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My little town looks downright Dickensian this time of year. Twinkling strands of lights crisscrossing the square. Plastic reindeer prancing along the power lines. Wreaths on storefront doors. Old men standing on the corner in fake beards ringing bells for the Salvation Army.
I imagine that much of the Christmas cheer is feigned, but I don’t care. There’s something comforting and inviting about it. Even manufactured joy is better than the organic hostility budding in so many places. At least folks are trying to get into the spirit of things.
Last week, they held the Christmas parade on the square. Some friends entered a float this year, so I decided to go. I even took my dog, Peanut, along so that he could get in on the festivities.
While we were waiting for the parade to begin, my family and I stood around drinking hot cocoa in 70 degree weather. (Down here we work up a sweat getting into the Christmas spirit since Winter doesn’t arrive until near Valentine’s Day.) I bought Peanut one of those giant smoked turkey legs and he was positively awash with seasonal mirth.
Herds of little children gathered us to pet my dog. One little girl, all of three years old, decided that she was also partial to turkey legs. She shared several bites of his meal before her mother caught her and pulled her away. But not before she gave Peanut a big wet kiss right on the nose.
An older lady with ear muffs and fuzzy mittens sidled up next to me. “Does he bite,” she said. “Only if you bite him first,” I replied. Thankfully, she didn’t. But she did spend a few minutes patting him on the head.
My grandmother brought a few Walmart bags in which to put her haul of candy she was expecting from the floats. After convincing her that she could probably get by with one bag, I managed to get the second sack for Peanut’s well-stripped turkey bone.
Since we still had several minutes before the parade began, I decided to walk over to the gazebo and listen to the carolers. They weren’t bad for Baptists who had never properly been wassailing with mulled wine.
While I listened to redneck renditions of “Up on the rooftop reindeer pause,” and “We heard three ships on Christmas Day,” Peanut found the Nativity scene. Next thing I know, I hear a boy saying, “Eww,” as my dog left his own offering for the Baby Jesus right there between oxen and ass and the Mother of our Lord.
Then we heard the sirens. The parade was underway. I walked back over to where my family was standing, settling Peanut in a patch of grass just in case he had any more notions.
Grandmother had situated herself nearly in the middle of the street. She wasn’t going to miss a single float or one flying Tootsie Pop. Then came the dignitaries leading the procession. The high sheriff and the fire marshall, beauty queens ranging in age from 6 months to 16, men on clydesdales with elf hats and little girls on shetland ponies pulling makeshift sleighs full of siblings.
The Methodists threw the most candy, but the Pentecostals threw the best candy. Big ladies with bigger hair tossed out small backs of pecan divinity and flying discs of peanut brittle. All the while, Grandmother was saying “I shoulda’ brought another sack.”
But my favorite float was the one from the paper mill. They flung dozens of rolls of triple ply into the crowds and grown men jumped to catch them like lonely bridesmaids scrambling for bouquets. I managed to get three rolls of Angel Soft myself.
As we were leaving, I noticed several police chasing some school age boys who had decided to roll the gazebo with the toilet tissue. I heard my grandpa tell one of the cops, “Let those boys be. This is as close as we get to a White Christmas around here.”
Christmas in Dixie. I love it here. Downright Dickensian, I say.