Go ahead and ring those bells!


Whenever I hear those old sleigh bells, I know it’s officially the holiday season.

It’s not hyperbole in describing those silver bells as old either. My wife’s grandfather used them on his horse-drawn sleigh. Their pleasing tinkle, tinkle, tinkle conjures up all that’s good and joyous about Christmastime. Visions of Rudolph and the rest of his reindeer team pulling jolly Old Saint Nick in his gift-laden sleigh danced in my head.

That enchanting tinkling sound returns every year as Neva gets the urge to decorate the house inside and out for the holidays. That usually happens on a whim, based on our busy schedules and the weather forecast. This year it was a few days before Thanksgiving.

The jingling of the bells is her unintentional announcement that the holiday display initiative has begun. Neva often completes the jolly decorating on her own, whether I’m home or not.

The sound of the bells, however, drew me away from a writing malaise to join in the fun. With the late November weather sunny and warmish, Neva already had the exterior decorating underway.

We had earlier agreed to simplify both the outdoor and indoor displays. Even then, our previous ones were modest by comparison.

Out came holiday quilted wall hangings, seasonal books, and Christmas candles. Up went the artificial holly wreaths and our late friend Helen’s ceramic Christmas tree upon her antique oak end table. The tree’s red lights stay continuously lit against its shiny green bows all tipped with white for snow.

With each completed display, the memories flowed. Barn wood-framed antique Christmas postcards hang near the front door, welcoming all for the holidays. My late father made the frame years ago.

No room goes untouched with Neva’s artistry. A rustic steel nativity scene adorns her grandmother’s china closet.

Dashes of snipped holly and boxwood grace the front porch and family room. A garland of shiny red beads and artificial greenery accompany the sleigh bells that surround the table lamp in the front window. It’s only appropriate that that string of bells take center stage.

Holiday candles and soap caddies gussied up the bathrooms. In the dining area, Christmas tree knickknacks serve as bookends to the candy dish, where red and white peppermint candies tempt me from atop the antique dry sink.

Salt and pepper shakers disguised as Mr. and Mrs. Snowman oversee the kitchen. Holly stenciled water glasses, festively decorated serving bowls, and platters all wait their turn in the cupboards to serve their cheerful purposes.

Neva already had completed most of this by the time the sleigh bells rang. I arrived in time to decorate the tall and skinny artificial Charlie Brown Christmas tree sequestered in the corner of the open spaced living area.

I enjoyed hanging an assortment of ornaments that represent nearly every year of our togetherness. Neva completed the adorning with thin, red-striped candy canes, also an annual tradition.

Next to the tree, strings of little white lights tactfully wind through stacked books resting on the wooden bench a friend had restored. Strings of green garland and white lights and Christmas tchotchke brightened both the back porch and the utility room.

I can’t overlook the subtle but most prominent and meaningful holiday symbol of all. By night, little battery-powered candles flicker from the windowsills. Their glow is small, but mighty, brightening the darkest December nights and the starriest.

That evening I took my tea in an oversized holiday mug. It’s hand-painted smiling snowman enjoyed every sip right along with me.

When it comes to Christmas, our welcome sign is out. My wife always makes sure of that.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime

family, Christmas, family holiday gathering
The night before Christmas. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime.

Some people, however, just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m not talking about the giddy children anxiously anticipating what might lie beneath the festooned tree on Christmas morning.

Holiday commercials, promotions, and displays showered themselves upon us well before Halloween. Decorations and pre-holiday sale items sprouted in retail stores before autumn leaves had reached their peak.

Every year, the onslaught of Black Friday opens the floodgate to the Christmas shopping season. Besides profit, I wondered what the rush was all about. If there is a war on Christmas, surely this is it. The commercialization of a blessed, annual holiday demeans the true meaning of the season.

For me, Christmas is about waiting, not rushing. Life passes by in a flash the way it is. Why accelerate it all the more, especially at such a celebrative occasion? Let’s treasure this special time of year.

