Metro-East Living

Terry Mackin: How not to be holiday weird

I heard my first holiday song of the season while shopping for Halloween candy.

That was OK. I like holiday music. But I’ll probably be tired of it by the new year. Halloween seemed a bit early for Nat King Cole. Thanksgiving was still a few weeks away.

I’m not sure when the holiday season started in October, or why.

When we were growing up, our Christmas holidays lasted a week. Max. And that was plenty of time.

That was a different world, of course. For St. Nick’s Day, we received a tangerine, a candy cane and a walnut. Maybe. If anyone remembered it was St. Nick’s Day.

The shelled walnuts were temporary gifts, though, because we threw them at each another. Those flying walnuts left a dandy mark on your cheeks, especially on a cold day.

We were boys and we laughed every time someone said “Nutcracker.”

The weekend before Christmas, we went to the Kiwanis tree lot next to Kroger’s on State Street in East St. Louis and chose a Charlie Brown tree.

Mackin Christmas trees were always short and squat, for obvious reasons. We were short, squat people. There was nothing tall and skinny in our home.

We never decorated the outside of our home. Dad was afraid of heights. No way he was getting on a ladder to strap a strand of colored lights off the gutters. Mom put a holiday wreath on the front door. That was enough.

Holiday shopping? We made Christmas gifts for Mom and Dad in school art class, but we always picked up a few handkerchiefs at Sears on State and 10th Street in East St. Louis.

On Christmas Eve, we went to midnight Mass. Dad fell asleep by sermon time. Somebody’s leg made a funny noise off the pew. Like dominoes, row by row, pew by pew, boys giggled like only boys could giggle at a fart-like sound in church.

Santa always visited our home while we were at Mass. We opened gifts after Mass. It was a free-for-all. We got boxing gloves a few years. Being the youngest, I was Jerry Quarry while my two older brothers were Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier.


He’s faking, Mom. ...

Most of our toys were broken or disassembled a few days after Christmas. The best gift was always a new ballglove because you could not break it, although your older brothers could hide it and tell you Santa took it back because you told on them for knocking you out with the new boxing gloves.

New Year’s Eve was a lot like it is for me today — no big deal, really. A few neighbors beat their kitchen pots and pans together on their back porch at midnight. Dogs howled. Whew. It was 1960-something. Happy New Year!

Holiday music on Halloween reminded me of the simpler, shorter holiday season. I love the holidays. But they start too early. And it’s a time of year when a people act a little holiday-weird in search of the perfect, Norman Rockwell-like holiday season.

Here are a few things I plan to do — and not do — over the next few weeks to avoid acting holiday weird myself:

▪  I won’t wear a piece of clothing that I decorated myself. Or that someone decorated for me. No glitter and cotton balls. I don’t like my clothes to leave a trail.

▪  I won’t throw a shelled walnut at anyone. Promise.

▪  I won’t shop anywhere before 7 a.m. or after 11 p.m., except my daily pit stop at QuikTrip, of course.

▪  I’ll watch holiday TV favorites like “The Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Christmas Vacation” only one of the 575 times they will be aired from now until Christmas Day.

▪  I’ll listen to Christmas music, but not non-stop. All good things, in moderation. I won’t sing along, in public anyway. Might hum a little, though.

▪  I’ll giggle to myself whenever someone says, “Nutcracker.” I’m still a boy at heart.

▪  I won’t wear a holiday hat that has a fuzzy ball on its end. Fuzzy-ball hats may work for some guys. But not many.

▪  I won’t buy boxing gloves as a gift. You just never know who in the family might think he’s Ali again.

▪  I’ll give a little extra to the bell ringers outside stores, or the homeless along the highways. It’s the season to give, right?

▪  I hope I don’t wear a dark sweater on the day that someone brings in those irresistible cookie balls smothered in white, powdered sugar. But I probably will. Never fails.

▪  This season, when I start feeling a little holiday weird, I’ll think about when the Christmas season lasted a week. Max. And we got a tangerine, walnut and candy cane, maybe, for St. Nick’s Day. And that was plenty. Not weird at all.