We were talking about romanticism in my class -- idealized images of what America is and what people perceive it to be. To make a point I had my students imagine the perfect Christmas setting. They were so enthusiastic about the project that I decided to share their reflections with my lunch group. Funny thing, Christmas. It can narrow the chasm between young and old. The teachers' thoughts closely matched those of the students.Snow was a common theme, although very few of my students and fewer of my peers had ever actually experienced a white yule. And the few flakes that fell out of the sky around supper time last Dec. 25 don't really count. Yes, I did get all excited because it was snowing on Christmas evening. I ran around outside, just as you did and grabbed my camera and snapped pictures and the whole nine yards, but it would still be a stretch to call what we had a "white Christmas."
During our lunchtime conversation one thing led to another and the discussion veered away from romanticized images fueled by Bing Crosby songs and Clement Moore poems and we began to paint quite a different picture -- a picture of the perfect "Southern" holiday season -- with the emphasis on "Southern."
Talk turned to decorations. I was alarmed to learn that most of the people in my group have embraced the convenience of pre-lit artificial Christmas trees. Say it ain't so, Joseph! Not me. I don't traipse around in the woods with an axe and saw to cut my own tree, but I do insist on having a previously living tree -- and always will. I don't care how hard it is to get it to stand up straight or how many hours I spend stringing the lights or how many dead needles my lovely wife, Lisa, has to vacuum out of the carpet in January. We are going to have the freshest, fullest Frazier fir the North Carolina mountains can produce.
So there was no consensus in our group concerning the tree-of-choice. There was, however, a consensus about the most Southern of all decorative greenery. Magnolia leaves. That's right. I learned that virtually all of the folks that I associate with deck their collective halls with the same large waxy leaves that will soon adorn my own mantel piece and dining table.
A few of the ladies wanted to talk about mistletoe, but I steered the conversation toward a more benign topic. Now I do traipse around in the woods every year looking for strands of mistletoe with juicy green berries that I can fish out of the tops of trees with a minimum of aggravation, and when I find it, I tie red bows to it and string it up in strategic locations throughout our house -- usually to little avail -- but I wasn't going to take a chance on talking about mistletoe with the females at my lunch table. I might want to run for president one day and would hate to be accused of harassment.
Eventually we all decided that Southerners could more than adequately decorate their houses without having to resort to spraying pine cones with gold paint -- not that there is anything wrong with that -- or having icicles hanging from the window ledges or eight inches of snow on the ground.
Since we were having this conversation around the lunch table, traditional Christmas foods came up next. Over Thanksgiving the big North-South debate involved stuffing versus dressing and pumpkin pie versus sweet potato -- but the food formula for the perfect Southern culinary Christmas was much more complicated. Pecans seem to be a necessity and they aren't just for pies any more. People do some really interesting with pecans, and I was able to get every person at the table to promise to share their treats with me. I'll hold them to it, too. In fact, one person already brought me a Tupperware container full of praline glazed nuts -- and another swears that divinity is in my future.
I might have predicted that pecans would be a common commodity, but I was a little bit surprised at the food product that came in second. Oysters. Apparently I'm not the only Southerner who finds as many excuses as possible to enjoy oysters in December. There was talk of oyster dressing and scalloped oysters, as well as smoked oysters, steamed oysters and oysters on the half shell.
The apparent penchant for oysters may or may not have had something to do with the fondness for mistletoe, but I wasn't going to ask. The bell rang before we could delve into opening presents on Christmas Eve versus Christmas Day, but there's still about 10 lunches left. We'll get there.
In the meantime, embrace the season, y'all. May your mistletoe and magnolia leaves be plentiful and may your days be merry and bright.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.