Christmas tree, Bruce Stambaugh
Christmas tree. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Christmas is about expectation. My childhood memories are filled with fondness for the days leading up to Christmas. Whether real or imagined, a certain inexplicable stir was in the air filling us with excited glee.

At school, crayon-colored paper ornaments, stars, wreaths, and candy canes replaced the finger painted turkeys on the classroom windows. We drew names for the gift exchange, one-dollar limit.

Children began combing through Sears catalogs to assist them in making their Christmas lists. Santa got them in plenty of time.

Those days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed to just linger. Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, it was as if time ticked in slow motion.

The excitement and anticipation of the holidays built with each passing day. Christmas was the mountaintop, and we started climbing the slope one step at a time only after Thanksgiving.

nativity scene, Christmas, hope
Nativity. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Our father enjoyed the holiday season as much or more than his five offspring. On a frigid night, Dad loaded us up in the family sedan to welcome Santa’s arrival at the end of the annual Christmas parade in the downtown blue-collar Ohio city where we lived.

We visited city centers in Akron, Canton and Cleveland more to window shop than Christmas shop. Customer friendly department stores with familiar names like Higbee’s, Polsky’s, and Kobacker’s all decorated their display windows with exquisite Christmas scenes.

Those stores are no more. A lot has changed since then.

Amid all of today’s commercials, online ads, daily deluges of discounts on everything from candles to Cadillac’s, it’s easy to get caught up in the race to Christmas. Doesn’t all of that actually run counter to the Advent season itself?

Historically, Christmas was all about hope, waiting, and watching. When the actual event occurred, only a few people recognized what had happened. Even then, most didn’t seem to fully comprehend.

Shepherds and kings from afar were struck with glorious awe at the event we now call Christmas. Others never even noticed

advent candles, Christmas decorations
Advent candles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
because of their preconceived notions. As that story has been retold year after year, generation after generation, the characters involved in that first Christmas became the icons of how we now celebrate the season, Santa not included of course.

Christmas is a couple of weeks away. Will we rush our way to it, or will we wait and watch, and anticipate all the precious joys the day and the season have to offer?

Maybe it’s just my age. But I’m going to do my best to savor this season one day at a time. How about you?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Christmas isn’t about hustle and bustle

Snowy decorations by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowy decorations always add to the Christmas celebrations.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t watch much television. But what little I do, I can’t help but notice how the torrent of holiday-oriented commercials focuses on the urgency of buying something really nice for that special someone in your life.

Celebrating Christmas in our advanced society seems distorted. A brand new car wrapped with a huge red ribbon and bow sitting in the driveway, a sparkling diamond ring and a gold necklace cannot supersede the original gifts of the Magi.

Eager for customers, the ads have managed to push their way to the forefront of the holiday season much too early. Growing up, the countdown to Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday. Today, it seems to start the day after Labor Day.

Watching for buggies on Christmas Day by Bruce Stambaugh
Watching for buggies on Christmas Day.

Even here in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we feel the hustle and bustle of the season. Without admitting it, we might even add to it. It’s always easier to see the fault of others than your own.

Wreath on frosty window by Bruce Stambaugh
A frosty holiday decoration.

I don’t want to be negative about Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday of the year.

I just think that given all the commercialization of Christmas, we need a different approach. As I reflect on the historical account of the Advent season that I learned early in life, it seems more and more obvious to me that Christmas really is more about patience than it is presents.

I have many fond childhood memories of readying for Christmas, and the excited anticipation of Christmas morning. My brothers and sisters and I couldn’t wait to raid the pretty packages strewn beneath the tree on Christmas morning. That scene was not the model of patience.

Mom and Dad had stayed up late assembling and wrapping the gifts for us kids. We always pushed our luck at getting up before the crack of dawn to undo what it had taken Santa and our folks hours to prepare.

