'Tis hard to tell, but 'tis the season to be jolly
When I was a kid, Santa Claus wasn't old enough to shave. However, there were signs indicating Christmas was fast approaching. Unfortunately, most of these indications are not any help now.
For one, people would start wishing each other "Merry Christmas" in the weeks before the holiday. Nowadays, it seems most people are afraid to say those words. The closest they come is "Happy Holidays." The more casual ones tell you "Have a good one."
If you happen to greet someone with a "Merry Christmas," the person will probably look cautiously over his shoulder to see if the Politically Correct Police are around before responding with a whispered, "Merry Christmas." Even so, they get the same guilty look people used to get when they used naughty words in public.
Christmas songs used to herald the approach of the big day when the stores waited at least until after Thanksgiving to play that kind of music. Today, stores keep advancing the start of Christmas music, leaving other holidays as mile posts.
Once stores started playing Christmas carols and songs before Thanksgiving instead of after, it didn't take too long to pass Halloween and even Labor Day. If this trend progresses at its current rate, it is only a matter of time before the Fourth of July and Memorial Day are passed.
However, this does hold promise for those people who complain that radio stations and stores stop playing Christmas music at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 26. Eventually, they might be playing music for the next year's Christmas on the day after the current Yule celebration.
Decorating used to be another harbinger of the approach of Christmas.
When we saw neighbors trying to string lights around doors and windows and muttering some very un-Christmas-like words when the lights were in knots, we knew St. Nick was probably giving his reindeer flight instructions.
Back in the day, my Uncle Manfred was called a lazy bum when he left his Christmas lights up all year round. Today, he would be viewed as a pioneer in the trend for decorating the year round.
Halloween home decorating has grown to the extent that it is confusing. My glasses can help only so much, so I often have trouble distinguishing orange decorations from Christmas red ones.
This might not be a big deal for you, but it bothers me. I don't know if I should start looking for my plastic jack-o-lantern to go trick-or-treating or nailing my Christmas stocking onto the fireplace mantel.
(That is a problem itself, since we don't have a fireplace or mantel.)
The addressing, signing and mailing of Christmas cards was also an indication that the holiday was fast approaching.
The popularity of sending electronic messages via the Internet or thumbing in Christmas greetings by texting has done much to do away with this reminder of the approaching holiday.
I miss the days when you would see people trying to unstick their lips and tongue after licking 123 Christmas card envelopes. A text message greeting just doesn't have the same impact.
This may be due, in part, to the fact that I don't text or know its many abbreviations. It took me several years to realize that "LOL" meant "laugh out loud" and not "little old lady."
Technology has also eliminated another early-warning sign of Christmas - letters to Santa.
Sometime in early December, my classmates in Miss Frumpwaggle's class would spend their recess getting out their Kurtz Bros. official Clearfield Pencil Tablet and start making out their list of what they wanted Santa to bring them.
Today's young people are more likely to place their requests by using an electronic tablet that costs more than the total spent by parents on Christmas presents for all the students in Miss Frumpwaggle's class.
Christmas tree selection and setting up were also a happy reminder that the holiday would soon be there. Dad would set the fresh tree in a bucket filled with coal that I had received in my stocking on previous Christmases.
My family has not had a real tree in decades, so the scent of pine as a signal of Christmas is only available in an air freshener can.
I suppose the only old-time reminder of Christmas' approach is the way young children behave. They suddenly become very eager to do little chores that will earn them lines on Santa's nice list and cut down on sibling squabbles that will make the naughty list.
I'm sure Santa Claus is still pretty generous in allowing two weeks of a kid's good behavior to offset what little Leland did during the other 50 weeks.
The only other indicator I have now of Christmas' arrival is when I suddenly realize that I forgot to buy gifts for my long-suffering wife, Jo Ann, and I speed off to the store.
Then, I know it must be Christmas Eve.
(Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes Walt's Way for each Sunday edition.)