Traditions are an intricate part of any Christmas, including many that take place during the days and nights leading up to December 25.
Sleigh rides and large bonfires have been lost to history. Ice skating on frozen ponds and nightime sled riding on little-used back roads are also lost pleasures/arts.
Groups of young people might text each other and then rendezvous at an indoor mall. But they won’t join together with fellow high school graduates for the building of snow fortresses to be used as protection in snowball fights among friends that haven’t seen one another in months or even years.
Sending cards is still a viable tradition. There are those that go cut their own fir trees and gather decorative greens from a nearby forest or woodlands.
Egg nog. Hot toddy. A roaring, hardwood-based blaze in the living room fireplace. Wreaths. Strings of bright lights circling the shrubbery and outlining the contours of the house. Baking cookies and pies and cakes. Single white lights in the windows. Decorating a tree with grandmother’s balls, her icicles and strings of glass lights.
Many traditions do prevail against the ravages of time.
Families hang stockings “by the chimney with care”. They also hang mistletoe in doorways and from ceilings above where people might gather for a Christmas-time meal or seasonal tradition.
Mistletoe can have its own tradition. And not just from the photo-evidence of grandma hugging and kissing the grand kids.
During the Christmas season, college students and teens alike are always in need of spending money. They have presents that have to be parceled out. Money buys the presents and then somebody else can wrap them.
A long-held tradition in the South involving enterprising people of any age is harvesting mistletoe for selling at Christmas time.
Mistletoe is a plant that actually anchors itself and grows on host trees. In places like the rural counties of south Georgia and north-central Florida, it flourishes on the limbs of many hardwood trees.
All species of oaks, black gum trees, pecans, hickories and dozens and dozens of other species can be the unwilling host to mistletoe.
Sometimes the plant with its waxy white berries will act as a parasite and syphon away too many nutrients and too much water from the host, killing it after a time.
In the winter, a host tree will lose its leaves to nature’s rules, leaving its upper branches bare of its own foliage.
But certainly not bare.
What appears to be round balls of green growth occupy those branches, most of them 25 to 50 feet off the ground and inaccessible to humans.
These days, hanging mistletoe is an expensive tradition to uphold. Small sprigs without any berries are costly. Purchasing a fist-sized bunch with its white berries intact is too costly for most young people trying to impress a love interest.
This is where the entrepreneur in people comes into play.
Mistletoe can be found. Simply cruising along paved back roads in much of the South will get you to medium-sized trees with mistletoe waiting in their upper stories.
How to bring it to earth without a sometimes dangerous climb?
Through the years the most-used method of getting a burlap bag full of the potential money-maker is to take a trusted 20-gauge shotgun and blast it out of the tree.
Shooting mistletoe out of trees.
It’s costlier in shotgun shells than it was 50 or 60 years ago, but it’s still the norm from Cairo, Georgia to Tappahannock, Virginia and Leon County, Florida.
A burlap bag full of mistletoe can be be meted out in small sprigs and bunches enough to bring $500 if brought to the right farmer’s market or outdoor seasonal market.
Tie the ends with velvet bows or satin ribbon and the price tag rises a little. If the berries are threre, add a little more to the traditionalist’s cost.
Another seasonal vocation is the selling of large, well-shaped pine cones.
Pine cones are a favorite of those making their own wreaths or festive center pieces. They can be decorated and painted. Simply stood on end, the 10-inch tall symbols of Christmas make conversation pieces and are prized as mantel fixtures and dining room and kitchen table decorations.
Collecting massive pine cones doesn’t require a shotgun, shells or much ingenuity.
The famed Georgia longleaf pines stand as docile sentries along even the most-used of state-maintained highways in the southernmost counties of the so-called Peach State.
Those pines drop their load of cones when the season calls and winds are high enough.
There are usually not many scrub bushes or unwelcome brambles found under or around those pines.
Cones are hardy and survive the 20- to 45-foot fall in good order. Well-heeled customers on up Rt. 19/41 in Atlanta will pay a fair figure for clean, unbroken pine cones to be used on their Fulton County tables, mantels and massive front doors.
Some traditions have faded or are fading.
A few others like using a shotgun to bring down mistletoe and collect large pine cones from the roadside have been preserved for many years now.
Drink your egg nog. Stand under that mistletoe that once grew in a black gum tree outside Pelham, Georgia. And look at those impressive pine cones that stand alongside the red-suited nutcrackers on your grandmother’s dining room table.