In the spirit of the holidays we have reprinted this column from Brendan’s book “The Flatlander Chronicles.”
Nothing can have a greater impact on a newly transplanted Flatlander to New Hampshire than in dealing with the anticipation and stress of trying to fit in by having the perfect New England Christmas.
Let’s face it, many of us moved here for the idyllic Norman Rockwell type lifestyle that we were led to believe existed somewhere within our reach.
Maybe you were reading “Yankee Magazine” while waiting for a subway somewhere. You were concentrating on the words and trying to take in the quaintness of some Currier and Ives picture inside while the train announced its arrival with the sound of giant nails on blackboard.
Maybe you were watching one of those Hallmark TV special tearjerkers portraying the perfect Northern New England family, opening presents by their freshly cut tree. You became entranced by the light, fluffy snow falling and carolers on the steps in perfect harmony as you turned up the volume to hear it better over the din of police sirens down the block.
You have set your mind to what you always imagined Christmas in New Hampshire would be like.
Now you have arrived. You have worked hard to get here. Are you now up to the task?
Fortunately for you, I am here to help.
I’ve learned a few things and now I can pass this knowledge on to you to help you enjoy your dream and to not be intimidated by the natives.
One of the grandest moments in proud Christmas tradition here in New Hampshire is the ceremonial cutting down of the tree. It’s a holiday delight that the whole family can share in.
Mom, dad and kids bundled up against the frigid air while winding their way through the woods. Walking for miles through knee-deep snow, they sing Christmas carols while journaling their encounters with small creatures until they spot “the” tree in all its resplendent glory. It beckons and calls. It is almost magical.
Then dad unsheathes his axe and spends the next hour meticulously making that perfect cut. The family watches in amazement until the mighty tree is felled.
All then pitch in to drag their prize home. They arrive home sometime after midnight, tired and hungry, but much better for their shared adventure.
I have this story down pat now. It took a while to memorize. I tell it every year to my neighbors as I unload my perfect Christmas tree from the top of my car after spending twenty bucks down at the Lions Club tree sale.
It works more than you might imagine.
Still, you have to make sure it is a real tree. I did buy a plastic one once and sprayed it with pine scent, but I think they suspected. Especially when I insisted they could not touch it as it was a weird old family tradition.
To make yourself feel better, you can work up a good sweat just getting the tree from the top of the car into the house and in the tree stand. That way you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.
Another great challenge in becoming a true New Englander during the holidays is cooking. Tradition dictates that all real holiday meals can only be created by an inherent skill of making everything from scratch.
Natives have been known to do strange things with food that we Flatlanders find fascinating.
They can take fruits, vegetables, meat, poultries, twigs and branches, add a dash of this and a sprinkle of that, put it in the oven and have something truly amazing appear within an hour.
But how do we, as Flatlanders, come upon learning the same culinary skills that have been passed down for generations? How can we become like these well-taught natives and learn these skills in just a short time? How can you and your family sit down to Christmas dinner with freshly dressed turkeys and hams, real whipped potatoes and squash, jams and jellies canned months before as well as homemade apple and pumpkin pies with steam still rising from them?
Many savvy natives figured out a long time ago that we’d never be able to do it, so they’ve opened up stores where we can buy these things at exorbitant prices. After all, it’s Christmas and money is no object.
I use a few of these stores myself. Next time you see me, I’ll clue you in to the best ones.
Natives have come to understand that Flatlanders love to hear about the history and traditions of New Hampshire. I am here to warn you that some of the native lore about Christmas is only around to frighten you; to make you think twice about whether or not this is really a place you want to stay.
Here are a few of the fictitious tales you might come across. Don’t believe them for a second.
1. A true New Hampshire native always looks forward to the Christmas feast of the stuffed porcupine.
2. Every Christmas morning each and every household is visited by Big Bad Bearded Bob.
3. There is not a true native who would ever give up his/her place in line for the annual Yuletide flogging and branding.
4. It is extremely rude to turn down a cup of spicy cinnamon asparagus grog when offered by a neighbor during the Christmas season.
I hope all of this has been useful in helping you get through your first few Christmas seasons here.
I’m on my way to do some shopping now. The computer is fired up and I have my credit card out and close by.
Ahh!! Christmas in New Hampshire.
Brendan is the author of “The Flatlander Chronicles” and “Best Of A F.O.O.L. In New Hampshire” which are available at www.BrendanTSmith.com