But what a happy morning it was, with the excitement of surprise with every unwrapping. Those days were simple compared to what passes as season’s greetings today. I find the entire holiday hubbub of shopping, buying and spending exhausting.

Opening gifts by Bruce Stambaugh
Exchanging gifts at Christmas is part of the family tradition.

I long for the true peace and quiet of Christmas, with the family gathered, the fireplace blazing, the tree’s lights sparkling. Of course, we maintain the gift-giving tradition. We have just toned it down so that reason rules. We want the gifts to represent personal quality instead of absurd quantity.

The stockings hang by the chimney with care. They are filled on Christmas Eve, and emptied on Christmas morn. Just like when I was a child, an orange will be the last to tumble out of each.

The grandkids will watch The Polar Express over and over until the DVR wears out. We’ll play games, eat, and bask in the glow of the moment and the season.

Decorating the tree by Bruce Stambaugh
The grandchildren enjoy helping to decorate the Christmas tree.

Our modern society may rush the Advent season and judge it by its economic success. But as for me and my family, we will enjoy each others company, joyously share our humble appreciation and rejoice that it is Christmas once again.

Those are Christmas gifts worth waiting for.

30 Christmas’ on County Road 201

By Bruce Stambaugh

An anniversary of sorts slipped by last month relatively unnoticed. I’m pretty sure Hallmark doesn’t have a card for this one. We have lived in this same modest, utilitarian home on County Road 201 for 30 years. I really didn’t think much about it until we went through our annual tussle with the Christmas tree just a few days after the homey benchmark. We always buy a live tree, which is fitting. The color for a 30th anniversary is green.

This year we selected a lovely Douglas fir raised on a windswept hill on a tree farm in the county south of us. Thanks to the sharp blade of the bow saw, we had our tree in no time. We strapped it to the top of the van for the 20-minute, picturesque ride home. Over the years, we have chosen a variety of evergreen species for our Christmas tree. White and Scotch pine, blue spruce and various firs have all graced our place with their beauty and piney scents.

The first few years, we used balled, live trees, and then planted them once the holidays had concluded. But with the yard deemed full, we went to cut trees. Most were already harvested, but some like this year we sawed ourselves. Both my wife and I grew up with the live Christmas tree tradition. Once married and in our own home, we continued that practice.

Along with that ritual, however, came another unintended and unwanted one. It seemed nearly every year there was some issue that transformed what should be a joyous occasion into a troublesome one. The kind of tree or who had cut it was insignificant. If I had kept a list, which I didn’t, there could quite possibly be 30 different problems in getting the tree set up right. More likely there would be 30 different versions of the same concern. Apparently, stubbornness is impartial to tree species.

Of course, it’s rather easy to blame the string of problems on the trees. They can’t talk back. It’s also hard for men to admit they might be the obstinate ones. Most of the predicaments could be found at the base of the trees. That’s where I tended to work at the annual tree resurrection. Throughout the years I noticed a definite theme to the debacles. Once we had the tree exactly where we wanted it, straight as an arrow, at some point before, during or after the decorating it would fall over.

One year, I think during December’s full moon, the tree toppled two weeks after being erected. I couldn’t blame the kids. They weren’t home. I couldn’t blame the wife. She was fixing supper. I couldn’t blame the dog. He was napping with me. In that particular case, we righted the tree, and in lieu of duct tape, we secured it with thin, clear fishing line. This year I didn’t have to resort to that. The tree fell over as soon as I told my wife it was all right to let it go. She did and it did. After several tries, I finally figured out the problem. The tree trunk was too skinny at the base, which didn’t allow for it to be properly supported by the holder’s four prongs.

Using my best male contemplative skills, I devised a simple but non-festive solution to our problem. I shimmed the tree, and my wife trimmed the tree. And yes, it is still standing. Had the tree not fallen, though, I may have forgotten all about the three-decade watershed of blissful living on County Road 201. Merry Christmas everyone, whether you have a tree or not.

Contact Bruce Stambaugh at brucestambaugh@gmail.com