Nothing more merry than Christmas traditions

info@islandpacket.comDecember 19, 2011 

Collins Doughtie on Christmas morning in 1982.

PHOTO COURTESY OF COLLINS DOUGHTIE

I don't know what it is about Christmas but I always get real mushy when the fat man is getting ready to drop down the chimney.

One thing I have always wondered is how does he make it past the roaring flames that are usually shooting up fireplaces on Christmas Eve? That little detail has perplexed me since I was 5 years old, when I would beg my father not to light a fire in ours. I don't really remember my dad's explanation, but sure enough I would get up Christmas morning and find white beard hairs stuck in the fire screen and sooty footprints all over the floor, leading from present to present.

(Speaking of putting your feet to the fire, I sure hope old St. Nick hasn't gone to wearing Crocs -- because, from personal experience, I know they melt real easily.)

With five kids in my family, my folks would go all out at Christmas. There were very few people living on Hilton Head Island in those early days, so Christmas was a big deal in our household. Usually on Christmas Eve the few people who did live on the island would get together in a little building on South Forest Beach, where we would listen to native islanders tell Gullah stories, followed by some caroling. You would think that back in those days, especially here in the Deep South, that racial discrimination would be rampant, but it wasn't like that at all. We were one big family on Hilton Head, and blacks and whites got along like peas and carrots. In a nutshell, you pretty much knew everyone and without exception, if you passed a car on 278 that person would wave to you. It was pretty darn neat.

Christmas morning in our house was a real ritual. My folks would put a large roll of paper across the stairs and we kids were not allowed past that piece of paper until my mom or dad gave us the OK. When the OK was given, we would bust through the paper and head for our stockings, and only our stockings. After that, it was time for breakfast, and during the meal, one person was picked to be that year's master of ceremony. I have to give my parents credit for knowing how to keep five kids in line.

When it came time to open presents, the master of ceremony would hand out one present at a time, and we would all have to wait until that person had read the gift card aloud and opened the present before another gift was handed out. Out of this tradition came the art of writing creative gift cards. The cards were never as simple as "To Collins, From Tim." No sir, they had to include hints as to what was in the present. As the years went by and as we got older, the card-writing aspect became more and more elaborate. Before we all went our separate ways, card writing became quite competitive, almost to the point where the cards were more important than the presents they were attached to.

So where does nature and the great outdoors enter into this Christmas picture? Pretty much without fail, my brother Dan, my dad and I would head out after the marathon present-opening ceremony to do some trout-fishing. We would load up in my dad's "fish mobile," an old blue and black Datsun 510, and head over to Harbour Town. It had just been dug a few years before, and there was never more than a handful of boats docked there. Using Christmas Tree lures (a white plastic fish covered with glitter), we would walk the docks and catch so many trout you could easily fill a washtub with them. There was nothing to it. As the years progressed, I put down my fishing rod and began duck-hunting nearly every Christmas morning. Believe it or not, there were lots of ducks here, and in the first two hours of daylight you could easily shoot a limit of mallards, black ducks, teal, widgeon and pintails.

Oh, how I miss that Christmas tradition!

I raised both my children using the same Christmas traditions my parents afforded me and now that they have both flown the coop, I pray they pass these traditions on to their kids, should they have them.

This Christmas is going to be a quiet one for Karen and me, with only my son Logan here for the holidays. But if my plans come to pass, I'm going to pull out a couple of those treasured Christmas Tree lures that I have stashed away and take my son trout-fishing for a bit. Who knows? Maybe in 30 or so years he'll write about his times with me during the Christmas season. Who knows ...

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