Transplanting Christmas spirit

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Other Half says he can't get the holiday spirit in Florida. White lights spiraling up palm trees, Santa knickknacks dressed in Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts -- it's just not in line with his concept of Christmas.

A lot of Florida transplants feel the same way. I'm always a little stunned when, in the days following Halloween, local malls see an explosion of jingle bells and ribbons and brightly appointed trees. Here in St. Petersburg, the decorations seem to say, "Ignore that it's 80 degrees outside and these beautiful fake firs covered in fake snow look totally out of place. Just crack open that wallet and start spending!"

In short, you can dream of a white Christmas all you want, but it ain't happening.

That's OK with me. Raised in a family that didn't celebrate Christmas because of its quiet links to pagan ritual, I never formed any holiday-related traditions. We were as likely to eat hot dogs on Christmas Day as ham or turkey. I envied the kids whose houses were covered in colorful lights and who returned to school Jan. 2 with new clothes, new bikes and new toys to show off.

Now that I've been out of my folks' house and married to a regular, Christmas-celebrating guy for some time, I've come to love some things about the holidays. My card list gives me a chance to reconnect with friends and relatives -- let them know my new address and that I'm still alive. And then their cards show up -- folded paper reminders that someone cared enough to spend a couple minutes and 37 cents on me.

There are the holiday parties, a chance to sparkle and shine in attire and conversation. I went to my first Hanukkah gathering this year and ate my first latke. (For the uninitiated, that's pronounced LAT-kuh, not LAT-kee. I made that unfortunate discovery in a room full of holiday revelers.) It's basically a Jewish hash brown, but really, really good with applesauce on top.

And I don't even mind braving those malls and their ersatz decorations to buy for people I care about.

That's all fine for me, but none of it's enough for Mr. Half. He needs a chill in the air, frost on the ground, stately pines instead of the scraggly, skinny ones in Florida.

It's Monday, and both of us are off work. We're decorating our new house inside and out. We're not sure where our Christmas tree will go in our tiny living room, but we'll figure it out.

We might have some carols on the stereo and eat some of the homemade Christmas candy from Mr. Half's grandmother.

But it won't be enough for him. The fact is, we walked on the beach in shorts earlier today. That's a unique pleasure, but not a Christmas-related one.

Mr. Half will thread the lights through branches and hang the same ornaments, but it won't be the same as last year in Missouri. That makes me sad for him.

Maybe we'll turn the air conditioning way down.

Heidi Hall is a former managing editor of the Southeast Missourian who now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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