Hibiscus Christmas: A Child’s Christmas in Florida

Hibiscus Christmas

Hibiscus Christmas

(c) Copyright 2014, Margaret Langstaff,
All rights reserved

[I don’t know if this is kosher or cool to re-post an oldie like this, but it still speaks volumes to me and suggests pretty clearly what a weirdly different place Florida is from the rest of the country. The onus is on FL to conform, culturally and ritually. Kids get this right away (wink). Results in some silly efforts to be “Christmasy” in the customary Northern way.]

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“It’s not fair! It sucks! It’s warm here, the grass is green and flowers are blooming—still!—everywhere! There oughta be a law against it!”

Children who grow up in Florida have a perverse sense of disenfranchisement, even of deprivation, when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. With the constant media onslaught of news and commercials laden with references to increasingly frigid weather and blinding blizzards in the higher North American latitudes, the attitudes of smallish Floridians plunge almost in sync with the thermometers “Up North.”

On screens everywhere they see their more fortunate demographically situated brothers and sisters bundled up against foul weather in the “coolest” threads and footwear and, even more inflammatorily, cavorting in deep snowdrifts, slinging snowballs back and forth at one another, building ice castles and constructing Twitter and Facebook-able snowmen.
Why, Oh Why, they ask, not them? Why did their parents commit the rash unpardonable sin of choosing to raise their innocent offspring in an environment approximating the Garden of Eden?

I myself experienced this odd seasonal malaise unique to the tropics in my earliest years. At the first sign of “Autumn Color” on the tube I began moping and dragging my butt around while dreaming of colder, whiter climes more suited to, well, Santa Claus’s red wool suit, climes where reindeer reigned supreme and sleigh bells weren’t just an antique decorative touch Mother and Dad draped around our non-working-never -used fireplace. Given the relentless media imagery onslaught of a “winter wonderland” to the north, the whole thing just felt horribly unnatural, as if I were missing an important rite and ritual of childhood. Everything (perpetually green and wriggling) outdoors became, seasonally, an insult, an affront to my incensed sensibilities.

Once, I remember quite clearly, after getting out of a Saturday matinee of a re-showing of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” I and my very young friends, while waiting for my Mother to show up to ferry us home, wandered down the block to what was then known as “Woolworth’s,” one of the original “dime stores.”

Typical of the Florida versions of this chain merchant at the time, the aisles were full of cheap Florida souvenirs, Orange Blossom perfume, pecan pralines, coconut candy, orange marmalade, pocket combs with “Florida!” emblazoned in bright orange on the edge, postcards of toothy roaring alligators or voluptuous women in bikinis and tiny zippered change purses with lime green palm trees silk screened across their sides. Amy, Ann and I, still frosted and fuming from the glorious icy scenes we’d seen in the movie, scenes we, in our abject state of deprivation had very little hope of knowing first-hand, finally stumbled on a display of—gasp!—snow globes.

snow globe

Snow globes! Wordlessly, in complete mutual understanding, we picked them up, shook ‘em well, and silently watched the little fake flakes of snow tumble down in a tiny enclosed fairyland, a far far better place than the one we were doomed by accident of birth to inhabit, a finer and more bracing world from which we were excluded. The tiny globes we held in our damp, warm cupped palms contained in miniature a whole village, an alternate more enticing frigid reality, full of cute little fairy tale cottages bedecked with evergreen wreaths and sparkling holiday lights, often with a darling church with a tall snow-swept steeple as the center of the community.

Morosely we knew that it would be all we as Florida kids would be able to experience of that transcendent rapture of the season: the transporting mysterium tremendens of—snow. And worse, in our swift childish 1-2-3 deduction, that meant we would never truly know what it meant to be COZY! (You can be a lot of things in the benevolent Florida climate, but “cozy” is not one of them. To be cozy means, baby, as the song says, “The weather outside is frightful, the fire is so delightful—Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”).

By gosh, the damn weather in Florida was rarely, if ever, well, “frightful.”

How could they do this to us? And still act so normal, as if a crime against humanity, as if the most egregious heinous child abuse even, had not been perpetrated on us? Our parents had fled the bitter climate Up North and were pleasantly re-located to the Sunshine State.
Welcome to the world of Make Believe, please come in to the world of Let’s Pretend. Whose version was correct, whose was more powerful?

All of our Christmas decorations and holiday songs, and certainly most of the hundreds of Christmas cards our parents received, referred to a different world, another much colder clime entirely foreign to us, a mysterious place that was freezing and snow white, not warm, humid and squirming and sprouting with raucous color and pulsing green shoots, a world definitely not over-run with lizards, frogs and birds singing at the top of their lungs in the “dead” of winter! In a word, we put it all together and concluded: we were “out of it.” We were not in the know. Bottom line? We were definitely not “with it.” We lived on the balmy far fringes of human society, deprived of the glories and romance of frigid winter weather, the only proper setting for the Joy of the Season.

We were trapped in a moist tepid remote cul-de-sac of western civilization. If we had known about the Galapagos Islands at that age, we might have compared ourselves to its lumbering thick tortoises, mutant isolated freaks of life, pathetic.

I was reminded of this stage in the life of a Florida child the other day when a local newspaper reported on a “near riot” and “mob scene” just down the road from my little farm. The night before I had noticed a massive traffic jam on the road in front of my house. At first I had assumed there had been an accident, but as the hours dragged on and the bumper-to-bumper headlights persisted, inching ever so slowly to the stop light at the corner, my curiosity was aroused. It couldn’t be an accident; the cops would have cleared the road long ago.

The headlines the following morning solved the mystery. A “Snow Fest,” involving tons of trucked in artificial snow and “snow games and sports for the entire family,” had been staged at a small nearby mall, and though merchants had anticipated a crowd of maybe 2,000, over 10,000 crazed hyped-up snow-hungry kids and their parents had showed up.

The result was almost disastrous. Parents complained of “poor crowd control,” “violent” snowball hurling and nasty pranks by poorly supervised children. Suits and counter-suits were threatened and the management of the mall had egg—not snow—all over its face. Red-faced bawling kids, angry parents and pale faced mall administrators provided abundant four-color photo ops and graced—grimacing—the front page.

So all of which is to say, these days I am no longer dreaming of a white Christmas, having survived that plangent dangerous phase of my life and my children’s lives. But residents and visitors to Florida beware: an atavistic lust for the white stuff seethes just below the surface in Florida kids and it bears watching and caution when the jingle bells start ringng and the Christmas carols begin airing. It all creates the perfect conditions for underage  whining, pining, and in the presence of fake snow, rioting, violence!

Rule of thumb: Those in the know always steer clear of Florida “snow” if they’ve got gremlins underfoot listening to the media.

And, when all is said and done, though home is not where the hearth is in F-L-A, it is indeed where the heart is for me at this more cogent sensible point in my life. I think it’s plenty cozy, even if sometimes a tad humid, obnoxiously sunny and boisterous with living things.

Confession: I don’t own snow shovel or windshield ice scraper, and if I did I wouldn’t know how to use them.

Sadly, ski trips, business trips Up North and all that aside, I am still pathetically naïve. All I really ever learned about ice and snow was derived from my snow globe. #

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger.
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