a bit like our Christmas trees.

But I prefer to think those early Christians took the line of least resistance and simply grafted their celebration onto a convenient pagan ceremony that serendipitously took place around the same time. After all, the Romans were big on laurel wreaths, and when the Vikings later came through the Mediterranean, they were want to tie a fir tree to the prow of their longboats, for reasons only a guy with horned helmet on his head could explain.

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