Christmas in the Mountains

By Colleen LaPlante

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It was 80 degrees when my husband and I put up our Christmas tree last Saturday. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if it would even feel like Christmas. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest we were used to lots of snow and cool temperatures, sometimes as early as Halloween.

Now we reside in the Deep South.

Alabama weather patterns are a far cry from the mountains of Idaho.

I’m learning that it is not just the climate that makes December feel like Christmas though. It is the traditions, the decorating, the time spent together, and the reminiscing that do it for me. So despite being close to 3,000 miles from our childhood homes, we are starting to get into the Christmas spirit. Our Christmas will start in Alabama and continue in Idaho when we get to celebrate with our families later this month.

While I’m soaking up these two weeks of our “first solo Christmas down South”, I’m already thinking about all the traditions I get to show Joe when we are home. Growing up we didn’t realize how lucky we were. Not only did we live in a beautiful place but we were surrounded by loving people who always had time to make someone’s day special. It has me nostalgic about all those Idaho winter traditions…

Snow
Nothing makes it feel more like Christmas than bucket loads of the white stuff. In fact, most of my childhood traditions are centered around it. In Northern Idaho, it’s pretty unusual if we don’t have snow at Christmas. There were many times our driveways would drift over and we would have an extended Christmas vacation when school would be canceled.

Sledding
As a little kid there is nothing better than you and your siblings all piling onto a runner sled and flying down a snow covered field. Not only did we get to sled at my parent’s house, my relatives would often have HUGE sledding parties with fires, good food, hot chocolate, and perfectly groomed tracks. There is something so satisfying, no matter what age you are, about stomping the snow out of your boots, stripping off your snow pants, and putting your icy fingers around a cup of hot chocolate.

Bonfires (Or as we like to call them “Slash Piles”)
During the year we would spend Saturdays trimming the trees on our land and made lots of slash piles. They became perfect places to warm up when you were far from the house, sledding in our top field. When the daylight craziness was over, the soft warm coals made a red glow that allowed us to pull up a chair (or snow bank) and continue enjoying each other’s company while the moon and stars filled a frozen sky. Sometimes we would start burning slash piles even before the snow came, just because we enjoyed them so much.

Wood Stove Fires
There is nothing more inviting than the smell of a wood fire to me. It smells like home. My spot was beside it as I was always cold. I’d find a spot amongst the damp gloves and drying coats to nestle in, sometimes burning my clothes when I inched too close to the stove. Hot chocolate and a wood stove fire. You can’t really beat it.

Ice Skating
Most years our pond would freeze over and if we caught it just right we could get some ice skating in. There was usually a short window that the ice was fresh so we would quickly find all the skates we could and call up the extended family to let them know to come down. My dad would tirelessly shovel off the pond, taking extra care to smooth over all the rough spots. We would attempt to help sometimes but looking back I’m pretty sure he did all the work.

Homemade Presents
Because we lived in the country, as little kids we didn’t have a lot of options for presents to give. Most of ours were homemade. An overwhelming majority involved pinecones, bark, or wood of some sort. Now my presents are a little more sophisticated but I want to continue incorporating homemade things into our family’s gift giving.

Getting a Christmas Tree
Growing up with trees on our property as well as next door to a Christmas tree farm, we were pretty set. More often than not though, we would take family drives high into the mountains and go looking for a tree. There are some memories that just can’t be beat. A few years ago Dad starting planting a few trees each year so that my siblings and I can take our kids to my parent’s and go chop down that year’s tree.

Christmas Eve Mass
This is a tradition that I love. We would get all dressed up for church and drive around the lake to our tiny church. All the locals would be there in their finest church wear and anyone under the age of 13 was asked (expected) to join in the Christmas play, regardless of if they went to our church regularly. I would not be surprised if down the line our future children are playing shepherds and wise men in the same costumes we wore. After mass, there is a giant potluck followed by Christmas caroling to some of the church members who weren’t physically able to leave their houses. We always went home with full hearts.

These are just a few of the Christmas traditions my family had growing up. I find myself daydreaming about the future and imagining recreating so many of them with my husband and our future kids. If we were staying in Alabama for Christmas I have no doubt we would find ways to create our own traditions and we fully intend to in future years wherever we are. But since we ARE going home …

Idaho, you sure do Christmas right.

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