Maybe it was the six poinsettias I had to stare at for two hours and thirty-three minutes while sitting in a greasy waiting room as my car had its annual oil change, or the Vegas style Christmas lights that can now be seen from space. This must be why I've been feeling nostalgic for a time when decorating for the season was a simpler, heartwarming experience.
Every year at this time, when I was a little sprout, my dad would take us holly gathering. It was such an exciting event, gathering berry laden sprigs to brighten the house at Christmas. Of course, in those days we were blithely ignorant of the times ahead when Christmas decorating would be raised to a unique art form with plastic penguins, inflatable Santas, and flashing flamingos.
Each December we’d make the trek to our secret wood where the holly trees grew, hoping to discover a bounty of berries. We weren’t always lucky; some years there would be a good crop, with lush clumps clinging to each twig on the tree, while other years there would be hardly a speck of red to be seen. My dad always blamed the berry vultures — I don’t know if he meant birds or the people who’d been there before us.
Even in the best of years, only half the trees would bear any berries at all. Having only a limited understanding of procreation, we didn’t realize that only the female holly bears berries while, as usual, the male hangs around taking up useful space. Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize the lack of berries was likely due to SOMEONE not in the mood.
Nonetheless, collecting was never easy. Holly has wicked prickles, and you could be sure the best sprigs were always at the top of the tree, at the outer limits, barely within reach. Since we had no concept of a limb lopper, someone had to climb the tree.
“Go ahead, Dad,” I’d say, after yet another prickly plunge from the tree, “Show me one more time. Maybe next year I’ll be able to do it.” In this way the ancient tradition of holly gathering was slowly passed down through our family.
Yes, holly gathering was a challenge, but it was worth the struggle. At Christmas, friends and family would visit our home simply to admire our lovely sprig of holly, burdened with two, maybe three berries. Meanwhile, Mum would serve mince pies and Dad would lie on the couch, groaning, band-aids stuck to his face, a mustard plaster taped to his back.
Ah, yes, the good old days. I often wonder what Dad would have thought of inflatable Santas.